Beijing Confounded by Trump’s Tweets

Beijing Confounded by Trump’s TweetsBeijing Confounded by Trump’s Tweets

With Donald Trump’s latest tweets touching on highly sensitive issues, China must decide how to handle an incoming American president who relishes confrontation and whose online statements appear to foreshadow shifts in foreign policy.

China awoke on Monday to sharp criticism from Trump on Twitter, days after it responded to his telephone conversation with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen by accusing the Taiwanese of playing a “little trick” on Trump, AP reported.

Trump wrote, “Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the US doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don’t think so!”

That was apparently prompted by China’s response to Trump’s Friday talk with Tsai, the first time an American president or president-elect had spoken to Taiwan’s leader since the US broke off formal diplomatic relations in 1979.

Trump’s reference in another tweet to Tsai as “the President of Taiwan” was sure to inflame China, which considers any reference to Taiwan having a president as a grave insult.

China’s reaction was relatively low-key and seemed to offer Trump a face-saving way out of an apparent blunder by blaming the Taiwanese side. English-language commentaries then appeared in two state-run newspapers known to be used by China’s ruling party leadership to send messages abroad.

“Trump might be looking for some opportunities by making waves,” said the Global Times in a Monday editorial headlined, “Talk to Trump, punish Tsai administration.”

“However, he has zero diplomatic experience and is unaware of the repercussions of shaking up Sino-US relations,” the newspaper said. “It is certain that Trump doesn’t want a showdown with China, because it is not his ambition, and neither was it included in his promise to the electorate. He puts out feelers to sound China out and chalk up some petty benefits.”

Vice president-elect Mike Pence said on Sunday the phone call should not necessarily be interpreted as a shift in the US policy. He shrugged off the attention to the incident as media hype. 

“It was a courtesy call,” Pence told NBC.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has not commented yet.

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