China has responded positively to President Donald Trump’s decision to reach out to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Trump eased some of China’s longstanding fears Wednesday in a letter that thanked Xi for his congratulatory message on Trump’s inauguration, wished the Chinese people a prosperous Year of the Rooster, and expressed a desire to “develop a constructive relationship that benefits both the United States and China.”
“We highly appreciate President Trump’s holiday greetings to President Xi Jinping and the Chinese people,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang said Thursday.
“The letter conveys the reassuring message that bilateral relations are still on the right track despite the speculation that has arisen with Trump’s victory in the November election,” the China Daily wrote Friday.
“The letter, though terse and issued nearly three weeks after Trump’s inauguration, is still a positive signal, as it suggests that reason still prevails in the White House,” the state-run paper added.
These statements are some of the first positive comments on Trump in almost two months.
China’s experiences with the new administration have been troubling.
Trump has repeatedly criticized China’s currency management practices, trade practices, and activities in disputed waters in Asia. He regularly threatened to label China a currency manipulator and heavily tax Chinese exports. He also engaged Taiwan and questioned the one-China principle, raising numerous alarms in Beijing.
Trump has consistently indicated that he believes China’s “non-negotiable” core interests are, in fact, negotiable and can be used to gain leverage, an attitude China finds deeply disconcerting.
And his team has thrown fuel on the fire.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson slammed China for stealing territory in the South China Sea and proposed restricting access to China’s artificial islands.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer then said the U.S. will take action to prevent China from dominating the region.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis asserted that the highly-contested Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea are under Japanese administration and are covered by the protection guarantees associated with the U.S.-Japanese security agreement. Mattis also announced that the U.S. intends to push forward with plans to install an anti-missile system, which China regards as a threat to its national security, on South Korean soil this year.
All of these actions have drawn China’s ire in recent weeks, leading China to criticize the president and toss around words like war, confrontation, and conflict often.
But, China has changed its tune in response to Trump’s letter to Xi.
“Trump’s letter is widely seen as a sign of goodwill that the new U.S. government sent to China,” the Global Times said Friday.
“There’s a saying in China – good food is worth waiting for,” the People’s Daily wrote.
On Thursday night, Trump finally called Xi, and the two had a “lengthy conversation” about the U.S.-China bilateral relationship. During the course of their conversation, Trump confirmed his commitment to the one-China policy, alleviating Chinese concerns.
While China’s response was positive and upbeat, the Chinese are watching the president’s moves carefully, especially considering that Trump does not yet have a mature China policy and may still intend to challenge China.
“It is still too early to conclude Trump no longer seeks to antagonize China,” the China Daily noted.
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