Pundits are defending President-elect Donald Trump’s protocol-shattering phone conversation with Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen as “terrific” and saying it will have “no cost to America,” but experts in Asian Pacific studies and international relations warn that the move “does not bode well for US-China relations” and “raises the risk of diplomatic disaster.”
In Breach Of Diplomatic Protocol, Trump Has Phone Conversation With Taiwanese President
Wash. Post: Trump Breaks Protocol By Speaking With Taiwanese Leader. The Washington Post reported that President-elect Donald Trump spoke Friday with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, calling the move “a major departure from decades of U.S. policy in Asia,” as U.S. leaders had previously refrained from agitating China by engaging with Taiwan. During the 10-minute call, which reportedly revolved around “strengthening bilateral relations,” Tsai “expressed admiration” for Trump’s electoral success. China later lodged a formal complaint over Trump’s conversation with the Taiwanese president. From the December 3 article:
President-elect Donald Trump spoke Friday with Taiwan’s president, a major departure from decades of U.S. policy in Asia and a breach of diplomatic protocol with ramifications for the incoming president’s relations with China.
The call is the first known contact between a U.S. president or president-elect with a Taiwanese leader since before the United States broke diplomatic relations with the island in 1979. China considers Taiwan a province, and news of the official outreach by Trump is likely to infuriate the regional military and economic power.
The exchange is one of a string of unorthodox conversations with foreign leaders that Trump has held since his election. It comes at a particularly tense time between China and Taiwan, which earlier this year elected a president, Tsai Ing-wen, who has not endorsed the notion of a unified China. Her election angered Beijing to the point of cutting off all official communication with the island government.
It is not clear whether Trump intends a more formal shift in U.S. relations with Taiwan or China. On the call, Trump and Tsai congratulated each other on winning their elections, a statement from Trump’s transition office said.
“During the discussion, they noted the close economic, political, and security ties . . . between Taiwan and the United States,” the statement said.
A statement from the Taiwanese president’s office said the call lasted more than 10 minutes and included discussion of economic development and national security, and about “strengthening bilateral relations.”
Tsai expressed admiration for Trump’s success in a highly competitive election, the statement said.
Asked about Trump’s call during a conference on international affairs in Beijing early Saturday, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, called it a “petty action” that “cannot change China’s standing in international society.”
The breach of protocol will “not change the One China policy that the U.S. government has supported for many years,” he said. “The One China principle is the foundation for healthy development of Sino-U.S. relations. We don’t wish for anything to obstruct or ruin this foundation.”
China later Saturday said it had lodged an official complaint with the United States over the Trump chat with Tsai. [The Washington Post, 12/3/16]
Pundits Defended The Call, Calling It “Terrific” And “Easy Leverage”
Fox News Contributor John Bolton: “It’s Ridiculous To Think That The Phone Call Upsets Decades Of Anything.” On Fox & Friends Saturday, former UN Ambassador John Bolton, a Fox News contributor whom Trump is considering for the position of secretary of state, told co-host Clayton Morris that “it's ridiculous to think that the phone call upsets decades of anything,” adding that “nobody in Beijing gets to dictate who we talk to.” From the December 3 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends Saturday:
CLAYTON MORRIS (CO-HOST): What do you make of that phone call? Should he have accepted it.
JOHN BOLTON: We’ll, it's ridiculous to think that the phone call upsets decades of anything. But I do think it's important that people understand the president of the United States should talk to whomever he wants if he thinks it's in the interest of the United States. And nobody in Beijing gets to dictate who we talk to. My view has been, for some time, that we should be upgrading our relations with Taiwan. And I know that's going to cause heartburn in Beijing. But it's a reality. This is a nation of over 20 million people. They have a democratic government, a free press, a free market. They meet all the customary international law, definitions of statehood. So, when a democratically elected leader calls the president of the United States, I say you bet he takes the call. [Fox News, Fox & Friends Saturday, 12/3/16; ABCNews.com, 12/5/16]
MSNBC’s Mark Halperin: Trump’s Call With The President Of Taiwan Is “Easy Leverage.” MSNBC’s Mark Halperin called Trump’s phone call with Tsai “easy leverage” and concluded that “people who are unsettled by [Trump’s foreign policy] better get used to it because this is the way it’s going to be.” Halperin later reiterated his defense, claiming that “while there are risks to this, … there’s no cost to America -- to Americans,” adding “If it unsettles the Chinese, a lot of people say 'great.'” From the December 5 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe:
JOE SCARBOROUGH (CO-HOST): Let me ask really quickly. Mark Halperin, what’s the reaction? What do you think the political fallout will be? What's your take on what he did?
MARK HALPERIN: There’s an improvisational quality in how they're dealing with everything -- vetting, foreign policy, everything -- and that’s a little bit dangerous. I see why people are unsettled. But I agree with the Wall Street Journal editorial. We have not had leverage over China for a long time. This is easy leverage. And there are some risks involved, but this shows that in some areas he does not plan to be an in-box foreign policy president. He plans to try to change the board and to get leverage over countries that, in a lot of areas, we don't have leverage. I think people who are unsettled by it better get used to it because this is the way it’s going to be. [MSNBC, Morning Joe, 12/5/16; 12/5/16]
Newt Gingrich: Trump’s Phone Call With The President Of Taiwan “Is Terrific.” Fox contributor Newt Gingrich called the phone call a “terrific” move and a “good signal to the world that Donald Trump is going to be his own person." From the December 5 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:
NEWT GINGRICH: Well, look, I think it is terrific for a very simple reason. You have the elected leader of 23 million people. This is the third time that they have had a peaceful transfer of power between parties. This is the first woman elected president of any country in Asia who didn't have either a husband or a father who was already president, so she is in her own right a serious leader. And if the leader of a free people call you, why wouldn't you take the call? I think this whole State Department mythology that we have to somehow let the Chinese dictate to us is nonsense, and I thought it was a good signal to the world that Donald Trump is going to be his own person, and that if the Chinese want to deal with the United States, they are going to have to actually deal with the United States; they are not going to be able to intimidate us. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 12/5/16]
Fox News Media Analyst Howard Kurtz: “Trump’s A Disrupter” And “Is Going To Break A Lot Of Rules Along The Way.” Fox News media analyst Howard Kurtz defended Trump’s phone call with Taiwan’s president, saying that “he’s going to break a lot of rules along the way” and contending that “we in media are just not quite used to dealing with a new president like this.” From the December 5 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom:
BILL HEMMER (CO-HOST): The impression you get from many analysts is that Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing -- that the advice he’s getting is bad advice or he’s not getting briefed.
HOWARD KURTZ: You could argue whether or not it was worth the provocation to China, which feels so strongly about the “One China” policy, but, as in that second tweet you read, President-elect Trump did kind of expose the polite fiction -- I mean the U.S. has a strong relationship with China -- with Taiwan, excuse me -- sells billions in arms but has to pretend that there is no such relationship in order to mollify the Chinese government. So there is that. Look, Trump’s a disrupter. He’s going to break a lot of rules along the way, and we in the media are just not quite used to dealing with a new president like this. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 12/5/16]
Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt: “This Is Good. We’re Opening Up Dialogue,” And “Supporters Have Said ... It Can Help Us For Tax Purposes.” Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt called Trump’s phone call with the Taiwanese president “good” because “we’re opening up dialogue,” and she noted that “supporters have said ... it can help us for tax purposes.” From the December 5 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:
AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): Supporters have said this is a great thing -- we're going to open up dialogue and communication with others and other countries. It can help us for tax purposes. But if you read the headlines, the mainstream media, totally different story.
STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Oh my goodness, their hair is on fire.
BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): So, I’m sitting listening to this, watching this unfold. And I’m saying to myself, I wonder if they’re just going to let this die, be a two-day story or not. And then last night, I did this thing called logging into Twitter, and I see this. Donald Trump is not letting it die. He said, “Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country” -- we don’t tax them -- “or to build a massive military complex in the middle of south China sea? I don't think so!”
EARHARDT: I love that because when all of this was unfolding, I thought, OK-- when I got the Fox News alert on my phone. I thought, OK, this is good. We’re opening up dialogue. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 12/5/16]
Experts Say The Move “Does Not Bode Well For US-China Relations”
Asian Pacific Studies Professor Zhang Baohui: Trump’s “Impulse May Have Unintended Consequences” And “Does Not Bode Well For US-China Relations.” Zhang Baohui, professor of political science and director of the Centre for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, wrote in an opinion piece on CNN.com that Trump’s call “seems to vindicate the widespread expectations” that he cannot handle sensitive diplomatic issues and warned that “the scenario does not bode well for US-China relations.” From the December 5 CNN.com piece:
It seems to vindicate the widespread expectations that he will not be able to handle sensitive issues with diplomatic savvy.
Instead, his impulse may cause unintended consequences and raise eyebrows in foreign capitals. In fact, this episode with Taiwan's leader mimicked his phone call with Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday. Trump's very warm words toward Sharif and Pakistan have caused resentment in many circles of India.
Both cases imply that the world may need to get used to a less disciplined US president who is not bounded, or doesn't want to be bounded, by traditional diplomatic rules and norms that would have constrained another US president.
This scenario does not bode well for US-China relations, which have seen rising tension in the recent years.
Indeed, lack of strategic mistrust between them is driving their relationship in the direction of a new Cold War.
In this context, the worst thing that may happen involve actions or words by either party that further amplify their mutual strategic mistrust.
Trump therefore needs to learn to become a more disciplined and diplomatic savvy president when it comes to the highly sensitive trilateral relations between Beijing, Taipei and Washington. [CNN.com, 12/3/16]
Former White House National Security Council Asia Director Evan Medeiros: “Trump Is Setting A Foundation Of Enduring Mistrust And Strategic Competition For US-China Relations.” In a Financial Times report on Trump’s phone conversation with Taiwan’s president, Evan Medeiros, former Asia director at the White House National Security Council, explained that the phone call “will fundamentally change China’s perceptions of Trump’s strategic intentions for the negative” and will set a foundation of “enduring mistrust and strategic competition for US-China relations.” From the December 3 report:
Evan Medeiros, a former Asia director at the White House national security council who now heads Asia research at Eurasia Group, said “the Chinese leadership will see this as a highly provocative action, of historic proportions”.
Regardless if it was deliberate or accidental, this phone call will fundamentally change China’s perceptions of Trump’s strategic intentions for the negative,” he added. “With this kind of move, Trump is setting a foundation of enduring mistrust and strategic competition for US-China relations.” [Financial Times, 12/3/16]
Center For Strategic And International Studies Director: U.S.-China Mutual Respect “Could Be Put Into Jeopardy By A U.S.-Taiwan Relationship.” The Hill reported that Trump’s conversation with Tsai “risks a clash with China” and quoted Center for Strategic and International Studies director Bonnie Glaser, who said, “President-elect Trump does not really comprehend how sensitive Beijing is about this issue." From the December 2 report:
“I would guess that President-elect Trump does not really comprehend how sensitive Beijing is about this issue,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
But even if the call didn't have a particular policy aim, it could play into pre-existing concerns the Chinese have about the president-elect’s posture toward their country.
Trump did call Chinese President Xi Jinping after his election win. Xi reportedly congratulated Trump on his victory, while Trump's transition team said the two had “established a clear sense of mutual respect for one another.”
“That is something that could be put in jeopardy by a U.S.-Taiwan relationship from the point of view of Beijing,” said Glaser. [The Hill, 12/2/16]
New York Magazine’s Chas Danner: “Intentional or Accidental, Trump’s Taiwan Call Raises the Risk of a Diplomatic Disaster.” New York magazine’s Chas Danner wrote that Trump’s phone call with Taiwan’s president “could have significant long-term ramifications for U.S.-Sino relations and risk a dangerous and destabilizing escalation of the conflict between China and Taiwan.” From the December 3 article:
As many have pointed out, Trump’s call could have significant long-term ramifications for U.S.-Sino relations and risk a dangerous and destabilizing escalation of the conflict between China and Taiwan.
Chinese state media is taking a slightly more provocative stance, as Reuters reports that the Global Times cautioned on Saturday that if Trump rejects the One China policy, the resulting crisis would probably occupy the majority of the new president’s time. The Xinhua news agency added, in an English-language editorial, that “China and the United States are not destined rivals,” but that China will only be a “cooperative partner” to Trump if he respects China’s core interests, like with Taiwan. [New York magazine, 12/3/16]
New Yorker China Expert Evan Osnos: The Taiwan Call Indicates That Trump The President Will Be Largely Indistinguishable From Trump The Candidate” -- “Volatile And Unpredictable.” Evan Osnos, a New Yorker staff writer well-known for his work covering China, wrote that the way Trump took a phone call from Taiwan’s president “is very dangerous” and concluded that “it reveals the incoming Presidency to be volatile and unpredictable.” From the December 3 article:
If you work in foreign affairs, you learn that a highly unexpected event is often the result of intent or incompetence. (You also learn that what looks, at first, like intent often turns out to be incompetence.) In the Donald Trump era, we may need a third category—exploitation—which has elements of both.
In his first semiofficial act of foreign policy, President-elect Trump, on Friday, lobbed a firework into the delicate diplomacy of Asia by taking a phone call from Taiwan’s President, breaking thirty-seven years of American practice in a way that is sure to upset relations with China. It wasn’t clear how much he intended to abruptly alter geopolitics, and how much he was incompetently improvising. There is evidence of each; in either case, the way he did it is very dangerous.
Whether it says it or not, China will regard this as a deeply destabilizing event not because the call materially changes U.S. support for Taiwan—it does not—but because it reveals the incoming Presidency to be volatile and unpredictable. In that sense, the Taiwan call is the latest indicator that Trump the President will be largely indistinguishable from Trump the candidate. [The New Yorker, 12/3/16, accessed 12/5/16]