Donald Trump appears to have no clue how to lead a superpower.
That was the conclusion of China’s Global Times newspaper on Monday morning as the country’s media weighed in on the president-elect’s latest social media assaults on Beijing.
LEADING A SUPERPOWER
“Trump is not behaving as a president who will become master of the White House in a month,” the Communist party controlled newspaper wrote in an editorial. “He bears no sense of how to lead a superpower.”
USE OF TWITTER
The article came after the US president-elect again used Twitter, which has been blocked in China since 2009, to berate the leaders of the world’s second largest economy.
China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unpresidented [sic] act,” Trump tweeted early on Saturday morning after it emerged that the Chinese navy had seized a US naval drone that had been operating in the South China Sea. Later he told China just to keep the drone which wasn’t Trump’s decision to make.
Those 221 characters threatened to further alienate China’s rulers, already reeling from Trump’s recent decision to hold a 10-minute phone call with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and threat to upend long-standing US policy on Taiwan.
On Friday, President Obama cautioned Trump against allowing relations with China slip into “full conflict mode”.
NATIONALIST GLOBAL TIMES
In its editorial, the fervently nationalist Global Times, a state-run tabloid that sometimes reflects official thinking, indicated such a deterioration was certainly on the cards if Trump continued to act up.
WHAT IS HE DOING?
People in China were unsure whether the billionaire’s attacks on Beijing were part of attempts to wage a psychological war or simply an example of his amateurishness.
“But if he treats China after assuming office in the same way as in his tweets, China will not exercise restraint,” the newspaper warned. “The Chinese government should be fully prepared for a hardline Trump.”
In an online video that has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times, the newspaper’s controversial editor, Hu Xijin, said: “I don’t know if he is playing the psychological card with China or is in fact just unprofessional … China should teach him some lessons so he might learn to respect China after he is sworn in.”
A comment piece on the front page of the overseas edition of the Communist party’s official mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, also suggested Beijing would not be cowed by Trump’s provocations.
“It is difficult to understand his true psychology,” wrote Hua Yiwen, whom the paper described as an international affairs expert. “But China shouldn’t spend much effort trying to guess what he is thinking. We should simply stand firm, take control of the situation and handle it calmly.”
Bill Bishop, a Washington DC-based China expert, said he sensed “abject despair” in the US Capital at how Trump was conducting US-China relations through misspelled tweets.
“This is unpresidented behaviour by a precedent-elect,” joked Bishop. “It would be funny if the stakes weren’t so high.”
“This is not a business deal. This is a political relationship between nuclear powers who are already on the path towards conflict in several dimensions,” added Bishop, who publishes the influential Sinocism newsletter.
“This kind of uncertainty, this kind of petulance, this kind of random tweeting … is not a grand strategy that is going to push the Chinese on to their heels so they are going to make concessions. This is juvenile, immature, inexperienced behaviour that has the potential to lead to many problems in the US-China relationship, some of which could have some pretty serious and damaging ramifications.”
Bishop questioned the Chinese media’s suggestion that Trump’s tweets were part of a wily psychological ploy to force trade concessions from Beijing. “I wouldn’t ascribe brilliant psychological warfare skills to Donald Trump,” he said.
IS THIS INGENIOUS MASTER PLAN
Was it possible Trump’s tweets were part of an ingenious new master plan for Sino-US relations that would emerge after his Inauguration on 20 January? Bishop was skeptical.
“I think that is about as likely as Xi Jinping waking up on 1 December, 2017 and declaring China a democracy.”
If anyone has a manual on how to lead a superpower, President-elect Trump could use it.