US President-elect Donald Trump is not one for being subtle. He made waves again this week, this time with comments he made on international relations. About none other than the superpower of the East, China. And its rocky relationship with Taiwan, to be even more specific.
In a whirl of controversy, Trump answered a call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen earlier this month. This did not fare well with Chinese leadership. The relationship between China and Taiwan is one filled with tension: when the Communist Party took over China in 1949, the Chinese Nationalists were forced to flee to the island (now Taiwan) and establish their own government.
In the 67 years since, the CCP has viewed Taiwan (officially named the Republic of China) as a “renegade province”. Despite the hostility, a mutual arrangement was agreed upon, called the ‘One-China’ principle. The principle refers to the “consensus” that both governments agree there is only one China, but each of the governments may have its own interpretation of what that means. In international relations regards, the policy of ‘One-China’ means that nations seeking diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China (mainland) must first break off any relations with Taiwan, and vice versa.
By answering a phone call from a Taiwanese president, Trump went against decades of US-China diplomacy.
The United States, having diplomatic ties with China (PRC), has the long-standing stance that Taiwan is part of “one China”. Long-standing, well, until now. Maybe, if Trump has his way.
On Sunday, Trump gave an interview with Fox News, where he made ridiculous comments about the ‘One-China’ policy. “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,” he said.
He even went so far as to suggest that the policy could be used as a bargaining chip over North Korea.”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,” he added.
China’s response was deliberately tame: “co-operation with the US ‘would be out of the question’ if Trump doesn’t adhere to the ‘one China’ policy — a cornerstone of bilateral relations since the establishment of diplomatic ties in the 1970s,” CNN reported Monday.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said, “I want to stress that the Taiwan question has a bearing on China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“Adhering to the ‘one China’ principle is the political bedrock for the development US-China relations. If it is compromised or disrupted, the sound and steady growth of the bilateral relationship, as well as bilateral cooperation in major fields would be out of question,” he went on.
While China’s official response was calculated, state-sanctioned tabloid Global Times did not hide its contempt. The provocative paper published an editorial on Monday, writing that Trump “is ignorant as a child in terms of foreign policy.”
“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 piece also warned that if Trump were to throw away the ‘one-China’ policy, it could become “a real crisis”.
And what about the US?
CNN wrote that “the diplomatic balance over Taiwan is so delicate that some analysts fear Trump could be starting a confrontation that could easily spin out of control, endanger other crucial areas of the US-China relationship and even risk a military clash in the Pacific.”
One US expert offered his thoughts. Michael Auslin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, it would be ludicrous to think the CCP will idly stand by, waiting to see how Trump decides to reform US policy toward Taiwan.
“The reality is that Taiwan is the one, non-negotiable red line in US-China relations,” he said.