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Trump sets aside ‘shoot-from-the-hip Twitter diplomacy’ and rethinks ‘One China’ policy: Expert Reaction

FENG LI | AFP | GettyImages

U.S. President Donald Trump's overnight swing in sentiment towards China may herald a more pragmatic diplomatic approach but experts are warning he is still likely to pursue a toughened stance compared to some of his predecessors.

The U.S. President reversed his recent rhetoric which had questioned the need to continue to honor the 'One China' policy – a code that asserts countries seeking diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China (China) must not officially recognize the Republic of China (Taiwan) – in a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday evening.

Xinhua, China's official press agency, captured the level of intrigue surrounding the result of the call by publishing a poll on Twitter asking voters to decide on the motivation behind the U.S. leader's mindset change. The choices offered ran the gamut from a) Blackmailing didn't work b) China's unyielding stance c) Pressure from within U.S. and d) Ivanka and Arabella. (Side note: Three days remain to cast your vote if you have a view).

Trump's about-face is not inconsistent with his avid pursuit of an "economic nationalist agenda", the prism through which all of his policies can be viewed, Arun Pillai-Essex, political risk analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, told CNBC on Friday.

"He wanted to ratchet down the tension surrounding U.S./Sino relations. With [Japanese Prime Minister] Shinzo Abe arriving tomorrow he didn't want to have another flashpoint in the East Asian region," explained Pillai-Essex.

"I think he also wanted to assuage concerns with a lot of the U.S. allies that the U.S. wasn't throwing away 70 years of foreign policy just under this administration," he continued, before opining that we should not read too much into the apparent directional shift.

"Trump is really seeking to restructure the relationship and I don't see that changing," the analyst concluded.

President Donald Trump is seen through a window speaking on the phone on Jan. 29, 2017.
Mark Wilson | Getty Images
President Donald Trump is seen through a window speaking on the phone on Jan. 29, 2017.

Meantime, Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at research house Capital Economics, questioned the apparent outcome for the U.S. President.

"Trump previously said that the 'One China' policy was up for negotiation alongside other issues such as trade and currency policy. But he now seems to have given Beijing the statement it wanted on 'One China' without getting anything concrete in return," Williams flagged to CNBC via email.

Brian Klaas, fellow in comparative politics at London School of Economics, suggested to CNBC via email that the newly inaugurated U.S. President was learning the complexities of U.S. foreign policy after multiple "careless" actions since the election.

"Perhaps he is realizing that his brand of shoot-from-the-hip Twitter diplomacy, which can wound decades of carefully crafted compromise with a click, is not a wise approach. Moreover, his fiery campaign rhetoric is running into the foreign policy reality: alienating China so fully and immediately is counterproductive, even if he wants to be tougher on China generally," posited the professor.

China will positively receive the U.S.'s reaffirmed commitment to the status quo but it will not assuage all nerves within the country, commented Shaun Breslin, professor of politics and international studies at Warwick University via email.

"U.S. actions and intentions in the South China Sea remain a big cause of concern in China. So too does the potential for trade and broader economic conflict with the U.S. national trade council now led by Peter Navarro - a man whose books include "Death by China" and "The Coming China Wars". So it's a case of one potential sore soothed, others still causing irritation," he affirmed.

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