Trump challenges China over Taiwan
President-elect Donald Trump made a striking break from U.S. diplomatic policy on China by directly accepting a congratulatory call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen last week, triggering an indignant response from Beijing. The call was the first between leaders of the two countries since 1979, when the U.S. adopted its “One China” policy, cut off diplomatic ties with the breakaway island state, and formally recognized Beijing as China’s only legitimate government. After China protested Trump’s call with Tsai, Trump fired off a series of tweets accusing China of heavily taxing U.S. exports, devaluing its currency, and building a “massive military complex” in the South China Sea. It later emerged that former Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole was paid $140,000 by the Taiwanese government to convince Trump and his aides that the president-elect should accept a call from Tsai. In response, Beijing warned that if Trump damaged U.S.-China relations, he “would greatly reduce the chance to achieve the goal of making America great again.”
The provocative phone call came amid several signals that Trump’s approach to diplomacy and foreign policy would be highly unorthodox. In a call with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the president-elect warmly praised Pakistanis as “one of the most intelligent people,” and pledged to “address and find solutions” to the country’s problems—comments that raised consternation in India, Pakistan’s longtime adversary. In a separate conversation with Philippines leader Rodrigo Duterte, a controversial figure who once denounced President Obama as the “son of a whore,” Trump praised his counterpart’s bloody street assassinations of drug dealers as “the right way” to deal with the problem.
What the editorials said
Trump’s phone call with Tsai shows why he won the election, said the Washington Examiner. As his supporters will tell you, “he tells it like it is,” and it’s refreshing to see a U.S. leader standing up to Beijing. Trump pointed out that it’s absurd the U.S. has pledged to defend Taiwan and sold the island nation $1.8 billion worth of arms last year, while our two presidents aren’t allowed to speak. Some diplomatic niceties “deserve smashing.”
Trump’s decision to push back against the regime of Xi Jinping has “merit,” said The Washington Post,but insulting tweets “are a dangerous way to deal with China.” Is Trump planning to plunge the U.S. into a damaging trade war? To aggressively challenge China’s extensive military buildup in the South China Sea? Vague threats can lead to “misinterpretation” and escalation. The president-elect’s entire approach to foreign policy appears to be slapdash: He hasn’t been receiving State Department intelligence briefings, and seems to tell foreign leaders whatever pops into his head.
What the columnists said
This was Trump’s “first foreign policy test,” said David Ignatius, also in The Washington Post, and he “flunked it.” If his unprovoked insults cause China to “lose face,” Beijing will inevitably respond with “countermeasures.” This whole affair shows that Trump is vulnerable to being “flattered” by foreign leaders like Tsai, and “reacts to criticism with the pique of an American Kim Jong Un.” Those traits “could be seriously dangerous to global health.”
Spare us the apocalyptic hyperbole, said Stephen Hayes in TheWeeklyStandard.com. Trump is being criticized for acknowledging the democratically elected leader of a key trading partner— yet when President Obama embraced the tyrannical regimes in Cuba and Iran, he received “fawning coverage.” Besides, Trump’s foreign policy “may not prove to be as radical as many seem to assume,” said Philip Gordon in Politico.com. He has no “core convictions,” and no qualms about completely reversing a policy position. What drives Trump is a deep-seated need for public approval—and that feeling may deter him from making any truly risky decisions.
Perhaps, said Ed Kilgore in NYMag.com, but events often force a president’s hand. George W. Bush promised a “more restrained attitude toward the use of military force”—until 9/11. If Trump is faced with a similarly “game-changing” event, such as an act of terrorism or a confrontation with Iran, North Korea, or China, what direction will his hawkish advisers push him in? The truth is, if the U.S. is “attacked, or threatened, or perhaps even disrespected,” we simply have no idea how he’ll react.