Trump and His Twitter Diplomacy

The president-elect of the United States, who angered Beijing by having a telephone conversation with the Taiwanese president, has openly criticized Chinese military and economic policy on the social network Twitter.

Will we have to get used to a new style of government on the other side of the Atlantic — government by Twitter? During his campaign, Donald Trump turned the social network, with its 16 million users, into a huge weapon in his favor. After winning the election, he indicated that he intended to keep using this method of communicating directly “with the people.” During the period of transition between the election and his inauguration on Jan. 20, the president-elect has been using this new form of communication between countries — Twitter diplomacy — with China.

In the span of three days, Mr. Trump has mounted a double offensive against Beijing. On Friday, Dec. 2, he broke with four decades of American diplomatic tradition by having a long telephone conversation with the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, who called to congratulate him on his election victory. Since its recognition of communist China as “one China,” Washington has upheld a rule of not engaging in any official relations with Taipei, despite military ties between the U.S. and Taiwan. In response to the outcry that followed this event, the president-elect used Twitter to express — with some common sense — surprise that he couldn’t talk on the phone with the leader of a country to which we have given $8 billion worth of arms.

Beijing waited 24 hours before protesting to the State Department. On Sunday, the Chinese press joined in with criticism of this apparent U-turn, at which point, Donald Trump hammered his point home with a double tweet: “Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the U.S. doesn’t tax them), or build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don’t think so!”

Policy Guided by American Interests

Foreign policy experts, whom Mr. Trump and his team openly scorn, initially thought this was an error, resulting from his inexperience. However, the entourages of both the president-elect and the Taiwanese president revealed that the telephone conversation had been carefully prepared. Besides, this is not the first time Donald Trump has expressed his position on Taiwan.

In the absence of an explanation longer than 140 characters, the rest of the world, deeply concerned by the evolution of the Sino-American relationship, is reduced to speculation. Thus, we can assume that, by speaking to Ms. Tsai on the phone, Mr. Trump wanted to show China, before serious discussions have even begun, that choices about whom he will speak to will be made at Trump Towers, not in Beijing. As for his second tweet, which served the purpose of making it clear that “America First” is more than just a slogan, American politics will be guided by American interests, particularly those of American companies.

In “The Art of the Deal,” which is so dear to the billionaire Trump, this can be a good starting point for negotiations. However, China is a complicated partner. More than anything, Chinese leaders, who are very worried about the image Donald Trump has created for himself as an anti-globalization advocate, hate unpredictability. China’s neighbors, who are allies of the United States, mainly fear a China that has been driven into a corner. We can only hope that, once he is in the White House, Donald Trump will be surrounded by a team that is aware of these realities and able to communicate in a more serious manner.

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