Beijing may find itself with limited options against Washington even if US President-elect Donald Trump were to carry out his threat not to abide by the longstanding policy that Taiwan is part of "one China".
It could resort to "old methods" of targeting US allies or supporting US foes such as North Korea and Syria, say analysts. Or, it could simply take it out squarely on Taiwan.
Ultimately, however, it depends on what Mr Trump's eventual policies are rather than his rhetoric for now, analysts told The Straits Times.
"Trump should make no mistake that he can get away with it," Peking University's foreign affairs expert Wang Dong said. "This will set the stage for a perfect storm, and it will be the most serious crisis in Sino-US relations."
But Professor Wang said it would be hard to say what China might do given that Mr Trump's advisers have been suggesting policy actions ranging from some baby steps to the most radical suggestion of normalising ties with Taiwan.
"So far, he has indicated that he wants to take a radical 'revisionist' approach, but we need to see what he really will do," he added.
Cross-strait expert Wang Weinan of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences said punishing Taiwan would be the most convenient way of getting back at the US.
"China does not have a really effective way of dealing with the US directly, so Taiwan will be the first to suffer," said Dr Wang.
Making Taiwan lose a few more diplomatic allies could be a start, he said, adding that Beijing is "fully capable of going to war" on the issue of Taiwan.
As for economic retaliation, it may not work, for both China and the US will ultimately be hurt as a result. And the US is also fully aware of that, said Dr Wang.
East Asian Institute senior research fellow Chen Gang is not convinced that Mr Trump will readily abandon the "one China" policy.
It is still early days to tell what China would do as it depends on the actions that Mr Trump will take, he said.
Based on past practices, however, he pointed out that Beijing could possibly take both economic and military actions against Washington to express its anger.
Economically, it could increase tariffs on US imports, and limit US investments in China.
And militarily, it could deploy more troops to the Taiwan Strait and halt defence cooperation with the US, said Dr Chen.
"But these would be temporary, and would not last long for the US is a big country, so what China can do is very limited," he added.