Beijing is watching President Donald Trump’s early moves carefully, praying that he does not upend the very delicate U.S.-China bilateral relationship.
China is unsure how it should approach the new administration. While past American presidents have threatened to get tough on China, Beijing is starting to consider the possibility that Trump might actually pull the trigger.
Trump has strongly criticized China’s currency management and trade practices, unwillingness to rein in North Korea, and unlawful military activities in the disputed South China Sea. He has also repeatedly questioned the one-China principle, which has been at the foundation of the U.S.-China relationship for decades.
China has been adjusting its perceptions of Trump and his policy positions steadily over time, Dr. Scott Kennedy, deputy director of the Freeman Chair in China Studies and director of the Project on Chinese Business and Political Economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
China initially viewed Trump as a performer, someone whose campaign rhetoric could be dismissed as disingenuous. After he won the election, China assumed that Trump was just a businessman searching for points of leverage. Now, China is not sure what to expect.
“It all comes down to whether Trump presents China as an enemy,” Kennedy explained.
China is waiting to see what Trump decides to do. Once he makes his demands clear, Beijing can make plans accordingly. “China just wants to know what the price tag is to return to business as usual,” Kennedy added.
If Trump identifies China as an enemy, rather than a competitor, or poses a serious threat to China’s core interests, China will likely pursue a “vigorous, full-throttle response,” Kennedy noted, but the Chinese “are very far from that conclusion” at the moment.
Nonetheless, China is expecting marked increases in tension.
“Frictions … and trade tensions between the U.S. and China seem inevitable within the four years ahead,” the Global Times, a nationalist Chinese publication, argued in an editorial.
The “Trump era signals dramatic changes,” the paper asserted.
The Trump administration may “be igniting many ‘fires’ … around the world. Let’s wait and see when it will be China’s turn,” the editorial concluded.
Some Chinese experts have arrived at similar conclusions.
“A trade war between China and the U.S. seems inevitable,” Pang Zhongying, an expert on U.S. affairs at Renmin University of China, told the South China Morning Post. “Trump will do everything he can to push China to give concessions,” he added.
But, others in China are still hoping for the best, expecting China and the U.S. to be able to work out their differences as they have done in the past.
“The new U.S. government should realize that it’s normal for these two great countries to have problems and disagreements. What is crucial is to control and manage disputes and find a way to resolve them,” a front-page People’s Daily commentary asserted.
“China hopes the inauguration of the new U.S. president can be a new starting point for the development of China-U.S. ties,” the paper further explained.
“The two sides should try their best to be friends and partners, not adversaries and enemies,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying said before Trump took office.
Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly sent a congratulatory message to Trump after his inauguration.
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