Freddy Gray

Forget diplomacy. Donald Trump wants to talk tough to China

Forget diplomacy. Donald Trump wants to talk tough to China
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It might be better for everyone if, in the spirit of Yuletide Fake News, we all pretended that Donald Trump’s Twitter account was a spoof, or at least an alter of the man's many egos. The President-elect, for one, doesn’t take his pronouncements on Twitter too seriously. Or does he?

It’s safe to say that there is a growing disconnection between the Donald J. Trump who is putting together a reasonably normal cabinet (‘Mad Dog' Mattis, aside, perhaps) ahead of his first 100 days, and the Twitter Trump who seems to be threatening China, undermining the democratic process that just got him elected, and generally still trolling humanity.

The best explanation I’ve heard as to why Trump tweets is that he believes Twitter is a video game, in which the objective is to get as many followers and retweets as possible. On that score, we can all admit, he is an all-time master. 

Take his China tweets last night: 

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..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 4, 2016

their country (the U.S. doesn't tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don't think so!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 4, 2016

Sadly, the authorities in Beijing are not known for their sense of humour. Even if Trump is just making noise, the State Council of China will not dismiss his tweets as trivial. It’s well-known that the Donald has a China obsession. He started his campaign talking about little else, as this famous video proves. He claims not to loathe the Chinese, and he does indeed admire them — as Superpower No 2 in the world rankings. But he also sees them as a threat.

So what Twitter Trump is doing now is brinkmanship. He wants to let the Chinese know that, under his leadership, America won’t be pushed around any more — or he at least wants to be seen to convey that message. And that may not be as stupid as it sounds. 

Trump loves what he calls 'the pomp and the circumstance' of traditional statesmanship but he has no time for diplomatic niceties. Talking tough to China on Twitter will please lots of his voters, because Americans are, like Trump himself, neurotic about the rise of China. And, like all things Trump, there’s method in the madness — Trump’s art is to convince the world he is mad, a fool, or a mad fool, then act smart when nobody is taking him seriously. But international relations are usually about more than mere posturing.  Politics, the internet, diplomacy, war — it’s all sport to Twitter Trump; a very high-stakes game. 

Written byFreddy Gray

Freddy Gray is deputy editor of The Spectator. He was formerly literary editor of The American Conservative.

Topics in this articleInternationalchina