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World

Sieren's China: Just in time

At least when it comes to policy towards Asia, US President Donald Trump is becoming a little bit more dependable it seems, says DW's Frank Sieren.

It was a close call, but US President Donald Trump seems to have come to his senses just in time. He had already spoken to over 20 heads of state before deciding to put a telephone call through to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping last week. This was too late considering China's economy is already stronger than the US' in terms of purchasing power, China contributes four times more than the US to the global economy, China has the largest global population and is the fourth-largest country in terms of area after Russia, Canada and the USA. The Chinese government had every right to take offense but it stayed calm, even as it made clear behind the scenes that there were certain limits that should not be overstepped.

These limits would have been overstepped if Donald Trump had not called Xi before receiving Japanese President Shinzo Abe and certainly if he had not confirmed officially that he would honor the "One China" policy after hints that he would not in the past. He also, in a press conference, said that the phone call had been "very warm." His willingness to back down is perhaps surprising, but it seems that Trump is going to play it cool from now on. It was also clever to not say a word about thorny issues such as the South China Sea territorial dispute, or the trade surplus.

Help from his granddaughter in diplomacy

Frank Sieren Kolumnist Handelsblatt Bestseller Autor China (Frank Sieren)

DW columnist Frank Sieren

Before the phone call, the US president involved his relatives to lessen the blow to China. In a first for the White House, he sent his daughter and her five-year-old Arabella to a New Year's reception at the Chinese embassy. Moreover, a video of his granddaughter singing "Happy New Year' in Chinese went viral. The New York Times said this was a "diplomatic coup" on the part of Arabella, even if it did come two weeks too late.

It seems as if Trump is dealing with foreign policy in the same way as he does business: He sees how far he can go before having to backtrack, as he has done now with regard to China, NATO and Canada. He has also been reasonable with regard to North Korea, barely reacting to Kim Jong Un's attempt to attract attention through missile tests. Internationally, there has been some relief that his non-reaction was as balanced as it would have been before him. In any case, his unusual behavior - tweeting, blustering, playing golf with Abe, let alone having his granddaughter play the diplomat - is keeping his opponents on their toes.

Beijing is astoundingly calm

Beijing understood Trump's game and remained remarkably calm during the time of the provocation; it can afford to stay calm: The world is well behind China when it comes to trade. But Trump is under pressure - he has to deliver on promises regarding economic growth and jobs in the US. He will have to show his hand soon; there can be no bluffing with regard to China. The economies of the US and China are simply too interdependent now.

 

DW's Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for 20 years.

 

 

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