On a Sunday morning talk show, US president-elect Donald Trump seemed to forecast his intentions to use the United States’ long-standing acceptance of the “one China” policy as a bargaining chip to make a better deal with China over economic issues.
When asked on “Fox News Sunday” about his protocol-shattering phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen earlier this month, Trump had this to say:
I heard the call was coming probably an hour or two before. I fully understand the “one China” policy, but I don’t know why we have to be bound by a “one China” policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade.
I mean, look, we’re being hurt very badly by China with devaluation, with taxing us heavy at the borders when we don’t tax them, with building a massive fortress in the middle of the South China Sea, which they shouldn’t be doing, and frankly with not helping us at all with North Korea. You have North Korea. You have nuclear weapons and China could solve that problem and they’re not helping us at all.
So, I don’t want China dictating to me and this was a call put in to me. I didn’t make the call, and it was a call, very short call saying congratulations, sir, on the victory. It was a very nice call. Short. And why should some other nation be able to say I can’t take a call? I think it actually would’ve been very disrespectful, to be honest with you, not taking it.
Trump’s remarks open up a range of questions and contradictions, raising further concerns about his future administration and showing once again that the people around Trump do not speak for him in any way.
His claim that he only knew about Tsai’s call a few hours before he was talking to the Taiwanese president, contradicts reports based on sources inside Trump’s own transition team that the phone call had been months in the making and was the result of extensive efforts between Trump’s advisers and conservative lobbyists like Bob Dole who were paid by Taiwan. This raises a few questions: Did Trump make the decision to break with 35 years of US foreign policy protocol in a matter of hours? Did he know what he was doing? Were Trump’s advisers able to manipulate the agenda without him knowing? Who is lying?
It certainly seems that Trump surrogates like Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus were lying last week when they called Trump’s conversation with Tsai a “courtesy call” that was not meant as a shift of policy. Pence called the ensuing uproar surrounding the call a “tempest in a teapot.”
The call seems to have awakened in many conservatives a fervent love for Taiwanese democracy; however, Trump appears less interested in the island as “beacon for democracy,” and more in using it as a bargaining chip in economic deliberations with China.
Just like on the campaign trail, Trump continues to assert that China is intentionally devaluing their own currency in order to hurt American business. This is despite the fact that officials and experts agree that China is actually doing the exact opposite, putting policies in place to keep the renminbi from falling.
While Trump claims to “fully understand the ‘one China’ policy,” many China experts are less sure and feel he is playing with fire when it comes to Taiwan in an escalating situation that could well lead to a trade war, or even the shooting kind.
China has yet to make an official response to Trump’s latest outburst; however, the nationalistic Party tabloid, the Global Times was quick to fire back in an English-language editorial headlined, “‘One China’ policy cannot be used for bargaining,” which reads:
With Trump’s new remarks on Taiwan, many people marveled at Trump’s commercial thinking and naivety for diplomacy. The One China policy has gone through the ages since the Richard Nixon administration. In addition, the policy has become a fundamental principle of international order. Leaders all around the world, including US leaders, understand the importance of the policy.
The One China policy is not for selling. Trump thinks that everything can be valued and, as long as his leverage is strong enough, he can sell or buy. If a price can be put on the US Constitution, will the American people sell their country’s constitution and implement the political systems of Saudi Arabia or Singapore?
Trump needs to learn to handle foreign affairs modestly, especially the China-US relationship. More importantly, a hard struggle against Trump is needed to let him know that China and other world powers cannot be easily taken advantage of.
The Global Times goes on to threaten that if the “naive” Trump pulls back from the “one China” policy, Beijing could “offer support, even military assistance to US foes.” Yet again, the editorial blames Trump’s words on his own complete inexperience on foreign policy and the advice from his hawkish advisers, saving the worst rebukes for Taiwan itself:
“Eventually, those who advocate Taiwan independence will tremble. Taiwanese authorities may regret to being a pawn of Trump and his radical policies. And Tsai will refuse to answer Trump’s call some day. Nothing is impossible if the Trump administration goes too far.”
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