It Took Months to Plan, But Only Moments For Trump to Show China His ‘Petty’ Side

It took months to plan, but only moments for Donald Trump to possibly destroy decades of U.S.-Chinese relations with a phone call to Taiwan. Certainly, it sufficed to show China his petty side, one we Americans are already well familiar with.

Donald Trump claimed they called him, but in truth, as The Washington Post has revealed, “according to people involved in or briefed on the talks” the call “was the product of months of quiet preparations and deliberations among Trump’s advisers about a new strategy for engagement with Taiwan (emphasis added).”

Those wondering why Trump was deliberately antagonizing China now know why. It is Trump’s defense that defies comprehension, first the claim that “The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!” And then tweeting,

“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 U.S. doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea?” he asked. “I don’t think so!”

China lodged a diplomatic protest at the call, and if it were just the call it would be bad enough. After all, Trump hasn’t even taken office yet and already he has a Communist party controlled tabloid warning that Beijing must be ready to “strike back” against Trump’s “reckless” tantrums.

An editorial in that tabloid, the Global Times, expressed dismay over this Trump tweet, saying,

“It is uncertain whether Trump went up against China because he had been irritated by some chiding comments on his receiving a phone call from Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen, or this was a shrewd step in a well-considered China policy. Anyhow, his response is unexpected.”

The editorial further warned that “Trump’s China-bashing tweet is just a cover for his real intent, which is to treat China as a fat lamb and cut a piece of meat off it.”

The Chinese say they have told Trump’s team how they feel, something Trump, who more frequently invents encounters, will certainly deny if pressed. Officially, we are told by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang,

“We will not speculate on what motivates President-elect Trump and his team into taking certain moves but we will surely make ourselves clear if what they say concerns China.”

Kang also stressed the importance to both China and the U.S. of American policy toward China for the past four decades:

As we have been saying and as you all know, Taiwan-related issues remain the most significant and sensitive part in China-US relations. China-US relations have been moving forward for nearly 40 years since the establishment of diplomatic ties. The one-China policy and the basic principles embodied in the three joint communiqués between China and the US remain a solid political premise of the sound and steady development of bilateral relations and mutually beneficial cooperation. China-US relations and mutually beneficial cooperation will embark on a brighter future only if the two countries hold fast to this political premise.

When the Global Times closes with the comment: “China should brace itself for the possible fluctuations of the Sino-US relationship after Trump is sworn in. We must confront Trump’s provocations head-on, and make sure he won’t take advantage of China at the beginning of his tenure,” we are quite possibly hearing the voice of the Communist party.

And we are certainly hearing high level disapproval when the Peoples Daily, the official paper of the Chinese Communist Party, calls Trump’s moves “petty” and his phone call “despicable,” and warned that his “unscrupulous actions have set off alarms for the development of bilateral ties.”

“Though petty moves can change nothing in the big picture of China-U.S. ties, a growing number of such moves can hinder the bilateral relationship in a major way. This is an issue that Trump and his transition team should take very seriously.”

Taiwan’s position with China is a complicated issue which further complicates Taiwan’s standing with the United States and China’s relations with the United States. Donald Trump infamously refuses to learn a single thing, and now is acting, if the metaphor can be forgiven, like the proverbial bull in the China shop.

Actual experts were beside themselves at Trump’s behavior. The Atlantic‘s James Fallows expressed this feeling perfectly with his tweeted, “WHAT THE HELL????”

Why would Trump do this? There are reports – reports Trump’s organization denies – that the mogul has plans for a resort in Taiwan.

That would answer a lot of questions. It is easy to see his China gambit as an example of the conflicts of interest which exist behind his business goals and his responsibilities as President of the United States.

Would he really risk a break with China to make a buck? Trump’s numerous other conflicts of interest do not fill observers with confidence. And the Chinese media is certainly right to mock Trump for ‘running the country with Twitter.’

After all, we do.

However you want to characterize Trump’s behavior over the past few days, this is, in a deliberate understatement, not a good start.

Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Peoples Republican of China