Some may prefer to think that President-elect Donald Trump's call with President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan does not reflect a U.S. change of state practice, but surely it implies something.
The 10-minute call on Dec. 2 with Taiwan's leadership was the first by a U.S. president-elect or president since President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition from "Taiwan" to China. In other words, it was a call with the leader of a country that is a non-U.N. state and also the largest economy outside the U.N., which caused eyebrows to raise in Beijing. Beijing was not happy since the exceptional call and following tweets seemed to take a flirtatious stance.
"This is just the Taiwan side engaging in a petty action, and cannot change the 'One China' structure already formed by the international community," was Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's comment on the subject, just hours after the call. He had blamed Taiwan regarding the exchange, rather than Trump. The day after the surprise development, on Saturday, China lodged a diplomatic complaint and raised its protest. It was again blaming Taiwan and again labeling Trump's call a "petty action" taken by Taiwan.
Within its diplomatic protests China underlined the "one China" policy. This policy refers to the view that there is only one state called China. It is maybe not widely-known or remembered, but the country that we all commonly know as "Taiwan," officially calls itself "the Republic of China" (ROC). It was also representing China at the United Nations until 1971 as one of the founding members of the organization. However, a resolution, passed on Oct. 25, 1971, had recognized the People's Republic of China (PRC) as "the only legitimate representative of China to the United Nations." The passed text had caused the representatives of "the other China" to be expelled. It was also recognizing that "the People's Republic of China is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council." Therefore, the PRC had taken the ROC's seat for China as one of the "Big Five." It is also possible to find the said motion meaningful in terms of timing in 1971 since it was after the U.S. President Richard Nixon's announcement of a planned visit to Mainland China.
The reason for the PRC's underlining of the "One China" policy is because of its continual claims of sovereignty. Beijing reiterates that Taiwan is part of China, though it does not exercise or force its sovereignty there.
However, "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," was what President-elect Trump told Fox News after he prompted a diplomatic protest.
Those who had followed the U.S. elections remember that "China" was the subject between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton from the opening question in the inaugural debate. At that time Mr. Trump blamed China for stealing jobs from Americans, devaluing its currency and alleged state-sponsored cyberhacking. When we come to today, after President-elect Trump's call that put the cat among the pigeons, we have seen not only a diplomatic protest from China but also another show of force as a response to the said call: on Dec. 8 China flew a nuclear-capable bomber over the disputed South China Sea. Trump has also voiced his criticism of China regarding the South China Sea issue from Twitter. In a tweet, President-elect highlighted "a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea" with displeasure.
Formally, the United States recognizes Taiwan "as part of China" within the framework of the "One China" policy. That is why Chinese officials were furious over the first conversation in decades between a Taiwanese leader and a top U.S. figure, the president-elect. It's reported that there were many Trump supporters among the Chinese. Even though a dramatically high percentage of Chinese respondents in a pre-electoral poll in May publicized by The Global Times believed Trump would win the election, it's not clear whether all of them knew that supporting Trump meant supporting a pro-Taiwanese stance on several topics.
It is possible to list more than a dozen examples where Donald Trump could be legitimately accused of racism, sexism, ignorance, and more. Proposals such as building the Mexico wall, comments about sexual assault, the idea of banning U.S. entry for Muslims, "rip[ping] up the Iran deal," and bringing back waterboarding were maybe the primary ones. Several media – both in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world – have covered these topics. They were undoubtedly the most outlandish pledges ever heard during a U.S. presidential campaign. However, right after the election results, even before his inauguration as the 45th president of the U.S., we heard from Trump's advisers that the divisive rhetoric was just a "great campaign device" or "just campaign talk." However, following a terror attack at a Christmas market in Berlin it was reported (on Dec. 22, 2016) that Trump renewed his calls to carry out sweeping discriminatory acts against Muslims from overseas and the American Muslim population of around 3.3 million. Nevertheless, Donald Trump's Communications Director, Jason Miller, denied that his boss had ever advocated for a Muslim registry. The president-elect of the U.S. has never clarified exactly how he would plan to execute the controversial policies. Contrarily, it is possible to list his U-turn-like statements. It is said that he has rowed back or ditched a string of his famous promises.
A review of Trump's promises shows that that he could very likely backtrack on promises regarding various individuals and communities. However, we will see if he is still going after his promises regarding other countries.
For example, after the election win, when discussing the Iran deal Trump adviser Walid Phares told the BBC that "'Ripping up' is maybe a too strong word. (…),"explaining away Trump's words. Iran is a far different and comprehensive topic here.
Currently, many in the world believe that Trump's form of expression is due to his ignorance. However, all should keep in mind that by underestimating him, his competitors and opponents are giving him an advantage.
When we come again to the primary subject of this op-ed, it is not hard to understand that Trump is planning or at least attaching great importance to revising its "Grand Strategy" toward China. Naturally, it is all about U.S. national interests in Asia and around the globe. This new plan would include several strategic moves going beyond military means, and would cover financial, economic, diplomatic and cybercentric instruments in order to respond to China, the main competitor to the U.S. Also, the South China Sea will be an important topic for decades to come.
We can also see the effects of some of Trump's bravado in the Asia-Pacific region. Taiwan's call to Trump was one of them. Also right after Trump's win, Japan's plan to convert its self-defense force into a conventional army was in the news once again. We may see some more escalating acts from multiple parties soon.
* Turkish lawyer and a PhD candidate at Leiden University's faculty of law in the Netherlands