Since the election, Trump has taken aim at the “One China” policy (he even took a call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, though the United States does not have diplomatic relations with the country). His secretary of state pick said that he'd deny China access to its man-made islands in the disputed South China Sea. Trump has vowed higher tariffs on incoming goods from China and said the country's policies make it harder for American companies to compete (the gravest sin of all, for Trump).
But Chinese leaders want to play nice, at least for today.
Officials have ordered state media to cover Trump's inauguration gently, writing that “unauthorized criticism of Trump’s words or actions is not allowed.” The directive, leaked by the China Digital Times, warns that Trump's big day should “be handled with care” and that editors should “adhere strictly to the unified message from centrally controlled media.” Media outlets have been told to run content by Xinhua News Agency, the state's official news agency.
So far, Xinhua's Trump coverage has been understated, at least on its English-language news site. There are two homepage stories that deal with the incoming president (“U.S. President-elect Trump 'going to fail': Soros” and "Japan's Abe stresses U.S. alliance, calls for constitutional change in policy speech"), buried about halfway down the page. In another article, Xinhua affirms that China is not bothered by the presence of a Taiwanese delegation at today's inauguration. The Foreign Ministry “dismissed Taiwan's sending of a self-styled delegation to President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration ceremony, saying that the move was aimed to disrupt China-U.S. relations.”
On twitter, Xinhua is playing up similar stories. Here's what they've posted on the inauguration so far:
Beijing-based political commentator Zha Jianguo told Radio Free Asia that the memo is probably part of a larger effort to quell bilateral tensions. “The subject of Trump is a highly sensitive one for all Chinese media organizations, because of the uncertainty around the relationship with the U.S.," Zha told RFA. “The Chinese government wants to wait and see what happens next, make its observations, and it doesn't want any trouble starting in the rank and file.”
Activist Huang Xiaomin told RFA that Beijing sees Trump as a “threat to their power.”
“They are tightening controls over the media and public opinion to smooth over the recent confrontations, ridicule and uncertainties with an excess of official diplomacy, to try to repair the relationship, not just with the U.S., but with Taiwan as well,” he said.
During the election, Trump was something of a celebrity in China. But since the election, a lot of his fans have soured.
“Trump fan or a patriotic Chinese, you can’t be both,” one person told the South China Morning Post. “I have changed my opinion greatly,” Tony Liang said. “His unprofessional foreign policy statements have been very disappointing, even outrageous.”