Donald Trump tosses a 'Make America Great Again' hat into a crowd December 9, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Drew Angerer/Getty

Trump’s antagonism towards China sinks deeper into incoherence

As a rule, China likes to test new American presidents early on in their terms. In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, with Donald Trump going out of his way to antagonize the rising superpower for reasons that remain mystifying, Beijing doesn’t feel the need to wait.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 12/16/16, 8:59 PM ET

China exploits presidential transitions to test US

Rachel Maddow reports on China seizing a piece of U.S. Navy research equipment, the latest in a long history of China taking advantage of a U.S. presidential transition period to test a new president.
Rachel explained on the show on Friday night that China stole an underwater U.S. Navy drone on Thursday, and though the motivation for the move remains the subject of speculation, it’s hardly a stretch to think it’s the result of our president-elect insulting the U.S. rival and upending decades of carefully formed policy towards the most populous nation on the planet.

Saturday morning, Trump complained on – you guessed it – Twitter that China’s actions were “unpresidented,” which will soon be the title of several books about the Trump era, but which is not actually a word. Over an hour later, the president-elect changed his message to say it was “unprecedented.”

While Trump was tweeting away, the Obama administration’s diplomats were doing actual work, and by Saturday afternoon China agreed to return the equipment. Almost immediately, Trump’s transition office, for reasons that defy comprehension, said Trump deserves credit for the Chinese concession, despite the fact that neither the president-elect nor anyone on his team had anything to do with the developments.

Soon after, Trump himself contradicted his own transition office: instead of claiming credit for China’s announcement, the president-elect said we shouldn’t want the drone back.
President-elect Donald Trump continued to use social media to poke at China Saturday, saying on Twitter that the U.S. should refuse to take a drone seized in international waters after the Communist country agreed to return it.

“We should tell China that we don’t want the drone they stole back. – let them keep it!” Trump said on Twitter Saturday night.
Oh. So the way to demonstrate strength towards Beijing, according to Trump, is for the United States to effectively tell these Chinese, “You stole our stuff, and to show you who’s boss, we’ve decided to let you keep it. So there.”

Here’s a radical suggestion: perhaps the president-elect can sit through an intelligence briefing or two, and allow knowledgeable U.S. officials to bring him up to speed on the issue? Just a helpful tip from me to Donald Trump.

Postscript: Almost exactly five years ago, Trump tweeted, “Why did @BarackObama let Iran keep our drone? Now it is going straight to the Chinese.” I guess he’s changed his mind?

China, Donald Trump and Foreign Policy

Trump's antagonism towards China sinks deeper into incoherence