Donald Trump is a “diplomatic rookie” who must learn not to cross Beijing on issues like trade and Taiwan, Chinese state media said Tuesday, warning America could pay dearly for his naivety.
Trump’s protocol-shattering call with Taiwan’s president and a subsequent Twitter tirade against Beijing’s policies could risk upending the delicate balance between the world’s two largest economies, major media outlets said.
“Provoking friction and messing up China-US relations won’t help ‘make America great again'”, said a front-page opinion piece in the overseas edition of Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily.
The nationalist Global Times newspaper’s Chinese edition also ran a page-one story on Trump’s “inability to keep his mouth shut”, damning his “provocation and falsehoods”.
Trump fired off two tweets on Sunday blasting China for devaluing its currency, taxing US imports, and building military installations in the South China Sea.
The comments followed criticism of Trump in US and Chinese media for taking a congratulatory phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, a move that flew in the face of nearly 40 years of diplomatic protocol and raised questions about whether the president-elect intends to pursue a hard line against Beijing.
Official reaction from Beijing has been muted, but China often uses state media to telegraph its policy positions, sometimes employing rhetoric beyond the diplomatic pale.
The Global Times’ English-language edition filled its opinion pages with editorials slamming the president-elect.
The often brittle, provocative publication is not considered “official” media, but has close ties to the ruling party.
Noting that Sino-US relations had reached a delicate equilibrium thanks to years of careful management, an editorial in the paper warned that Trump “can make a lot of noise but that does not exempt him from the rules of the major power game,” adding that he “doesn’t have sufficient resources” to be provocative with China.
“Trump’s China-bashing tweet is just a cover for his real intent, which is to treat China as a fat lamb and cut a piece of meat off it,” it said.
“He is trying to pillage other countries for US prosperity,” it warned, but instead he will unwittingly “smash the current world economic order” of which the US is the “biggest beneficiary.”
A companion commentary warned that Trump “will in time learn not to cross China”, threatening “a fierce competition” with Beijing if the US increases arm sales to Taiwan.
It was illustrated by an editorial cartoon showing an eagle throwing pebbles at a large, scowling panda.
Meanwhile the English-language China Daily newspaper warned that “diplomatic rookie” Trump needs to moderate his behaviour or he will create “costly troubles for his country”.
“As president-elect, Trump can expect some forgiveness even when he is shooting from the hip. But things will be different when he becomes president.”
During the presidential campaign, Trump frequently targeted China for fiscal and trade policies that he claimed cost the US millions of jobs.
While China seems to have hoped the rhetoric was more bark than bite, initial signs suggests he will continue to take an aggressive line on the world’s second largest economy.
“If Trump continues talking this way after taking office, then China is going to have to make some adjustments in its thinking,” Jia Qingguo, professor at Peking University, told AFP, calling the comments “sobering”.
Trump’s decision to speak with Taiwan’s president seems to have particularly rattled Beijing, which regards the democratically-ruled island of 23 million a renegade province, though it has its own legal and military systems and has not been under Beijing’s control for more than 60 years.
“This call was no accident,” said Trey McArver, analyst for China Politics Weekly. “It is clear that Trump associates, including chief of staff Reince Priebus, have had repeated contact with Tsai and her people in recent months and were well aware of what they were doing.”