Trump’s Phone Conversation with Taiwanese President Sparks Controversy

Image By Michael Vadon [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Trump’s Phone Conversation with Taiwanese President Sparks Controversy
Bernadine Racoma

According to the Chinese government, president-elect Donald Trump’s 10-minute phone conversation with Tsai Ing-wen, the President of Taiwan, shows Trump’s inexperience with foreign policy. As most people know, there is a One-China policy, meaning only mainland China is recognized as the country representing China, while Taiwan is a breakaway state that Beijing believes will be reunified with the Mainland someday.

China Daily, a state-run newspaper published in English, printed an editorial on Sunday, commenting on the phone conversation. This is the first of its kind in 40 years and many are speculating that China’s leaders will make an issue about this.

However, Beijing according to the Foreign Ministry of China, represented by the Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, is downplaying the incident and labeled it as Taiwan’s “petty” move. The newspaper also downplayed the issue, saying that it’s an unusual action of the president-elect and requires no over-interpretation. Experts believe that Beijing does not want to be embroiled in a public confrontation with the incoming U.S. president at this early stage.

China scholars on the other hand think that the U.S. should not be complacent and that this case has been put on file. The low-key reaction of Beijing does not mean that China’s leaders are not enraged by that conversation, as the China-Taiwan relationship has always been a very sensitive issue.

Wait and see

John Delury from Yonsei University in Seoul, an expert on East Asia, thinks that Beijing’s actual anger is not shown by their formal response. Beijing is actually biding their time, sizing Trump up and at the same time preparing for Trump’s Taiwan policy. He believes that Beijing actually thinks that Trump is being insulting, provocative and breaking long-established protocol.

An eminent Chinese foreign policy expert, Shen Dingli, from the Fudan University in Shanghai added that Beijing is just waiting for Trump to be in the White House. For him, this is not a minor issue. It is actually a core issue and one that will affect relations between the U.S. and China.

Trump’s rhetoric

President-elect Donald Trump continues to post tweets. As his transition team’s senior members try to downplay the concerns over the conversation with the President of Taiwan, he’s commenting on the stance of Beijing regarding military and economic policies. He asked if China sought the advice of the U.S. before devaluing their currency, which made it difficult for the U.S. to compete. He touched on the fact that goods from China entering the U.S. are not taxed, whereas China taxes the goods coming from the U.S. He also tweeted on the huge military complex that China has built in the South China Sea.

Trump’s aides said that Sunday’s call from the Taiwanese President was just a courtesy call to congratulate Donald Trump for winning the election. Reince Priebus, the incoming chief of staff, said that Trump was very much aware of what was going on when he took the call. The president-elect will work with the People’s Republic of China (PRoC) to ensure that the U.S. gets better trade agreements, he said. In an interview, Reince Priebus said that the Trump administration would tackle the One-China policy after Donald Trump officially holds office at the White House on January 20, 2017. He did mention that Trump would fight for jobs for the American people.

Beijing and Washington need to cooperate on several global issues, such as climate change and global economy management. If there is a policy shift by January 2017, things may get more complicated. For a start, Taiwan has been existing independently for more than 60 years. Beijing on the other hand is still unsure of how to take Trump’s victory. Experts from the U.S. and China think that the new administration will focus on the economic problems of the country, which will allow China to advance strategically in East Asia, while others think that Trump is a matter-of-fact deal-maker.

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