China's President Xi Jinping walks during a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta October 2, 2013.
Photo by Supri/Reuters

Following a fiasco, Trump now looks like ‘a paper tiger’ to China

On Friday, China Xinhua News, the official news organization of the Chinese government, published a tweet asking a provocative question. In a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the message read, Donald Trump “agreed to honor” the One-China policy, “though he had publicly challenged it. What has changed his mind?”

Yes, Trump’s fiasco was so severe, he found himself being trolled by Chinese state-run media. (The message wasn’t intended for a Chinese audience – Twitter is banned in the country.)

The New York Times reported over the weekend that the rookie president managed to avert a more serious confrontation with Beijing, but Trump also made a lasting impression on China that beneath all of his posturing, the American president is quite weak.
“Trump lost his first fight with Xi and he will be looked at as a paper tiger,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China, in Beijing, and an adviser to China’s State Council. “This will be interpreted in China as a great success, achieved by Xi’s approach of dealing with him.”

Mr. Trump’s reversal on Taiwan is likely to reinforce the views of those in China who see him as merely the latest American president to come into office talking tough on China, only to bend eventually to economic reality and adopt more cooperative policies. That could mean more difficult negotiations with Beijing on trade, North Korea and other issues. […]

American leadership was damaged by Mr. Trump staking out a position and then stepping back, said Hugh White, a professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University and the author of “The China Choice,” a book that argues that the United States should share power in the Pacific region with China.
White told the Times that the Chinese will now see Trump as “weak” as a result of his handling of the dispute.

The White House can take some comfort in the fact that an entirely different scandal – Michael Flynn’s controversial chats with Vladimir Putin’s Russian government – is such a dominant issue, because if more people heard about this One China disaster, it’d be even more humiliating for the amateur president.

As we discussed on Friday, Trump was only too eager to talk tough before taking office, talking openly about his willingness to abandon the One China policy – a bipartisan policy carefully crafted over the course of decades – or at least use it as a bargaining chip in future negotiations.

Confronted with some mild diplomatic pressure from Beijing, Trump folded like a cheap suit, gave China exactly what it wanted, and gained nothing but embarrassment in return.

In one cringe-worthy incident, the new American president showed he’s willing to abandon his tough-guy rhetoric at a moment’s notice, while demonstrating his deal-making skills are a joke.

The White House is very, very lucky this ignominious failure has largely been overlooked by much of the political world.