President-elect Donald Trump “is not behaving as a president who will become master of the White House in a month,” the Chinese newspaper Global Times wrote in an editorial on Monday. “He bears no sense of how to lead a superpower.”
The denunciation from the state-sanctioned publication came after Trump weighed in on Twitter over China’s seizure, last week, of a U.S. underwater drone. The incident prompted criticism from the Pentagon, but U.S. defense officials said over the weekend that China will return the drone on Tuesday, a claim confirmed by China’s military.
Trump’s tweets came amidst the diplomatic maneuvering, the first berating China’s “unprecedented act” and a later post telling China to “keep” the U.S. Navy drone it “stole.”
Trump’s Twitter posts “breathed new life into an incident that both militaries seem eager to put behind them,” CBS News wrote, though Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus on Sunday “defended the comments on the drone, saying he does not believe Trump’s comments were provocative and that ’80 percent’ of Americans agree it was inappropriate for China to have seized the drone in the first place,” Reuters reported.
Still, the Global Times blamed Trump for stirring the pot, writing:
Meanwhile, the Guardian adds that the newspaper’s “controversial” editor, Hu Xijin, made similar comments in an online video “that has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.”
Washington, D.C.-based China expert Bill Bishop, who publishes the newsletter Sinocism, joked to the Guardian: “This is unpresidented behavior by a precedent-elect. It would be funny if the stakes weren’t so high.”
“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,” he said. “This is juvenile, immature, inexperienced behavior that has the potential to lead to many problems in the U.S.-China relationship, some of which could have some pretty serious and damaging ramifications.”
Indeed, Trump’s style contrasts sharply with Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom journalist Chris Buckley describes for the New York Times as “disciplined and steely.”
The drone incident, Buckley writes, “has given a taste of how Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Xi’s different styles could play out if bigger tensions were to break out over the South China Sea, trade imbalances, North Korea’s nuclear weapons, or other issues that Mr. Trump has raised.”
Jessica Chen Weiss, an associate professor at Cornell University who studies Chinese foreign policy, told Buckley: “Xi Jinping is more measured in his public statements than Donald Trump, but the Chinese government will likely hit back quite forcefully against any radical efforts to challenge the status quo. The best thing the president-elect’s advisers can do for our national security is to screen Trump’s tweets.”
As the Global Times warned: “Since he has not taken office, China has kept a calm attitude toward his provocative remarks. But if he treats China after assuming office in the same way as in his tweets, China will not exercise restraint.”