Wait-and-see approach urged on ties after Trump’s Twitter remarks
Facing an incoming United States president whose outspoken tweets have lashed out at China now and then, observers in Beijing are mostly adopting a wait-and-see attitude, with some cautioning that the Trump administration could have a “severe impact” on SinoUS economic ties.
Two days after his unprecedented phone conversation with Taiwan leader Tsai Ing- wen stirred up widespread concerns about Beijing-Washington relations, US president-elect Donald Trump drew fresh attention from Chinese with his latest tweets.
Trump wrote on Twitter, according to wire reports, “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!”
Asked if there is any change of impression regarding Trump following the phone call and his latest tweets, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said: “We do not comment on his personality. We focus on his policies, especially his policies toward China.”
On Sunday, vice-presidentelect Mike Pence downplayed the conversation with Tsai, saying it was a “courtesy” call and not intended to show a shift in US policy on China, according to foreign media reports.
Ruan Zongze, vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies, said there is no need to overinterpret Trump’s tweets. “We should still wait and see whether they will turn into policies after Jan 20, when he is sworn in.”
Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China, said: “We hope China-US relations will remain stable during Trump’s term. However, we should be mentally prepared for one thing, that is the huge impact on bilateral trade and economic ties possibly brought by Trump’s administration.”
Li Haidong, a professor of US studies at China Foreign Affairs University, said, “If (Trump) could choose a secretary of state well-versed in diplomacy and bilateral ties between China and the US, it is unlikely he will continue such rhetoric.”
Chinese exports to the US are taxed at standard US rates, while Washington has slapped punitive tariffs on Chinese steel and solar panels, the Associated Press reported.
Donald Trump is annoyed at the backlash against his phone conversation with Tsai Ing-wen, the leader of Taiwan, who is desperate for support from the United States in her cross-Straits standoff with the Chinese mainland. The United States president-elect sought to defend himself on Friday on Twitter, saying: Tsai called him, not vice versa; and he saw nothing wrong with receiving a congratulatory call from Taiwan, which buys billions of dollars of US weapons.
In other words, it was a courtesy, and he values the island as a business partner.
These excuses were too lame to stop Beijing making diplomatic representations and failed to quell broader worries about his inexperience and policy orientations.
So Trump fired back again on Sunday, arguing China had not asked for US consent when — he alleged — it devalued the yuan, levied taxes on US exports, and built military facilities in the South China Sea. The unspoken rhetorical question being: “Why should I seek their consent for answering that call?”
Yet the island has been regarded as the “most important, most sensitive” topic in China-US relations, and the White House was also quick to restate its commitment to the one-China policy.
Beijing’s response indicates a strong desire for healthy China-US relations in the coming Trump era.
Whether that call from Tsai was “a petty trick by Taiwan”, or trial balloon of any kind, Trump broke a decades-old bilateral diplomatic consensus and touched an ultra-sensitive diplomatic nerve.
If Trump’s Friday twitter post was more or less an instinctive reaction from a businessman, the Sunday posting exposed pitiful neglect, if not willful disregard, of both governments’ persistent endeavors to anchor the delicate, and recently volatile, relationship.
Trump may dislike, distrust the diplomatic establishment in Washington D.C., and aspire to rework US foreign policies. But he should first come to terms with the real, not imagined, reality of international relations before wielding the scalpel, because a misstep as president will be far more damaging than one as president-elect.
As president-elect, Trump can expect some forgiveness even when he is shooting from the hip. But things will be different when he becomes president.
To stop acting like the diplomatic rookie he is, the next US president needs help in adapting to his forthcoming role change. Otherwise, he will make costly troubles for his country, and find himself trying to bluster his way through constant diplomatic conflagrations.