Time makes things clearer. The question is how much time? To me it is a little clearer now how the Chinese will engage Trump: language!
I have been telling family and friends the trouble with Trump is his language. He exaggerates and misrepresents, you might say he is a habitual liar. I explained this is dangerous. The language and protocols of diplomacy is fashioned out of the blood of past mistakes with language. Communication failures which led to misunderstanding and war. Now Trump has no regard for using appropriate language. He accused the Chinese of stealing the US underwater drone but even it that was true, it was careless because there are more than one way to look at it. Remember that sort of drone costing about $150k is also used by commercial enterprises and NGOs. The Chinese can always claim they didn't know it was US Navy property until it is too late.
You may accuse the Chinese of theft of US Navy property only if there is no other way to read the whole event. If you fail to do that, you only show yourself to be narrow minded.
The Chinese were cleverer and I think will continue to counter him with appropriate language by making Trump look bad. I quote from the WSJ article.
“The Chinese side inspected it, found that it belongs to the U.S., and decided to hand it back,” Ms. Hua told reporters at a regular briefing. She said both countries’ militaries “are in smooth communications, and we believe this incident will be properly handled.”and the story ends with.
“We really don’t like the word ‘stealing,’” Ms. Hua said. “The most important thing is that the Chinese navy took a professional manner to prevent the device from harming freedom of navigation.”Trump will provoke the Chinese into a Twitter war with him but the other side will never respond with tweets but through the organs and instrument of diplomacy e.g., a media announcement. The Chinese primary audience is their own people then the Americans. The Chinese people will say, "Look, Trump is a barbarian. We will not stoop so low"
How long will it take for Trump to learn that diplomacy cannot be conducted with 140 characters tweets? A tweet is "so bad" in Trump-speak that it is better to remain silent or remove all doubt that you are an ignoramus or idiot.
Update: Dec 20 8:35 pm
A diametrically opposite point of view from mine which I do not find helpful because one has to consider the trajectory of such behavior. Note I say behavior and not attitude. When dealing with an adversary, deception is highly prized and there is not need to have behavior consistent with attitude. But you have to be clear where you want the relationship to go. You cannot go tit for tat without purpose other than to get even or look bigger. I would like peace in the South China Sea so we can trade and next I would like China to behave better preferably by providing incentives for that, failing which we have to to resort to disincentives.
US allies and friends in the region are nervous because without saying so publicly, we doubt American resolve to hold their positions in these waters.
When the US says no to the TPP it tells me they are not prepare to risk it here? What for? What are you defending? Prestige? That is too expensive. Might as well preserve that by avoiding being tested.
Trump talks big and loud but does he understand the cost of backing up those words with action?
That is why Duterte has decided not to waste his time with the Americans. Things are moving quickly and timeliness of action is important. But do we see the Americans responding to the pace the Chinese are setting? The Americans are reacting in a distracting manner.
Ratify the TPP or lose influence big time in Asia. Trump is too dumb to see the connection between American prestige, security and economics. He is obsessed with running after Islamic terrorists when with patience they can already win that. He ought to be dedicating most of his attention to the US relationship with China.
Update: Dec 20: 11:05 pm
See Reuters report.