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By Andreas Illmer
BBC News

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  • Anti-government protests in Hong Kong

Image rightsGetty ImagesImage descriptionDonald Trump is so popular that a bar was even named after him in Vietnam *: not ([hidden]): not (style) ~ *: not ([hidden]): not (style) {margin-top: 1rem;}]]>

Donald Trump is not a US president who has sought international support.

In an openly nationalist “America First” policy, he openly insulted half the world – from the designation of weak European leaders to the description of Mexicans as rapists to the dismissal of the entire African continent.

For some in Southeast Asia, however, a common enemy in China means they are ready to keep leaving their support behind.

Hong Kong: “Only Trump Can Beat the Communist Party”

In Hong Kong, Beijing was severely crushed after massive protests against democracy and against China. A new security law has been introduced to punish anyone seen as a secessionist or undermined Beijing’s rule.

“When Donald Trump was elected four years ago, I thought the US had gone crazy,” Erica Yuen told the BBC. “I’ve always been a supporter of the Democrats. Now I support Trump – along with many demonstrators from Hong Kong.”

The activist and businesswoman says the priority for Hong Kong is to find a US president who will “hit the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) hard – that’s the only thing Hong Kong protesters hope for”.

Those hopes were fueled by the US president’s vocal criticism of China, particularly with regard to Hong Kong.

During his tenure, Congress passed a law revoking Hong Kong’s special status and granting the country preferential economic treatment because Hong Kong was no longer “autonomous”. Sanctions were also imposed on Hong Kong executive director Carrie Lam and ten other senior officials from Hong Kong and mainland China.

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Trump’s opponent Joe Biden has also vowed to “punish” China for its actions against Hong Kong, calling China’s leader Xi Jinping a “thug”.

For Ms. Yuen, however, the difference is that the current government “was the first to decide that the CCP is harming the world.”

“I don’t know why the Obama and Clinton administrations didn’t realize it. They were too naive and thought the CCP would choose a democratic path and become a modern society. But that turned out not to be true.”

Image rightsEPAImage descriptionHong Kong has seen waves of unrest in recent years

She is aware that Hong Kong is vulnerable to the economic impact of a conflict between Washington and Beijing.

“You cannot harm the CCP without harming Hong Kong,” she says. “But we are ready for short-term suffering, we are ready to sacrifice.”

While she says the majority of activists – especially the young ones – share her views, opinion polls show that overall, Mr Trump receives quite mixed reviews in the country. In a recent poll, almost half of those polled gave it a “bad” rating, with many saying Washington’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic had hurt its reputation.

Taiwan: “Big Brother We Can Rely On”

Tensions between China and the island of Taiwan have increased. The two were split during a civil war in the 1940s, but Beijng insists that the island be retaken at some point, if necessary by force. Washington says any resolution to their long separation must be peaceful.

The trade tariffs and sanctions have also impressed some in Taiwan.

“Donald Trump’s stance is good for us, and it is good to have such an ally. It gives us more confidence in foreign affairs – military and commercial,” Victor Lin, who works in e-commerce, told the BBC from Taiwan . “We have a big brother that we can rely on.”

Mr Trump has certainly expanded his reach towards Taiwan. In the last few months the two governments have taken important steps towards the conclusion of a bilateral trade agreement.

Such a trade deal with the US would enable Taiwan to break away from its heavy dependence on China, Linh believes – possibly even “actively inviting Taiwan’s large corporations to set up factories in the US.”

He fears that in the face of Beijing’s anger, Mr. Biden may not take steps that are “so provocative.” Mr. Biden is traditionally known as a proponent of working with China. Although he has recently changed his stance, it has not reached the ears of many Taiwanese who fear that a Chinese “invasion” is imminent.

Image rightsReutersImage descriptionIn 2019, a balloon tank man in Taiwan celebrated the anniversary of the Tiananmen practice

Mr Trump’s actions in military assistance to Taiwan have also strengthened support for him there. In fact, a recent poll showed that Taiwan is the only country where those who want someone different from Mr Trump for years are significantly more than those who want Mr Biden to win.

Beijing has reacted violently by warning the US “not to send false signals to the elements of Taiwan’s independence in order to avoid serious damage to China-US relations”.

Vietnam: “Courageous to the point of ruthlessness”

Both Washington and Beijing have waged wars on Vietnamese soil for the past 50 years, but while the US has been largely forgiven, the Southeast Asian country continues to fear the “China threat.”

According to political analyst and vlogger Linh Ngyuen, Vietnam’s Trump fans split into two groups.

Those who only like him for the entertainment and glamor and those who are “diehard Trump supporters” who follow US policy because they believe – like many in Hong Kong and Taiwan – that he is the only bulwark against them communist governments in China and Vietnam.

Neither Mr Trump nor Mr Biden have formulated a Vietnam strategy, and Mr Trump has made it very clear that he will not rush to intervene in other countries’ conflicts and disputes.

However, some like political activist Vinh Huu Nguyen believe that only someone like Trump “who is brave to the point of recklessness and even aggression” can actually make a difference.

Image rightsGetty ImagesImage descriptionDonald Trump smiles at the Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc

“And that’s what sets it apart from its predecessors. Dealing with China requires such people.”

When Donald Trump came to power, Mr Nguyen said he felt the world was finally “waking up to the dangers of China” and “its new form of communist state capitalism.”

But there is also a desire for economic and political reforms in Vietnam, away from communist one-party rule.

Personally, he hopes that a strong US stance on the CCP could have a ripple effect across the region and eventually reach Hanoi.

Japan: “It’s about our national security”

Japan has long been seen as a valuable partner and ally of the US, but when Mr. Trump was elected, many people were nervous about the impact of its policies, which America first had on relations. Shortly after taking office, he canceled a multilateral trans-Pacific trade agreement and insists that Japan must pay more money to support the US troops stationed there.

“Donald Trump is our ally. For Japan, the main reason we support him is national security,” says Yoko Ishii, a YouTuber who vlogs under the name Random Yoko.

It points to the frequent intrusions of Chinese military aircraft and ships into Japanese airspace and Japanese waters. Much of it revolves around the controversial Senkaku Islands, which are claimed by both Tokyo and Beijing – what they call the Diaoyu Islands.

“We really want a US leader who can aggressively fight China,” she says, adding. “I don’t think anyone can be that open and have such a strong presence – it really has to be Donald Trump.”

Image rightsAndreas IllmerImage descriptionMs. Ishii leaves little doubt about her love for the incumbent

Ms. Ishii sees Japan in a quasi-alliance with other Asian nations and territories that the US would ask for support against Beijing.

Despite their enthusiastic support for Trump to stay in the White House, supporters like her are in the minority in Japan. While the majority are generally positive about the US, only a quarter of the Japanese trust President Trump.

Unlike some of their Asian neighbors, many are hoping that Mr Biden, viewed as someone who deals with his allies in a way that Mr Trump has not, rejoins the Trans-Pacific Partnership process and more closely with Tokyo cooperates economically and militarily.

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