US vs China vs Taiwan: Does Trump have a strategy?

President elect Donald Trump said: I fully understand the ‘one China’ policy, but I don’t know why we have to be bound by a ‘one China’ policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade. How do you assess the impact of those Trump’s comments about one China policy on future US-China relations? Do you see any strategy in Trump’s approach towards China? Read few comments.

Steve Tsang, Professor, Director of the SOAS China Institute, University of London

Trump is telling the Chinese that they cannot and should not take him and the US ‘one China policy’ for granted, and if they want the Trump Administration to adhere to the ‘one China policy’, then they would have to offer his administration something in return. This will make the Chinese Government very unhappy, as they work on the basis that the USA would uphold its ‘one China policy’ even though it would not embrace China’s ‘one China principle’. The big question is what can the Chinese do about Trump? Seeing Trump essentially as a transactional president they may well be exploring what deals they would make with him, rather than interpret his words as marking a definitive reversal of US policy.

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

As a President-elect, Trump successfully garners attention from Taiwan issue and utilises this as a leverage to pave the way for further negotiations with Chinese government over various issues. From the perspective of Taiwanese government, it seems not a good timing to be overjoyed because it is not a surprise if Trump trade Taiwan issue with China in exchanging, let’s say, commercial benefit in the future. Intriguingly, the reaction of Chinese government is more worth of noticing than the words Trump expresses on Twitter. At the very beginning, Chinese government showed high level of self-restraint in responding Trump’s tweets, yet, the situation has changed when Trump challenged “One China” policy. Even though Chinese government still aims Taiwan and threats that they are not afraid of wars, their self-restraint dissipates. Traditional diplomatic interactions would reduce the conflict, but no evidence shows that Trump will follow the traditional ways. When Chinese government radically responds Trump on Taiwan issue, the game is under Trump’s control. In other words, either the Trump’s attack strategy works or he has made up his mind to create a new structure for the trio relationships, he gets to determine the game.

Nathan K. H. LiuAssociate Professor, Ming Chuan University

Hopefully, this is another rookie comment and the US China policy will not change accordingly, especially when the One China principle is an essential part of China’s foreign policy and actually serves as the basis of the relations between China and the international community, not just with the US.

A safe guess is that Trump is trying to use the recognition of the principle as a bargaining chip for trade negotiation, among other negotiations, with China. However, this strategy, if it is one, will have to face the risk of antagonizing China and thus create unnecessary tension between the two world powers. Judging from the past experiences, it is impossible for China to compromise on this ground. Therefore, it does not make too much sense at this point to challenge China’s One China, especially when the US has officially recognized the principle for decades.

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

With regard to Trump’s statement – it seems that we really are in unchartered waters. I guess it is possible to read this statement as Trump’s attempt to use business tactics on the diplomatic stage. Always the businessman, he must be used to engage in this kind of bartering when negotiating a deal; however, it is a whole different game when it comes to international relations. Most likely it will backfire, although China has so far kept its cool an has not been quite restrained in its reactions (which in itself is also a point that requires some reflection). Should such statements persist though, China is likely to be much firmer in its reaction. At the same time, coming in the wake of Trump’s phone conversation with President Tsai, it seems increasingly likely that there is a consistent strategy emerging among the Trump team to use the Taiwan card in reframing the Sin0American relationship or at least that Trump is listening to the advice of the hawks in the Republican party who would like to contain China. Yet, regardless of the impact of Trump’s statement on the Sino-American relationship, Taiwan is getting into an increasingly precarious situation. For the tiem being, the current situation plays well into the hands of President Tsai and boosting her foreign policy credentials at home. However, in the long run, this might change should China become more assertive in its relations with the island (China has already cut down the number of tourists that can visit Taiwan in the wake of Tsai’s election). As the former Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian used to say, Taiwan is a timid rabbit living between two elephants (China and the US). Regardless of whether they make love or war, the rabbit is likely to get squashed.

Jane Duckett, Professor, Director of the Scottish Centre for China Research, University of Glasgow

It is difficult to see if there is a clear strategy at present. I think the Chinese government will be waiting to see what Trump’s next move is. It seems also to have sought to put some pressure on Taiwan as a result of the telephone call.

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