Fri, Jan 17, 2020 - Page 8 News List

Trump should set China straight

By Joseph Bosco

US President Donald Trump prides himself on going where none of his predecessors dared to go, taking actions that he believes serve the US’ national interests where other presidents’ passivity failed.

Trump did it most dramatically when he ordered the elimination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, a serious security threat to the US. In doing so, he consciously weighed the risk of war with Iran, correctly assessing it as minimal, and outweighed by his strong message against Iranian terrorism and aggression.

After his election in 2016, Trump showed his proclivity for doing the unorthodox in foreign affairs when he accepted a congratulatory call from President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). Foreign policy experts in and out of government tut-tutted that he was offending Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and disrupting carefully constructed US-China relations.

Trump said he could talk to anyone he chooses, but agreed to give Xi a heads up before the next conversation with Tsai. Now that Tsai has achieved a sweeping re-election victory in the face of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) influence operations against her, it is time for him to make those two calls.

There are those who would warn Trump against calling Tsai as US-China trade talks continue, but the US has always held the stronger hand in those negotiations, and that will not change as long as Trump remains firm in his basic demands for transparency and reciprocity.

Trump could simply take a page from Beijing’s playbook by insisting that trade and Taiwan be kept separate. Beijing knows how to compartmentalize issues, as it regularly does when it talks of win-win on trade even as it militarizes the South China Sea.

For that matter, the only reason trade talks are still going on is that Beijing reneged on the original agreement that the parties reached several months ago, so Trump should have no qualms about doing the right thing on Taiwan — especially given the deterrent effect it would have on Xi’s urge toward adventurism.

Just as he displayed with Iran, Trump should demonstrate his same vision of US national interests with China. He could also suggest that Xi show some strategic vision of his own by starting to move China away from its unsustainable authoritarian trajectory. He could remind Xi that Taiwan has shown the way for Chinese society to accomplish a peaceful transition to democratic governance.

After 50 years of Japanese colonial rule and four decades of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime, Taiwan has conducted seven successful presidential elections. The nation has seen three peaceful transfers of power: from the reformed, but still China-oriented KMT, to the independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party for two four-year terms; back to the KMT for another two terms; and now back again to the DPP with the re-election of the nation’s first female leader. Throughout the changes, Taiwan has demonstrated democratic stability.

Beijing has expressed its displeasure during the run-up to each election that Taiwan presumes to choose its own national leader rather than accepting the rule of the CCP, which follows the teaching of Mao Zedong (毛澤東) that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

Taiwanese see it differently. They have dared to express their preference for a system that produces leaders chosen with the consent of the people. Resisting Chinese intimidation and extensive influence operations, they have demonstrated once again that a Confucian culture is as compatible with democratic governance as it would be in the US or in any European society. The CCP rightly fears that idea as subversive and views it as a threat to its cultish mind-controlling dictatorship.

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