When it comes to President-Elect Donald Trump, no one really knows what his US-China policies actually are…
Donald Trump tweeted this message during the week.
The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2016
As you can guess, this set up a bit of a firestorm. So much in fact, we’ve actually been getting a lot of questions regarding why the tweet was such a big deal and how it could potentially affect China-US relations in a Trump administration. To understand why this was a potential international incidence – because it most definitely was – you first have to realize the complicated relationship between China and the US in terms of how they both see Taiwan.
After the Communists drove out the Nationalists from mainland China back in 1949, many of the Nationalists ended up fleeing to an island off the coast of China. This lead to the creation of the People’s Republic of China controlling the Chinese mainland, while that island off the coast of China became Taiwan. Fast-forward to current day, both China and Taiwan have separately governed their respective territories for decades now (with mainland China being a Communist nation, while Taiwan became a Democracy). However since then, both governmental entities have claimed to be the legitimate government that represents China as a whole. Specifically the People’s Republic of China continues to claim that Taiwan isn’t autonomous and it doesn’t recognize the Taiwanese government.
This, as you may have guessed, puts the US in an awkward position.
While theoretically the US should respect (and understand) Taiwan wanting to be a Democratically free society, it comes at odds with China becoming a major super power over the last few decades. More importantly, China has become increasingly important to the US from being a mediator when dealing with North Korea’s nuclear arsenal to holding the majority of the US’ national debt. Because of that, the US has never formally recognized the government of Taiwan.
That is until this week when President-Elect Donald Trump flippantly bragged about how the Taiwanese President, Tsai Ing-wen, called to congratulate him on his presidential win! Thus, that call broke two major tenants in US foreign policy:
(1) The US president-elect and the leader of Taiwan haven’t had any form of confirmed diplomatic relations since 1979.
(2) A US president – or president-elect in this case – has never officially recognized the leader of Taiwan with the moniker of “President.”
While Trump’s tweets usually don’t have any major significance to them other than bragging about certain accomplishments or trying to bully less powerful individuals, this one could of had legitimate consequences to US policy. But, it completely depended on how China perceived Trump’s actions.
Even though Trump has doubled down on his Taiwan tweet, going as far as to say it was all planned to make a point (!!), China looks to be brushing it off as just empty rhetoric and not a perceived shift in US’ foreign policy by the new president-elect. A big reason for that is even when Trump has condemned China with critiques, his actions (so far) haven’t backed up his words.
The most recent example of this was when Trump picked Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad as his ambassador to China. Branstad being picked as China’s ambassador actually makes a sense in terms of experiance; has worked with China in the past on agricultural issues, had penned a $4.2 billion deal to export Iowan goods to China, has close relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, ect. Yet the Branstad pick makes very little sense when it comes to Trump’s past rhetoric when it came to China.
Trump’s tough talk on China included everything from claiming China was manipulating its currency to threatening tariffs on Chinese goods due to their trade practices. Yet the Branstad pick looks to go exactly the opposite direction of Trump’s rhetoric! Throughout his public career, Branstad has been a strong proponent of free trade with China. If Trump wanted to be “tough on China” in terms of trade, then Branstad as the US’ ambassador to China is a definite head scratcher.
Truth is, when it comes to Trump’s actual foreign policy measures regarding China – or even toward Taiwan for that matter – this looks to be his official stance:
At least in that sense, Trump’s policies have been consistent.
(Photo Credit: Donald Trump’s Twitter Account)