Trump’s recent phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen has sparked a not too surprising response from Beijing:
“We must point out, there’s is only one China in the world and Taiwan is an inseparable part of Chinese territory,” read a statement posted on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website Saturday afternoon.
Anyone who has been watching Chinese-American relationships in the past decade isn’t surprised by this. To an American, Taiwan has been de-facto separated by China, and many people don’t understand why they don’t just give it up at this point.
Taiwan is part of the sacred territory of the People’s Republic of China. It is the lofty duty of the entire Chinese people, including our compatriots in Taiwan, to accomplish the great task of reunifying the motherland.
To put it into American perspective, it would be like giving Florida back to Spain, despite it being an American state for so long.
Although the phone call appears almost random, I’m guessing it’s not, and that it’s a deliberate overreach by Trump. He knows that President Obama has too often gotten the snub by China. China plays the long game, and doesn’t deliberately piss people off unless it feels it has the upper hand. After watching the US fumble foreign policy with China and give them essentially what they want, China feels like it can push the US around to a certain extent.
Trump gets better deals negotiating from a position of power. If he approached China in a normal manner, they would seize upon every diplomatic way they could to undermine his legitimacy as President. So instead, he hits them between the eyes by pounding on a very sensitive diplomatic button.
I predict the following:
- China will do something to show they still “control” Taiwan. A military exercise, shoot off missiles, cyber attack…something like that. Enough to get attention, but small enough to be diplomatically written off by the US if they want to.
- This action will let China reassure its people, and plenty of people will advise Trump to just let it go.
- Trump won’t, because he knows if he does, he starts off at a place of weakness. So, he’ll do something out of the box that will scare the Chinese:
- He could dismantle the alliance China has built up over the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. If the US stops the UN from helping the bank, it would be a massive blow to Chinese pride. Trump could selectively woo countries away from the bank and leave China holding a large bag of debt.
- He could conduct a military exercise that would scare China. A freedom of navigation drive-by would be too lame. If President Trump practiced a maritime blockade of China, and deliberately built an alliance (think Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia, all of whom have reasons to hate China), it could rattle the Chinese. They want to win in a short, sharp conflict, and know that a long, drawn out blockade could strangle them in the long run.
- He could buy off Chinese overseas investment. China has put considerable money in African and Asian countries to try and break out of the First Island Chain. Trump is the master deal maker, and if he dismantled those deals one by one, it would damage the international image that China wants to portray.
Make no mistake, Trump is walking into the China-Taiwan situation deliberately, and it’ll be interesting to see what he comes up with to negotiate from a position of strength.
This post represents the views of the author and does not represent the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other organization’s viewpoints.
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