NO ONE CAN accuse the president-elect of United States, Donald Trump (above), of hiding his antagonism towards China when he was on the campaign trail. He bluntly accused Beijing of “stealing” American jobs and manipulating its currency and was critical of it for “militarising” the South China Sea.
His prospective administration is packed with China hawks who believe that the Asia Pivot policy pursued by President Barack Obama has been a failure and prompted Chinese aggression in the East and South China Seas.
However, few expected the first point of confrontation between the forthcoming Trump administration and China to be over to Taiwan. By agreeing to take a telephone call from Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, now seen as the result of a well-connected Taiwanese lobbying campaign in Washington, Trump drove a coach and horses through the basic tenant of Sino-American relations since 1979 when the United States broke diplomatic relations with Taiwan and acknowledged ‘One China’.
In doing so, he unexpectedly put Beijing on the back foot. Many had thought Beijing would test the new president once he took office in January. But Trump has struck preemptively.
Beijing has reacted relatively tamely. This may be a sign that it has been discombobulated by the potential for Trump to be unpredictable. It is likely to be deeply distrustful of the Trump administration as a result.
Unpredictability may become a hallmark of the Trump administration, as it was in his campaign. If so, that may prove as big a challenge to Beijing’s sometimes ponderous policymaking as the substance of Trump’s complaints against it.
We do live in interesting times.