China’s response to US President-elect Donald Trump’s comments about whether the US should keep its long-standing position that Taiwan is part of “one China” has been measured but clear.

“I want to stress that the Taiwan question has a bearing on China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

“Adhering to the ‘one China’ principle is the political bedrock for the development US-China relations. If it is comprised or disrupted, the sound and steady growth of the bilateral relationship, as well as bilateral cooperation in major fields would be out of question.”

As reported by CNN, however, the language used by China’s Global Times newspaper, a provocative but state-sanctioned tabloid, went much further in its criticism of Trump. In a December 12 editorial, it described Trump as a “child” ignorant of foreign policy and ruled out negotiations on the “one China” issue.

“The ‘one China’ policy cannot be bought and sold, Trump, it seems, only understands business and believes that everything has a price and that if he is strong enough he can buy and sell by force,” it said.

The editorial warned that Trump, because of his “lack of hands on experience”, was liable to be influenced and controlled by hardliners near him. It added that if Trump ditched the “one China” policy, it would spark “a real crisis”.

According to CNN, the Communist government in Beijing views Taiwan as a “renegade province”, since Chinese nationalists fled there and established a government after losing the civil war in 1949.

While both governments – officially the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) – claim to be the legitimate ruler of all of China, but the ROC effectively controls only Taiwan and a few other small islands.

According to an analysis by Steven M Goldstein, director of the Taiwan Studies Workshop and associate at the Fairbank Center at Harvard University, the relationship between China and Taiwan is an ambiguous one, where the People’s Republic of China claims Taiwan as part of its national territory but is prepared for the present to let Taiwan continue in existence, while Taiwan also has an interest in not clarifying its relationship with the People’s Republic too precisely.

The analysis, which was published in The Washington Post, further states that Trump’s suggestion that One China is another bargaining chip, which the US can play or not play as it likes, is both misleading and risky.

“On the one hand, it apparently misses the subtle, but extremely significant, differences between the American ‘one China policy’ and the Chinese ‘one China principle’. On the other, it endangers the central tenet of American policy in the area — the maintenance of the status quo. The Trump transition team has already referred to Tsai Ing-wen as ‘President of Taiwan’. This publicly undermines the only aspect of the One China issue where the United States and China actually agree — that Taiwan is not a state, while starkly exposing the reality of the quasi state-to-state relationship that the American One China policy obscures.

“By using Taiwan’s status as a negotiating ploy, Trump is doubling down on this dangerous strategy. China’s vital national interests are in conflict with US policy, and stable relations are fragile, because all the parties are unhappy with the present situation. If the incoming administration persists in its apparent careless indifference, it runs the risk of grossly destabilizing U.S.-China relations, and even risks war.”