Trump’s Break with China over Taiwan Risks Destabilizing Asia

The U.S. president-elect was surprised by the negative reactions to the phone call with which he broke 40 years of diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing. In a tweet, he claimed that the island’s president was the one who called him. Maybe it was a trap. However, during his campaign he had already accused China of unfair competition and threatened to raise import taxes.

The unprecedented diplomatic rift that breaks 40 years of U.S.-China diplomacy, as well as the principle that only one China is recognized by the United States, opens the way to destabilizing scenarios throughout Asia. All of this despite the fact that so far, Beijing has chosen to blame mostly the Taiwanese president, almost as if to give Donald Trump a chance to “redeem” himself. Nevertheless, we cannot forget that Trump himself expressed the opinion that Japan and South Korea should arm themselves with nuclear weapons, a shift from the foreign policy America has pursued since World War II.

Trump seems taken aback by yesterday evening’s reactions considering his clarification on Twitter: “The President of Taiwan CALLED ME,” he tweeted. It is possible that Trump fell into the trap of the Taiwanese president because of his inexperience, his incompetence and, most importantly, his lack of suitable advisers. He also refused the assistance of the present staff of the State Department (just yesterday The New York Times described the dismay of diplomats who offered their services on a number of dossiers, and to whom he turned a deaf ear), All these problems risk having an impact on his presidency. As seen during the election campaign, one of the dominant traits in his personality consists in being impulsive and NOT listening to more expert and moderate advisers.

On the other hand, there is a method to yesterday’s gesture as well. Trump showed us from the start that he wanted to challenge conventions and push the boundaries of “political correctness” in every field. Foreign policy is no exception. He told British Prime Minister Theresa May that he would like to see Nigel Farage as the British ambassador in Washington (it is unheard of for a country to want to “choose” the ambassador of another). He announced that he is going to invite Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines and head of death squads there, a man who repeatedly insulted Obama.

When it comes to China, Trump has never concealed his aggressive intentions. Alongside Mexico, China is the country he systematically accused of unfair competition and of contributing to the deindustrialization of the United States. He repeatedly threatened to impose tariffs (up to 45 percent) on products made in China. It is therefore possible that he meant to put the Chinese to the test in what may become an extremely tense war of nerves during which he is going to alternate reassurances and provocations. One thing is for sure: the era of Barack Obama, the president who labored to bring China into the Paris environmental agreement, already seems very far away.

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