Still, China was one of the biggest targets of Trump's campaign rhetoric; he repeatedly argued that the Asian giant took American jobs and depressed wages in working-class America. Trump may not soften his pronouncements, and that could increase tension, even if he does not immediately take any drastic economic policy steps toward China, Baker added.
Trump's transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But to the extent that his past rhetoric can be taken at face value, he clearly believes that the United States has strong economic pressure it can bring to bear against China.
On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly accused China of manipulating its currency in order to give its exports an advantage over U.S.-made goods, and he threatened to slap a tariff of up to 45 percent on Chinese imports. That would obviously be a problem for China given that the United States is a critical export market.
Many forms of economic punishment would have drawbacks for either side, Manning and Baker said. U.S. impediments to Chinese trade would hurt China, but U.S. companies — and farmers — would likely also lose access to China's growing middle class.
"There are implications of cutting trade and economic activity that hurt U.S. businesses and business operations," Baker said.
The threatened tariffs could have the same effect, as many U.S. businesses have built supply chains that stretch around the globe, including into China, Manning added.
China has the "nuclear option" of dumping its U.S. Treasurys. Such a move could roil financial markets in the U.S. by causing shifts in the dollar or interest rates.
But even a move that drastic would not present a clear advantage to China, Manning said. Investors — including many of the world's sovereign governments — buy U.S. debt because it is a safe investment. For China to put that money elsewhere, such as into an increasingly unstable euro zone, would create new problems for Beijing.
Regardless, Baker said he expects sustained U.S. resistance to China in some key areas, such as impeding Chinese investors from buying property and technology in the United States.