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article imageOp-Ed: China vs Trump: One China OK, Xinhua tweets joke question

By Paul Wallis     Feb 10, 2017 in World
Washington - The first real exchange of views between Presidents of China and the USA was a definite success. The fact that China’s Xinhua then tweeted a witty question about why Trump endorsed the One China adds spice. It also raises a few questions.
The meeting between the Presidents was apparently cordial, and the affirmation of the Trump administration’s acceptance of the One China policy is generally seen as productive. So much for the shop window. The real game in play is a meeting of national interests and some pretty flawed perceptions.
The New York Times reported a rather predictable range of Chinese and regional reactions. Chinese commentators were reported as taking the view that President Xi had “won” the meeting. Actually, there was no question of China ever budging from One China. The Great Pyramid of Giza will learn to tap dance long before Chinese policy changes regarding One China.
The US position was more pragmatic. Earlier remarks from President Trump about “everything being on the table” regarding One China after the controversial talk with the Taiwanese President were ad hoc, not policy. The “victory” was largely symbolic, but the symbol of One China means a lot to China.
Regionally, and in direct relation to China, the Trump administration’s opt-out over the “anti-China” Trans Pacific Partnership also signalled a departure from regional engagement, albeit a rather cosmetic type of engagement. Suffice to say that China may be very curious about the administration’s intentions in Asia.
Add to this the administration’s stance on China’s South China Sea islands, and it’s pretty safe to assume that the conversation between Xi and Trump may have been a lot less cosmetic. President Xi is one of the least verbose world leaders. He says very little, but his presence is strong in China. His relative silence, combined with a so-called “cult of personality” around his quite traditional communist party leadership style, make him no trivial factor in the US-China standoffs.
Getting it wrong/getting it right
The flawed perspectives here cut both ways. China is acting in China’s interests, on a global scale, in any contact with the US. Winning on a point which could never really be disputed isn’t China’s idea of doing business on any level. They may be happy to have made their point, but the sounding out process was much more important. The comment from one Chinese source that Trump will be seen as weak is no more than a normal, in fact ancient, Chinese method of assertion to get a response. The usual reaction to barbs is almost invariably wrong, overstated, and off target. It’s an easy way to provoke a President famous for his responses, too. It’s a point-scoring exercise.
China watchers will note that remarks of this kind are almost caricatures of the clichéd American view of China’s communist party leadership; blunt, rude, and direct. The Chinese themselves would think these hackneyed 1950s-style comments were good black humor. The Chinese are neither so simple nor so bland, particularly diplomatically. A more accurate picture of the Chinese perspective came from the pictured very sharp, but funny, tweet from China’s official news agency Xinhua, in which China asked why Trump had changed his mind on One China and offered a multiple choice response.
The classic mistake is rising to the bait. The correct response is to stick to the outcome of the conversation, which is the officially accepted state of play. The tweet should give notice to the Trump administration that China is quite capable of springing unexpected responses.
A Chinese flotilla conducts military drills in the South China Sea on January 2  2017
A Chinese flotilla conducts military drills in the South China Sea on January 2, 2017
, AFP/File
In Chinese chess, known as Xiang Qi, the king or general is confined to an area of the board. Attacking the king at long range is a standard tactic, keeping the opponent in a reactive mode. American diplomats should be aware that it’s pretty easy to do. It will be noted that Xinhua's actual report of the meeting between the Presidents was also very different.
The dialog with the Chinese may well have been productive in anything but obvious ways. Establishing a dialog, shutting down an irritating point, and getting the relationship running are all positives. The US foreign policy sector is apparently open for customers, too. Secretary Tillerson briefed President Trump prior to the conversation, and evidently business as usual is back, at least for now. Let's see how the battle of wits, and tweets, plays out.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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