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June 23, 2017

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Beijing no longer amused by Trump

During the American presidential campaign, Donald Trump didn't disguise his admiration for the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin. And now, as president-elect, Trump has nominated ExxonMobil chief Rex Tillerson, a recipient of Russia's Order of Friendship, as secretary of state.

This all suggests that U.S. relations with Russia will improve after the inauguration of the man Moscow helped put in the White House.

Meanwhile, President-elect Trump seems to have gone out of his way to be provocative where China is concerned. He spoke on the phone with Taiwan's leader, Tsai Ing-wen, and then suggested that the U.S. may abandon the "one China" policy which has held together bilateral relations between Washington and Beijing since 1979.

U.S. relations with Russia are expected to thaw after Trump assumes the presidency. They may remain frosty with China.

Already, there are signs that Beijing realizes the implications for itself if Sino-Russian relations improve rapidly.

The current closeness of Sino-Russian relations is to a large extent the result of economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the European Union against Russia for its military intervention in Ukraine. This deprived Russia of western investors and western markets for its energy and drove it into China's arms.

China has been a tough negotiator on Russian energy prices. Russia has also been pressured to allow Chinese investors to take stakes of more than 50 percent in its strategic oil and gas fields.

The official Communist party mouthpiece, the People's Daily, published a commentary on Saturday, hailing China-Russia strategic coordination as a stabilizer of world peace. In its concluding paragraph it said: "Looking into the next year, the international situation may become even more complicated, thus posing greater challenges for the development of both China and Russia."

Reading between the lines, the suggestion seems to be that, after Trump assumes office, the Sino-Russian relationship may become strained. But the People's Daily, being the official party voice, cannot come out and say this.

Others, however, are less constrained. Global Times, which is a nationalistic tabloid published by the People's Daily, was more direct. In a commentary on the changing power dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region, it said: "Moscow has the willingness to improve relations with Washington under the Trump administration. Meanwhile, Russia may also use its improved relationship with Japan to balance the Sino-U.S. relationship. Will then China be pushed to the front line of confronting the U.S.?"

Shi Yinhong, a foreign policy analyst with Renmin University, told the Guardian newspaper, "China will be prepared for some degree of alienation between Moscow and Beijing."

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