Trump Tweets, China Retreats

January 6, 2017 Topic: Security Region: Asia Tags: ChinaDonald TrumpdefenseTaiwanChinese military

Trump Tweets, China Retreats

Beijing has no idea how to handle the president-elect, or his twenty-first-century version of the bully pulpit.

Those officials find Trump’s effective use of Twitter utterly confounding. After all, China’s scripted leaders are picked by their fellow Communist Party cadres, and all of them stay in power by coercion rather than persuasion.

Take Trump’s soon-to-be counterpart, Xi Jinping. Xi has only one social media posting to his credit in his entire career, and that was posted to the account of a Party media outlet, the authoritative PLA Daily . Tellingly, Xi has no account of his own on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service. China’s supremo, apart from on-high pronouncements, is not big on direct communication either.

Even though Trump cannot stop communicating his intentions, Xi & Co. remains unprepared for him. For instance, Beijing, as the Financial Times reported, was “ shocked” by the appointment of Peter Navarro as head the newly formed National Trade Council.

Chinese leaders had hoped, and almost certainly expected, Trump would follow his predecessors and “tone down his anti-Beijing rhetoric after assuming office.” With Navarro, Commerce Secretary pick Wilbur Ross, and U.S. Trade Representative-designate Robert Lighthizer—trade hawks all—Trump has made it clear he is going to take on Beijing as the first order of business. Chinese leaders should have seen this coming.

There is one other explanation for Beijing lying so low. At the moment, Chinese technocrats are engaged in an all-out war against speculators shorting the renminbi, the Chinese currency.


The People’s Bank of China, the central bank, looks like it has been spending tens of billions of dollars in the past several days supporting the “redback,” which fell 6.95% last year against the dollar in the onshore market. Perhaps Beijing is letting Trump alone because they do not want him tweeting about their desperate effort to stabilize the situation. He has, as just about everyone knows, complained about their rigging of the Chinese currency.

China is now rigging its currency upwards, not down as Trump has alleged, but in Beijing they undoubtedly do not want to take a chance and get involved in a Twitter war with him over any subject, a conflict they know they cannot possibly win.

The Chinese, it seems, have just met someone impossible for them to intimidate.

Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China . You can follow him on Twitter: @GordonGChang.

Image: A Chinese People's Armed Police guard on Tiananmen Square. Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons/Luo Shaoyang