Wait-and-see ap­proach urged on ties af­ter Trump’s Twit­ter re­marks

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By MO JINGXI and ZHAO HUANXIN Con­tact the writ­ers at mo­jingxi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

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