TRUMP’S prolific tweeting has been a source of entertainment and often bewilderment for many of us. The self-styled bombastic president-elect is never short of a controversial one liner – or 140 characters to be exact.
But while his unguarded approach may be a source of consternation to us bystanders, it may prove more calamitous on the world stage. His seemingly off the cuff and ill thought out provocations of China could push the already delicate relationship to tipping point.
China has recently blasted Trump for his prolific use of Twitter in an online commentary published on Xinhua, China’s largest state-run media outlet.
CNN reported that the mouthpiece of the communist party described Trump’s “obsession with ‘Twitter diplomacy’ is undesirable” – explaining that “It is commonly accepted that diplomacy is not a child’s game” and that “Twitter should not be a tool for foreign policy.”
The Global Times, a state-sanctioned tabloid, went a step further by slating the president-elect as “ignorant as a child in foreign policy” and accused him of “pandering to irresponsible attitudes.”
China are angry and who can blame them? Trump has repeatedly had China in his sights when he takes to the social messaging app.
Despite a cordial phone call from Xi Jinping upon his victory, in which Trump expressed his desire for a “very strong relationship”, he since seems determined to poke the beast.
China has so far handled Trump’s provocations with a level of sophistication and restraint, rarely choosing to retaliate, but what Trump may not bargain for is, come inauguration day, all bets could be off.
The diplomatic balance with China is a delicate one that has been in place since the post-Nixon era. With Trump trying his best to start a confrontation, many fear that it could easily spin out of control and set both powers on a collision course for disaster.
His behaviour so far will undoubtedly have damaged the already fragile relationship but by increasing tensions there is a real danger he could provoke a situation that brings clash in the Pacific.
The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2016
After receiving a phone call from Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and then following with a number of tweets on the subject, Trump has involved himself in a highly sensitive issue.
To push China on Taiwan is foolish. Taiwan is not a bargaining chip for China. It will stand firm on its “One-China” policy and will do so to the detriment of both sides should anyone challenge it, as has been seen repeatedly in past Sino-US relations.
Since his initial clash on Taiwan was chalked up to rookie error, Trump appears to be doubling down with tweets on China’s “massive military complex” in the South China Sea, accusations of devaluing their currency and his more recent tweets on North Korea.
China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the U.S. in totally one-sided trade, but won't help with North Korea. Nice!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2017
It seems evident that Trump is after a new deal with China, a point he has long stood by throughout his campaign, and his tough opening gambit may be his attempt to shake up the administrations and remind them that a talk between the two is needed.
China appears aware of this strategy to gain negotiating chips and has rarely risen to the bait, but push it too far and he could be in for a fight.
The Global Times have clearly stated that we are in for turbulent times. “No matter what the reasons are behind Trump’s outrageous remarks, it appears inevitable that Sino-US ties will witness more troubles in his early time in the White House than any other predecessor,” the Times said. “We must be fully prepared, both mentally and physically, for this scenario.”
There will undoubtedly be a period of uncertainty when Trump takes office in January but it would be in the interests of both leaders to reduce tensions and retain the status quo for the time being.
Both leaders are entering a transition year, Trump with his inauguration and Xi with the 19th Party Congress later in the year. These periods are notoriously unstable and perilous times. To strike a deal early on in his presidency that ensures the status quo would allow both Trump and Xi to focus on domestic issues and more pressing international issue such as the Islamic State and Syria.
If Trump truly does want to “make America great again”, domestic issues are likely the best place to start.
Many more experienced new presidents that have come before him and floundered in their first months in office, failing to understand the nuances of foreign political office and occasionally landing themselves in an international incident.
Given the lack of government experience in the newly appointed Trump administration, a period of maintaining the status quo is likely the safest option.
Diplomacy is an art that requires composure and wisdom. Perhaps Trump should take a step back from his 140 characters and give himself time to gain some.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent