When Donald Trump took a call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen it upset a very rickety apple cart. Since 1979 (quick question… who was president in 1979?) the US has rigorously adhered to the fiction that Taiwan is merely a “renegade province” of Communist China that will ultimately be returned to the fold. According to reporting by the Washington Post, the call was not an extemporaneous brain-fart by Donald Trump (and I have to say that the perpetual assumption that Trump is stupid is getting old), it was a premeditated act and Trump was fully briefed on and cognizant of what he was doing.
Donald Trump’s protocol-breaking telephone call with Taiwan’s leader was an intentionally provocative move that establishes the incoming president as a break with the past, according to interviews with people involved in the planning.
The historic communication — the first between leaders of the United States and Taiwan since 1979 — was the product of months of quiet preparations and deliberations among Trump’s advisers about a new strategy for engagement with Taiwan that began even before he became the Republican presidential nominee, according to people involved in or briefed on the talks.
The call also reflects the views of hard-line advisers urging Trump to take a tough opening line with China, said others familiar with the months of discussion about Taiwan and China.
The move caught the US State Department and the ChiComs flat-footed. John Kerry was left blubbering about not being consulted (as an aside, when you go into an organization one of the first and most critical assessments you have to make is who is part of the problem and who can be part of the solution. Can anyone look at anything done by the State Department over the past eight years and argue they have the potential to be part of the solution?). The Chinese government has been fairly quiet but China’s official news outlets are in a full-blown spittle-flinging rage:
Donald Trump is a “diplomatic rookie” who must learn not to cross Beijing on issues like trade and Taiwan, Chinese state media said Tuesday, warning America could pay dearly for his naivety.
Trump’s protocol-shattering call with Taiwan’s president and a subsequent Twitter tirade against Beijing’s policies could risk upending the delicate balance between the world’s two largest economies, major media outlets said.
“Provoking friction and messing up China-US relations won’t help ‘make America great again'”, said a front-page opinion piece in the overseas edition of Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily.
The nationalist Global Times newspaper’s Chinese edition also ran a page-one story on Trump’s “inability to keep his mouth shut”, damning his “provocation and falsehoods”.
Official reaction from Beijing has been muted, but China often uses state media to telegraph its policy positions, sometimes employing rhetoric beyond the diplomatic pale.
The Global Times’ English-language edition filled its opinion pages with editorials slamming the president-elect.
The often brittle, provocative publication is not considered “official” media, but has close ties to the ruling party.
Noting that Sino-US relations had reached a delicate equilibrium thanks to years of careful management, an editorial in the paper warned that Trump “can make a lot of noise but that does not exempt him from the rules of the major power game,” adding that he “doesn’t have sufficient resources” to be provocative with China.
“Trump’s China-bashing tweet is just a cover for his real intent, which is to treat China as a fat lamb and cut a piece of meat off it,” it said.
“He is trying to pillage other countries for US prosperity,” it warned, but instead he will unwittingly “smash the current world economic order” of which the US is the “biggest beneficiary.”
A companion commentary warned that Trump “will in time learn not to cross China”, threatening “a fierce competition” with Beijing if the US increases arm sales to Taiwan.
It was illustrated by an editorial cartoon showing an eagle throwing pebbles at a large, scowling panda.
Meanwhile the English-language China Daily newspaper warned that “diplomatic rookie” Trump needs to moderate his behaviour or he will create “costly troubles for his country”.
“As president-elect, Trump can expect some forgiveness even when he is shooting from the hip. But things will be different when he becomes president.”
This is long overdue.
While we’ve been bickering about a failed, though nuclear armed, Third World state caught in a demographic death spiral bullying its neighbors for domestic political consumption, our real geopolitical foe has been changing the strategic landscape in the Western Pacific. China has created a system of artificial islands in the South China Sea and has garrisoned them providing legal grounding to their otherwise specious claim that the South China Sea is a Chinese preserve. While Barack Obama was infatuated with the bathroom habits of the mentally ill, our alliances were under a concert carrot-and-stick assault. For a half century out policy toward China has been to kowtow and accede to their every demand.
The fact is that China needs the US more than we need them. We are the largest market for their products. Without ready access to US markets, China’s economy, already brittle, will be stressed to the breaking point. And the great thing about manufacturing that is based on cheap labor is that there is plenty of cheap labor. And Vietnam and the Philippines and Malaysia and Indonesia and a lot of other countries would be more than willing to fill the void in short order. China buys a lot of US debt which produces the odd equation of China sending us their dollars and their goods in exchange for US paper. If they “dump” debt, it won’t hurt us. It will hurt them. And if China stops buying our bonds, what conservative can look at curtailing the ability of the US government to borrow as a 100% bad thing?
As John Bolton says, this call was as much about OUR national sovereignty as it was about China’s: “Nobody in Beijing gets to dictate who we talk to.”