After facing a firestorm of criticism over the weekend for his sudden decision to shatter over 35 years of American foreign policy protocol and speak with the Taiwanese president over the phone, Donald Trump fired back on Sunday with a short Twitter tirade questioning China’s economic and military policy.
On Friday, the US president-elect shocked the diplomatic world with his telephone call with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, marking the first time that an American president or president-elect has spoken with a Taiwanese president since 1979. While Beijing primarily blamed the call on Taiwanese “shenanigans” preying on Trump’s complete lack of foreign policy experience, the foreign ministry also lodged a stern solemn representation with the United States on Saturday, stating that the “one China” policy is the “the political bedrock of China-US relations.”
Any thoughts that Trump might try to backtrack from his first serious international incident were shattered yesterday when Trump took to Twitter to rhetorically wonder aloud about China’s “currency manipulation,” trade tariffs and South China Sea aggression.
Here’s the full rant which Trump later posted on his Facebook page:
“Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the U.S. doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea?” he asked. “I don’t think so!”
Chinese President Xi Jinping has yet to respond to these accusations on either Twitter or Facebook.
So far, China has been silent on Trump’s latest attack, though perhaps they will helpfully point out that the US does in fact impose a tax on Chinese goods — 2.9% for non-farm goods and 2.5% for agricultural products.
In August during the presidential campaign, China’s official Xinhua news agency called Trump out on his excessive “China-bashing.” On the campaign trail, Chinese monetary policy was one of the Republican candidate’s favorite talking points. Last year, he vowed that on his “first day in office,” he would declare China as a currency manipulator, believing that Beijing artificially keeps the value of the renminbi low to hurt American manufacturers.
Trump has stuck with this conviction, even as data and the US Treasury Department say that it is false. Earlier on Sunday, Vice President-elect Mike Pence was asked repeatedly by ABC reporter George Stephanopoulos if Trump still planned to follow through on his campaign promise. Pence refused to give a straight answer.
Pressed repeatedly, Pence declines to say whether Trump will label China a currency manipulator as he said he would on the campaign trail: pic.twitter.com/G6A29elxbZ
— Sopan Deb (@SopanDeb) December 4, 2016
During that same interview, Pence also explained that the protocol-breaking conversation between Trump and Tsai was “just a courtesy call,” not intended as a major shift in US foreign policy, calling the uproar surrounding the call a “tempest in a teapot.”
“He took the call, accepted her congratulations and good wishes and it was precisely that,” Pence said on ABC’s This Week.
However, many observers are not convinced that the call was a mere formality or an thoughtless blunder from a foreign policy novice, believing instead that it may serve as signal for future relations with China under the Trump administration. According to the Washington Post, the call was planned long in advance by Trump’s East Asia advisors, who have been pushing for a stronger Taiwan.
In an article for Foreign Policy magazine titled “Donald Trump’s Peace Through Strength Vision for the Asia-Pacific,” Peter Navarro and Alexander Gray described Taiwan as a “beacon of democracy in Asia” and complained that its treatment by the Obama administration was “egregious.”
The article, flagged to China experts as a significant policy blueprint, described Taiwan as “the most militarily vulnerable U.S. partner anywhere in the world” and called for a comprehensive arms deal to help it defend itself against China.
Friday’s phone call does not necessarily mean that will happen, but it does look like the first sign of a recalibration by a future Trump administration, experts say.
Cross-strait ties have gone cold since Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen took office in May. Despite Beijing’s insistence, Tsai has steadfastly refused to acknowledge the “One China” principle — an agreement of sorts that allows both sides to maintain that there is only one China, despite holding vastly different views on who should govern it. This has led Beijing to cut official lines of communication and limit the number of mainland tourists allowed to visit Taiwan, while continuing its efforts to reduce Taipei’s influence abroad.
Diplomatic relations between China and the United States were re-established after President Nixon visited Beijing in 1972. Six years later, President Jimmy Carter recognized Beijing as the sole government of both mainland China and Taiwan. Shortly thereafter, the US closed its embassy in Taiwan. Since then, US presidents have kept their distance from Taiwanese leaders, while still selling them arms each year.
Meanwhile, other critics believe that Trump’s Taiwan phone call may have stemmed from his own tangled web of conflicts of interests. In November, the mayor of Taoyuan confirmed that a representative from the Trump organization had paid a visit to the northwest Taiwanese city, expressing interest in constructing a series of luxury hotels and resorts.
The Trump Organization has denied any plans of expanding into Taiwan; however, they did not respond when confronted with the fact that an executive overseeing business development in Asia had made a work trip to Taipei in October.
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