What does Trump’s call with Taiwan mean?

What do you make out of President-elect Donald Trump-President Tsai Ing-wen phone call, how do you assess the importance of this phone call? Read few comments.

Chia-Shin Lin, Assistant Professor, Department of Communication, Fo Guang University

As one of the Trump’s tweets, “interesting” anchors the answer for this question. The Presidents of Taiwan in the past two decades have not acquired any opportunity to directly phone the Presidents of United States, at least no interaction was official recognised, yet, Trump accepted the arrangement for making the phone call. It would be too naïve to believe that the power relationships among Taiwan, China and the US will drastically change from this moment, because the solidness of the fundamental structure that underpin the trio-relationships is too strong to be moved. However, this phone call opens a door for Taiwan to slightly improve its position in international realm.

I quote “interesting” from Trump because he plays a key role in this event and for most people, Trump’s actions seem to deviate from traditional tracks which means Tsai government ought to be cautious about any interaction with Trump. All political judgements which are based on the previous experience should be revisited.

Nevertheless, since Trump does not follow the conventional rules in playing the US-China game, the door has opened for change in the cross-strait relationship which is defined by the interaction between the US and China. This is significant due to the Chinese government has attempted to cool down the interactions, specifically commercial and tourist interactions, between Taiwan and China since Tsai inaugurated as the President and expected to form the pressure for Tsai. Undoubtedly, the Chinese government will gradually increase this pressure for Tsai as retribution for this phone call. Whether the Trump government keeps playing unconventional politics or not with China, Taiwan benefits the most from this.

An ideal scenario for Taiwan is that Trump views Taiwan as a piece of chess to suppress China and greatly enhances the international position by inviting Taiwan into international stages. Tsai can take advantage of this to redefine the cross-strait relationship based on the support of the US. Of course, this is rather impossible because no obvious evidence to support this. It is interesting to see how Trump reacts in the future.

Even though the worst scenario is that the call became a onetime thing and the US goes back to the track, Tsai still gains something from this. For most pro-independence Taiwanese, the phone call is a breakthrough and the failure in continue is the hindrance of the Chinese government. This can be an outlet for Tsai government to release people’s dissatisfaction in domestic issues.

In conclusion, the phone call helps Taiwan to be internationally visible and opens a door for further improvement of international position of Taiwan. It represents an opportunity to redefine the cross-strait relationship between Taiwan and China, although the direction is not necessarily positive. Yet, the Tsai government benefits the most, especially in releasing the Taiwanese people’s dissatisfaction with her incompetence in dealing domestic issues. The development of the relationships among Taiwan, the US and China will be interesting as long as Trump keeps his unconventional actions.

Lawrence C. ReardonAssociate Professor of Political Science, Coordinator, Asian Studies Minor, University of New Hampshire

One theory about Trump is that he listens to the last person he had talked to, and has a very shallow understanding about international Affairs.  It is possible that John Bolton or some other conservative advisor talked to Trump and told him this would be good for Taiwan’s future and tweak the Beijing leaders.  Another theory is that Trump wants to upset the status quo, and isn’t concerned about consequences.  Another is like Reagan in the beginning of his first administration wanted to help the ROC, until he learned that China was more useful as ally against the Soviet union.

If the first two theories are true,  US foreign policy will become very erratic, as Trump will adopt strategies based on his emotional view of the world and not US National interest.   If the last theory is true, something will happen to make Trump realize there are other ways to gain China’s cooperation

Thus I don’t think this is the result of a well thought out strategy, especially if he wants Beijing’s cooperation to deal with NK, South China Sea, global terrorism, or the trade imbalance.

Let’s hope he gets advisors who will guide his emotional nature.

Jonathan Manthorpe, Author of Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan, Founding Columnist with Facts and Opinions

My first reaction is that the Beijing government appears to have no more idea of how Donald Trump’s mind works than the rest of the world. His phone conversation with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen was clearly a breech of the diplomatic formula U.S. Presidents have followed since Washington switched diplomatic recognition of China from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. But Trump is not yet president, so Beijing is downplaying the incident. Beijing has called it a “little trick” by Tsai.

But the Chinese government, along with everyone else, will be watching to see if this is indeed the opening salvo in a change of attitude by the incoming Washington administration to the careful “one China” formula that has sustained the three-cornered relationship between China, the U.S. and Taiwan for nearly 40 years.

On the diplomatic front, Trump is clearly a loose cannon. He got off on the wrong foot by seeing Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last month. His phone call with the Pakistani Prime Minister is an embarrassing joke. Who knows how many other foreign supplicants he has chatted with and perhaps made promises to in the last few weeks.

I don’t think one can blame Tsai (or any of the others) for taking advantage of Trump’s ignorance. Taiwan in particular has a life-or-death relationship with Washington and Beijing. Any Taiwanese president is going to take any opportunity that offers itself to sustain the island’s independence.

On one hand, I’m glad that the “One China” nonsense appears to have been broken and there has been a direct conversation between the Taiwanese President and her American counterpart-in-waiting. On the other, I am not happy that the the person on the American end of the line was Donald Trump.

Nathan K. H. LiuAssociate Professor, Ming Chuan University

No problem.  The importance of the phone call should not be over-exaggerated.

a.  Trump is still a civilian, whatever he did should not be given too much policy implication until he takes the office next year.

b.  Trump did not really know the consequences that phone call might lead to.  He is an ignorant rookie in terms of international affairs, not to mention the situation across the Taiwan Straits is much more complicated.  Please be reminded that he even claimed once that TPP was aimed to enrich China, which he never said again once he realized how ignorant he was to regional issues.

c. It will be too early to say that Trump is moving  to a pro-Taiwan policy after he takes office, especially he once accused Taiwan of stealing US jobs.

To conclude, this is by no means an indicator for US spicy change.

Emilian KavalskiAssociate Professor of Global Studies, Institute for Social Justice. Australian Catholic University

To be frank, I am not certain whether we can make too much of it. On the one hand, it confirms Trump’s intention to position himself as a maverick – both in domestic and foreign policy; on the other hand, it also confirms the fears of those who perceive him to be completely incompetent and unqualified for the job. At the same time, the phone-call raises concerns about the interface between Trump’s business interests and foreign policy objectives – it is reported that Trump is interested in building hotels in a new development in Taoyuan county in the vicinity of the international airport; in this respect, the phone call might be just a way of ensuring a beneficial deal for his enterprises.

I guess for President Tsai, the phone-call has provided a much-needed boost for her standing domestically in Taiwan, where there have been some rumblings about her performance. Especially, she can position herself as a leader who is able to build rapport with the new administration in Washington and work for Taiwan’s interest. While, for the time being, this is a one-off incident, it is concerning what this might mean for the Cross-Strait relationship. Many of Trump’s foreign policy advisors (such as John Bolton) as well as those on the Republican right whom Trump seems to court are profoundly suspicious of China and are very much interested to play the Taiwan card as part of a broader containment strategy. Whether this comes to pass, is yet to be seen; however, if Trump’s administration adopts some kind of an anti-China strategy, it will be to the detriment both Taiwan and the US, and will likely create further instability in the Asia-Pacific region.

David Goodman, Professor and Head of Department China Studies, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Suzhou

Interesting hey ? Either he did it without thinking of the consequences, or he was advised to do it by his advisors.
Which would be worse ?

Trump’s call may in the long term prove a decisive turning point in history. One road leads to trade wars and further conflict with China. The other to the end of US influence certainly in the region and probably in the world. It is such an irresponsible act it defies belief. Who suffers if the current world balance of power is upset ? Almost certainly the population of the USA more than of China. Their high standard of living depends on a positive relationship with China. China’s immediate future may also come from a stable relationship, economically and politically, with the USA, but one doubts very much that will be the long term.

Teh-Kuang Chang, Professor of Political Science, Ball State University

Tsai Ying-Wen’s phone call American President-elected Donald Trump is very significant for her leadership in Taiwan.

Externally, it will indicate her initiation to increase the visibility of Taiwan in the world as an important actor in international relations., This will benefit to Taiwan to indicate that Trump will continue US policy to support Taiwan based on US- Taiwan Relations Act. This will help Taiwan to worry about the threat of PRC.

Internally, it will help Tsai to increase her reputation in public option of her leadership.

Vincent Wang, Dean, School of Humanities and Sciences, Ithaca College

This phone call is a result of careful planning, rather than a careless (or clueless) act.  Some of President-elect Trump’s key foreign policy advisors have long felt that the United States has increasingly allowed Beijing to define U.S. policy toward China and Taiwan (the media kerfuffle after his tweets attest to this tendency).  As a result, this slide has reduced U.S. policy flexibility, prestige, and power.  They also feel that the U.S. has not accorded one of our best friends and largest trading partners with proper modicum of respect.  So this phone connection — believed to be the first since 1979 — was meant to reposition U.S. as the critical player in Asian affairs, while maintaining the excuse that the president-elect is still a private citizen.  What will be more important to monitor would be the personnel appointments and policies he makes after taking office on January 20.

When Trump was first elected, perhaps due to his inexperience and unpredictability, many in Taiwan were concerned that “businessman Trump” might trade Taiwan away for greater gains from China; or “ally-bashing Trump” may ask Taiwan to purchase more arms.  Now, in this opening salvo, he surprisingly made good on his promise (and inclination) of “America First.”



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