Has Trump already taken a toll on U.S.-China relations?

7 December 2016   
Has Trump already taken a toll on U.S.-China relations?

Trump’s campaign platform was largely predicated upon his promises to shake up Washington and the ossified political infrastructure that he and his support base disparagingly referred to as the ubiquitous and yet amorphous “establishment.” The election became a fierce showdown between the political establishment, represented by Clinton’s decades worth of public service and infinitely long list of political connections and scandals, and the outsiders, represented by none other than Trump. Many pundits doubted whether, even if Trump did win the election, he would be able to fulfill the ambitious promises he had made to clean up Washington and unsettle the establishment that has maintained power for decades. Now that Trump has won the election, he has already taken major steps to prove he was not merely blowing hot air – he meant what he said, for better or for worse.

Perhaps the most significant step Trump has taken in the direction to unsettle the Beltway was his breaking course from nearly 40 years of U.S. diplomatic policy by calling the president of Taiwan last week. Since 1979, the United States has maintained its One China policy, whereby the country diplomatically recognizes Beijing as the singular capitol of China and Taiwan as part of China at large, rather than as a sovereign nation. There exist fierce tensions between Taiwan and China over separatist concerns, and thus the U.S. has opted to not disrupt its relations with China by not granting diplomatic recognition to Taiwan. This, of course, means that there are no diplomatic calls between the president of the United States and that of Taiwan – until Trump came along.

Trump made headlines last week when he reportedly called the Taiwanese president and discussed economic and political concerns in the region. He later claimed that the president of Taiwan had called him to merely congratulate him on his victory and that the media had spun a narrative that incorrectly depicted the situation at hand. Regardless of who called whom, the conversation certainly took place, and it has already had substantial ramifications for the close yet consistently precarious relationship between the world’s two economic superpowers.

The Chinese government has taken steps to convince the world that Taiwan had tricked Trump into taking a call with them, so as to make it look like Trump was not complicit in this shady move. However, the anti-China rhetoric for which Trump has become so infamous indicates that he may have been acting deliberately. According to The Atlantic, “reports have since indicated that the call was a deliberate effort by Trump and his advisers to express solidarity with Taiwan and stake out a tough stance on China, which the U.S. President-elect accused throughout the campaign of exploiting the United States economically. On Sunday, Trump noted indignantly on Twitter that China had never asked U.S. permission to devalue its currency, tax U.S. imports, and construct military installations in the South China Sea. In other words, it’s getting harder for Chinese leaders to minimize Trump’s provocations as inadvertent breaches of etiquette.”

As such, a leading Chinese academic, Shen Dingli, claims that Trump has already created a tremendous amount of chaos with this single diplomatic error. “Any bullshitter can say bullshit things,” he said of Trump still technically being a private citizen. “So I don’t care what he says. But if [and when] he is president, I really care.”

He went on to explain the potential consequences of this move. “But if you are president, Shen Dingli’s China would cut off the [diplomatic] relationship with the U.S. completely so the U.S. cannot sell $120 billion [worth of] goods to China.”

Perhaps even more significant would be the lack of bilateral cooperation on the world’s most pressing issues. “[In addition, China would] not cooperate on Iran, on North Korea, on climate, on ISIS. America would have to take on all the burdens by itself.”

“He already has created lots of chaos. And now with calling the Taiwanese leader “president,” he has created more chaos.”

This is no small matter. If Trump does not begin to consult State Department experts on diplomatic affairs such as these, he will inevitably destroy U.S. relations with major partners.

What do you think about Trump’s call to Taiwan?