Thu, Oct 26, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Donald Trump, Taiwan and China

By David Pendery 潘大為

This opinion piece will examine US President Donald Trump’s positions and policies regarding Taiwan and China. No doubt the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have a contentious relationship, yet more so since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was elected, and this association is fraught with difficulty — for all three nations being considered here.

No less than war has been seen as a possibility, which none of the three truly want, but which seems to be a real prospect. Even short of armed conflict, the everyday conceptions of economic, cultural and political interaction are trying. Though distant from this challenging whirligig, Trump, as any US president, is a central actor. And so, what is Trump thinking, and how will he make his presence felt on this side of the world? Let us look at the options, with Trump and Taiwan scrutinized first.

In terms of Trump’s policies on Taiwan, he met with approval at home and abroad with his telephone conversation with Tsai on Dec. 2 last year. The call no doubt risked the ire of China, but it took place, with the Trump team remarking that the context was the firm economic, political and security ties that exist between Taiwan and the US — no doubt true, though rather than any genuine look at interaction and communication between the two leaders, this smacks of partisan speechifying (something that always mars Taiwan-US relations, weakening unaffected administrative and collective ties between the two nations).

Though friendly with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), Trump has by no means openly discouraged Taiwan. At the highest level, he has approved a US$1.4 billion arms package to Taiwan — a very important expansion.

Meanwhile, the US Senate and House of Representatives have been most agreeable with Taiwan and introduced a number of bills that have been very favorable to the nation. Trump cannot ignore these legal legislative developments and will likely go along with all of them.

In spite of these positive qualities, Trump has not actually said much that openly supports Taiwan’s sovereignty and/or self-possession (in fact, he has not said all that much about Taiwan at all).

Thus, in sum, Trump’s approach to Taiwan has been obliging, but much less than openly supportive and encouraging.

“Donald Trump is no friend of Taiwan” the Foreign Policy Research Institute said recently, and this is worrisome.

In terms of China, it appears that Trump and Xi have forged a fairly cooperative relationship, particularly after Xi’s visit to the US at Trump’s sumptuous resort in May (accommodations like this are bound to create reasonably good spirits).

“We have a great chemistry together. We like each other. I like him a lot. I think his wife is terrific,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal.

It is just this affability that has led some observers to say that Trump is cozying up to an authoritarian dictator. This could be partially true, as Trump himself appears to have an autocratic streak in his personality — his forceful and antagonistic policies have shown this.

However, is he getting in bed with Xi? Probably not.

Though the two might have a genial connection, and might even see eye to eye on certain restrictive, at times jingoistic, and even inequitable, policies, Trump is not likely to acquiescently hug up to China. The Middle Kingdom is too much a threat to US global dominance for that.

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