Thursday, 8 December 2016

Donald Trump’s Taiwan call wasn't a blunder. It was brilliant...

By Marc A. Thiessen, Published The Straits Times, 7 Dec 2016

Relax. Breathe.

Mr Donald Trump's phone call with the president of Taiwan wasn't a blunder by an inexperienced president-elect unschooled in the niceties of cross-strait diplomacy.

It was a deliberate move - and a brilliant one at that.

The phone call with President Tsai Ing-wen was reportedly carefully planned, and Mr Trump was fully briefed before the call, according to The Washington Post. It's not that Mr Trump was unfamiliar with the Three Communiques or unaware of the fiction that there is One China. Mr Trump knew precisely what he was doing in taking the call.

He was serving notice on Beijing that it is dealing with a different kind of president - an outsider who will not be encumbered by the same Lilliputian diplomatic threads that tied down previous administrations.

The message, as former US ambassador John Bolton correctly put it, was that "the president of the United States (will) talk to whoever he wants if he thinks it's in the interest of the United States, and nobody in Beijing gets to dictate who we talk to".

Amen to that.

And if that message was lost on Beijing, Mr Trump underscored it on Sunday, tweeting: "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 US doesn't tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don't think so!" He does not need Beijing's permission to speak to anyone. No more kowtowing in a Trump administration.

Mr Trump promised during the campaign that he would take a tougher stand with China, and supporting Taiwan has always been part of his get-tough approach to Beijing.

As far back as 2011, Mr Trump tweeted: "Why is @BarackObama delaying the sale of F-16 aircraft to Taiwan? Wrong message to send to China. #TimeToGetTough."

Indeed, the very idea that Mr Trump could not speak to Taiwan's president because it would anger Beijing is precisely the kind of weak-kneed subservience that Mr Trump promised to eliminate as president.

Mr Trump's call with the Taiwanese president sent a message not only to Beijing, but also to the striped-pants foreign- policy establishment in Washington. It is telling how so many in that establishment immediately assumed he had committed an unintended gaffe. "Bottomless pig-ignorance" is how one liberal foreign-policy commentator described his decision to speak with Ms Tsai.

Mr Trump just shocked the world by winning the presidential election, yet they still underestimate him. The irony is that the hyperventilation in Washington has far outpaced the measured response from Beijing. When American foreign-policy elites are more upset than China, perhaps it's time for some introspection.

The hypocrisy is rank. When President Obama broke with decades of US policy and extended diplomatic recognition to a murderous dictatorship in Cuba, the foreign-policy establishment swooned. Democrats on Capitol Hill praised Mr Obama for taking action that was "long overdue".

Former president Jimmy Carter raved about how Mr Obama had "shown such wisdom", while the New York Times gushed that Mr Obama was acting "courageously" and "ushering in a transformational era for millions of Cubans who have suffered as a result of more than 50 years of hostility between the two nations".

But when Mr Trump broke with decades of US diplomatic practice and had a phone call with the democratically elected leader of Taiwan, he was declared a buffoon. Well, if they didn't like that phone call, his critics may hate what could come next even more. Mr Trump now has an opportunity to do with Taiwan what Mr Obama did with Cuba - normalise relations.

There are a number of steps the Trump administration can take to strengthen our military, economic and diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

My American Enterprise Institute colleague Derek Scissors has suggested that Mr Trump could negotiate a new free trade agreement (FTA) with Taiwan. "Taiwan's tiny population means there is no jobs threat," Mr Scissors says, but Taiwan is also the US' ninth-largest trading partner. An FTA would be economically beneficial to both sides and would send a message to friend and foe alike in Asia that, despite Mr Trump's planned withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the US is not withdrawing from the region.

On the military front, Mr Trump could begin sending general officers to Taipei once again to coordinate with their Taiwanese counterparts and hold joint military exercises. On the diplomatic front, Mr Bolton says the new administration could start "receiving Taiwanese diplomats officially at the State Department; upgrading the status of US representation in Taipei from a private 'institute' to an official diplomatic mission; inviting Taiwan's president to travel officially to America; allowing the most senior US officials to visit Taiwan to transact government business; and ultimately restoring full diplomatic recognition".

Beijing would be wise not to overreact to any overtures Mr Trump makes to Taiwan. When China tested President George W. Bush in his first months in office by scrambling fighters and forcing a US EP-3 aircraft to land on Hainan, its actions backfired. After the incident, Mr Bush approved a US$30 billion arms package for Taiwan, announced that Taiwan would be treated as a major non-Nato ally and declared that the US would do "whatever it took" to defend Taiwan. His actions not only strengthened US ties with Taiwan but also set the stage for good relations with Beijing throughout his presidency.

China does not want to make the same mistake and overplay its hand with Mr Trump. Mr Trump's call with Ms Tsai was a smart, calculated move designed to send a clear message: The days of pushing the US around are over.

That may horrify official Washington, but it's the right message to send.


The writer, a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute and former chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush, writes a weekly online column for The Post.



No reason for US to be bound by 'one China' policy: Trump
The Straits Times, 12 Dec 2016

WASHINGTON • Mr Donald Trump has questioned whether the US has to be bound by its longstanding position that Taiwan is part of "one China" and brushed aside Beijing's concerns about his decision to accept a phone call from Taiwan's President.

"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," the United States President-elect said in an interview with Fox News Sunday.

The congratulatory call that Mr Trump accepted from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen was the first such contact with Taiwan by a US president-elect or president since Mr Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, acknowledging Taiwan as part of "one China".

Taiwan is one of China's most sensitive policy issues, and China generally lambasts any official contact by foreign governments with Taiwan's leaders.

In the Fox interview, Mr Trump criticised China over its policies on issues such as currency, the South China Sea and North Korea, and said it was not up to Beijing to decide if he should take a call from Taiwan's leader. "I don't want China dictating to me, and this was a call put in to me," Mr Trump said. "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," Mr Trump added. He also said he had just a couple of hours' notice of the call, not weeks as has been reported.


Beijing concerned about Trump's 'one China' remarks
Bilateral cooperation out of question if principle is disrupted: Official
By Chong Koh Ping, China Correspondent In Beijing, The Straits Times, 13 Dec 2016

United States President-elect Donald Trump's latest rhetoric questioning the need to adhere to the "one China" policy has prompted the Chinese Foreign Ministry to express its grave concern.

Taiwan, too, is wary of being used as a bargaining chip by Mr Trump to deal with a strong China.

In a swift response to Mr Trump's remarks on Sunday, a Chinese Communist Party-linked newspaper even spelled out the stakes involved if Mr Trump were to abandon the "one China" policy.

The nationalistic Global Times called Mr Trump "as ignorant of diplomacy as a child" in its Chinese-language version, and warned that if the US openly supported Taiwan's independence and ramped up arms sales to the island, China could aid "forces hostile to the US".

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang was more restrained as he reminded Washington at a regular press conference yesterday that the healthy development of Sino- US ties and bilateral cooperation in major areas would be "out of the question" if the basis of the "one China" principle is disrupted, or destroyed.

"We urge the new US government and leader to fully recognise the highly sensitive nature of the Taiwan issue," Mr Geng said.

China's response came a day after Mr Trump said in an interview with Fox TV that he did not know why the United States must "be bound by a 'one China' policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade".

Mr Trump complained that "we're hurt very badly by China with devaluation", by China's high tariffs on US goods, and by the militarisation of the South China Sea. He also chided China for not reining in North Korea on its nuclear weapons.

"They're not helping us at all. So, I don't want China dictating to me," he said, referring to the phone call that he took from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Dec 2.

The phone call marked the first direct contact between the leaders of the two sides since Washington cut diplomatic ties with Taipei in 1979 to re-establish formal relations with Beijing.

And despite reports that the phone call was months in the making, Mr Trump told Fox TV he learnt about the call "an hour or two" before it took place,

The unprecedented move drew widespread concern in the US over whether Mr Trump would discard the country's decades-old policy in dealing with China and what Beijing might do in retaliation.

But so far, China has lodged only a verbal protest with the US.

A commentary by the official Xinhua news agency yesterday reminded Mr Trump to learn from his predecessors on how to conduct Sino- US ties.

The Global Times said Beijing could offer support or military aid to US foes. Beijing "may not prioritise peaceful reunification over a military takeover (of Taiwan) if Trump insisted on his provocations", the newspaper added.

Beijing regards Taiwan as a renegade province, which eventually must be reunited with the mainland.

Taiwanese analysts expressed concern that Mr Trump's tough rhetoric could hurt Taiwan.

Said political analyst Edward Chen I-Hsin: "Taiwan should be worried about being used as Trump's bargaining chip. China will do anything to ensure that its sovereignty over Taiwan is not challenged."


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