China muted after Trump’s Twitter barrage
China was muted Monday after Donald Trump‘s latest Twitter tirade, with analysts suggesting Beijing was scrambling to work out what the outburst could mean for relations with Washington.
Reaction from both government and official media was unusually subdued after the businessman-turned-president-elect lashed out on social media, accusing China of military expansionism and manipulating its currency.
“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?” Trump demanded, adding: “I don’t think so!”
China had “no comment” on the tweets’ motivation, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters Monday.
“We do not comment on his personality. We focus on his policies, especially his policies towards China,” he said, adding that economic relations between the countries had been “mutually beneficial”.
Although Trump’s comments were uncharacteristically sharp for a US leader, the initial response from state media — often a proxy for government pronouncements — was restrained.
By late afternoon, the comments still had not been reported by the official Xinhua news service.
But the agency did issue a comment piece warning against focusing on Trump’s “sensational claims”.
It was “hasty to draw a pessimistic conclusion” about his intentions, the piece said, but urged the president-elect to resist “light-headed calls for provocative and damaging moves on China”.
Even the Global Times — famed for its thin-skinned nationalism — merely noted that the “bombardment” was the first time Trump had “expressed a clear view” on the South China Sea — a strategically vital area contested by China and its neighbours, including Vietnam and the Philippines.
Chinese leaders, who have long counted on stable, predictable relationships with US leaders, are “probably scrambling to figure out how to respond” to Trump, said Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
China’s president Xi Jinping will want to “avoid being seen as weak,” especially as he faces a major Communist Party congress next year, she said.
Jin Canrong, professor of international studies at Renmin University, said Beijing was “very much on guard against the future administration, but won’t have any formal reaction” while Obama was still in office, especially since Trump has not yet formed his cabinet or chosen a secretary of state.
He predicted Trump would moderate once he takes office, but added the president-elect “is a trendy and impulsive man who does Twitter very well, which helped him during the campaign.”
“But when transferred to the international arena,” he said, “it will cause lots of trouble.”