Donald Trump has spent years complaining about China and its alleged currency manipulation. As a candidate, the Republican not only blasted President Obama on the issue, he publicly vowed to label China a currency manipulator literally on his first day
in office.That didn't happen, of course, though as recently as last week, the president continued to posture, calling China the "world champion
" of currency manipulation. This week, however, Trump dramatically changed direction
, declaring that China isn't actually manipulating its currency at all.The reversal hasn't gone unnoticed in Beijing, where the American president is now the subject of mockery
Te-Ping Chen, a Beijing-based reporter for the Wall Street Journal, notes that Chinese media are gleefully mocking Trump for doing such an abrupt 180 on an issue that was one of the staples of his 2016 presidential campaign -- in fact, Trump had originally vowed to officially label China a currency manipulator on the first day of his presidency."Eating his words!" reads one headline, as translated by Chen."Trump slaps self in face, again," reads another.
Note, in China, the media is controlled by the state, so this ridicule is an extension of the government's own messaging.Of particular interest in these headlines was the use of the word "again" -- because while Trump has only been in office for a few months, this wasn't the first time he's embarrassed himself with China.As we discussed
in February, soon after winning the presidential election, Trump spoke directly with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, which not only stunned international observers, but also undermined the "One-China" policy, uprooting decades of carefully crafted, delicate diplomacy that had been honored by both parties.When many speculated that the Republican bumbled into this by accident, the White House quickly pushed back, insisting that Trump -- who likes to present himself as master negotiator and strategic genius -- was executing a brilliant plan, keeping China on its toes."I fully understand the One-China policy," Trump said on Dec. 11
. "But I don't know why we have to be bound by a One-China policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things."Two weeks into his presidency, in a rather pathetic display of groveling, Trump reversed course
, declaring his support the "One-China" policy -- publicly and in writing -- in exchange for nothing.The New York Times reported
soon after that the rookie president managed to avert a more serious confrontation with Beijing, but Trump also made a lasting impression on China that despite all of his posturing, the American president will back down when push comes to shove.
“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 in February that the Chinese will now see Trump as “weak” as a result of his handling of the dispute.The American president reinforced that impression this week, posturing for years about taking on Chine's alleged currency manipulation, only to fold like a cheap suit when it mattered.Whether Trump understands this or not, the world notices developments like these. Three months into his presidency, Trump is signaling to everyone that he's a president who prefers acting tough to being tough.