Trump Intends to Change Sino-US Relations: Taiwan Must Beware
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 6, 2016
Executive Summary: How should Taiwan deal with the new Sino-US strategic scenario after Trump takes office? This question will severely test the Tsai government's wisdom. Trump's national security team dispatched Henry Kissinger to Beijing, while simultaneously publicizing Tsai Ing-wen's phone call to Trump online. Trump placed emphasis on the "democratically elected president of Taiwan", then Tweeted about Mainland China, saying that China did not report its actions to the United States in advance. This shows that Trump's little drama was carefully orchestrated, not improvised. The Tsai government must realize that the new Trump government is a savvy decision-maker. The Tsai government must plan ahead. It must adopt a flexible "friendly with the US, at peace with the Mainland” strategy. Otherwise Taiwan may not be able to weather the Trump political storm.
Full Text Below:
US President-elect Donald Trump calls himself an "America Firster". Tsai Ing-wen's phone call to Trump made waves in the Asian-Pacific region. Trump Tweeted that when Mainland China acted, it did not consult with the United States first, therefore why must he report to Mainland China before picking up the phone? The international media is saying that Trump deliberately provoked Mainland China, and that the US and Mainland China may begin a "new cold war". It is saying that Trump deliberately poured gasoline on the fire regarding bilateral economic and trade relations, investments, and the conflict in the South China Sea, threatening peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
The outgoing Obama administration immediately declared that the one China policy stance of the US, which is based on the "one law and three communiques", remains unchanged. But once Trump comes to power, will he change China policy? That prospect has many worried. How should Taiwan deal with the new and changing situation? Considerable brainstorming will be needed to negotiate this passage.
Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, noted that the United States' biggest advantage is that world leaders do not know what it intends to do. Flynn's mentality reflects the new government's "America First" strategic posture. It sees China as a competitor. Before coming to power, Flynn is challenging Mainland China over the Taiwan issue, RMB exchange rates, trade and investment barriers, South China Sea military expansion, and other issues. He is accumulating bargaining chips for future negotiations. At the same time, the new government will give priority to US economic, trade and security interests. It will use tax cuts to return 2 trillion dollars in multinational capital to the US, and impose heavy taxes on US companies who move their manufacturing plants overseas, as part of his "Make America Great Again" goal.
On the matter of international security, Trump does not want America to remain the "world's policeman". He wants allies to share the cost of their own security. He wants to use flexible strategies to ensure Asian-Pacific “Managable Instability”. An Asian-Pacific region arms race would enable the United States to increase US arms exports and reduce its trade deficit. It would enable the US to once again become a safe haven for Asian-Pacific capital, technology, and personnel. It would make United States issued bonds and real estate more popular, and accelerate Trump's "America First" industrial recovery plan, by injecting huge amounts of capital and talent.
The new government will also seek to win over Russian President Putin, reshape the US-Russian strategic cooperation framework, in order to apply pressure on Mainland China. This would enable the United States to gain a strategic advantage when negotiating with Mainland China. The Trump government's strategic goal is to make the United States the world's most secure and prosperous place. This will make the world's capital, technology, and talent flock to the United States, providing Americans with more high-quality job opportunities.
Sino-US relations are in a highly indeterminate state. Taiwan is caught in the middle. It can choose to rely entirely on the United States. It can play along with the new Trump government's challenge to Mainland China. But this risks turning Taiwan into America's cannon fodder or America's pawn. Or Taiwan can choose to respond to Mainland President Xi Jinping's appeal to a "shared destiny". It can establish a new cross-Strait consensus that upholds one China. It can publicly reaffirm that people on both sides of the Strait belong to one China. It can even stress that the two sides can cooperate in building a democratic China. This would provide a way out of the cross-Strait impasse, and a way out for Taiwan as well.
The current disparity in the two sides' strength, coupled growing tensions between the US and Mainland China, have already done in the Tsai government's national security strategy. Does Tsai really believe that if the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have nothing to do with each other, that Taiwan can develop its economy through economic and trade interactions with the United States and Japan? That is simply impossible. Mainland China has become the world's second largest economy, Taiwan's largest trading partner, and the primary source of its trade surplus. Any US Expeditionary Force in the Western Pacific would face a PLA with a home court military advantage. It would no longer be assured of victory. Therefore, if Taiwan voluntarily forsakes the Mainland market, or even makes the Mainland its military enemy, the cost will be hard to bear. Moreover, the new Trump government strategic posture emphasize "America First". It will use Taiwan merely as a pawn or bargaining chip. Once it decides that the cost of using Taiwan is too high, it will adopt a quid pro quo trading strategy, and sell Taiwan out. Does the Tsai government really believe that once Trump becomes President of the United States, Sino-US rivalry will enable Taiwan to cozy up to the US and Japan and contain Mainland China? If she does, she is dreaming. War in the Taiwan Strait would only spell disaster for Taiwan's economy and security.
How should Taiwan deal with the new Sino-US strategic scenario after Trump takes office? This question will severely test the Tsai government's wisdom. Trump's national security team dispatched Henry Kissinger to Beijing, while simultaneously publicizing Tsai Ing-wen's phone call to Trump online. Trump placed emphasis on the "democratically elected president of Taiwan", then Tweeted about Mainland China, saying that China did not report its actions to the United States in advance. This shows that Trump's little drama was carefully orchestrated, not improvised. The Tsai government must realize that the new Trump government is a savvy decision-maker. The Tsai government must plan ahead. It must adopt a flexible "friendly with the US, at peace with the Mainland” strategy. Otherwise Taiwan may not be able to weather the Trump political storm.