China-US relations

State media criticism of Trump’s ‘addiction to Twitter diplomacy’ signals China’s frustration

Xinhua commentary indicates Beijing has yet to adapt to the US president-elect’s unorthodox style of conducting foreign policy, say analysts

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 January, 2017, 11:36am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 January, 2017, 11:30pm

China’s state media has lambasted Donald Trump for conducting foreign policy through Twitter, in a commentary reflecting Beijing’s frustration with the US president-elect’s unorthodox style of diplomacy after his tweets broached sensitive issues in Sino-US relations.

State-run news agency Xinhua published the article, headlined “Addiction to Twitter diplomacy is unwise”, late on Tuesday night, hours after Trump’s tweet accusing China of refusing to help the United States contain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

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The signed commentary cited American politicians and academics, including former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, in making its point that Trump was not wise in tweeting so much about foreign policy.

“[Trump] said something like ‘the UN is just a club for people to have a good time’. These tweets have broken decades-old diplomatic protocols held by the US, including some anti-China comments,” the article stated.

“Diplomacy is not child’s play and you can’t run it like a business.”

The commentary came after Trump’s latest Twitter attack against Beijing, in which he said: “China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the US in totally one-sided trade, but won’t help with North Korea. Nice!”

China’s foreign ministry spokesman responded to the tweet at a regular press conference on Tuesday, saying Beijing had always been doing its part to denuclearise the Korean Peninsula.

Over the past few months, Trump has repeatedly infuriated Beijing by criticising Chinese policy on Twitter, which is banned in China.

The US president-elect has previously taken to the social media site to accuse Beijing of being a currency manipulator, defend his protocol-breaking phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, as well as to criticise China over its massive military build-up in the South China Sea.

Analysts say Trump’s behaviour on social media has proven a headache for Beijing.

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Zhang Zhexin, a US foreign affairs expert from the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said that in Beijing’s eyes, tweeting about foreign policy was not “a viable or rational way” to conduct diplomacy.

“[China] is unhappy about Trump’s public approach to diplomacy, because they think it will not help solve diplomatic disputes and – even worse – will aggravate the negative public sentiments in both countries against each other,” Zhang said.

Chinese diplomats hoped to see the incoming American leader address diplomatic disputes “using a more rational and institutional approach through established and tested channels, and in a more constructive manner”, the analyst said.

Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on January 20. Since the property tycoon won the fiercely contested election in November, Beijing has refrained from directly criticising him as an individual, despite his outspoken comments about China.

“[The Xinhua commentary] shows that Beijing has yet to adapt to Trump’s unorthodox style in dealing with diplomacy,” said Liu Weidong, a US foreign affairs observer from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

“Trump may think he is just making casual comments [on Twitter], but Beijing takes it very seriously, since this disrupts Beijing’s calculations,” Liu said.

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Chinese leaders prefer to conduct diplomacy behind closed doors.

President Xi Jinping has only once ever posted on social media – through PLA Daily’s weibo account – when he visited the People’s Liberation Army mouthpiece’s office last year. Xi has never opened his own account on Weibo, which is China’s version of Twitter.

In contrast, Trump, who has no civil service experience, has regularly used social media to woo voters and express his views on both domestic and foreign policies.

Last month, Trump slammed Beijing in a tweet after the Chinese navy seized a US underwater drone in the disputed South China Sea.

“China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters - rips it out of water and takes it to China in unpresidented act,” he tweeted, misspelling unprecedented.

He later sent another tweet saying: “We should tell China that we don’t want the drone they stole back. Let them keep it!