Tag Archives: Donald Trump

Trump Ups The Ante, But What Is The Game?

WHAT HAD SEEMED to be a passing storm in a teacup has blown up into a tempest.

Taking a telephone call from Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, was one thing, especially when the US president-elect’s entourage subsequently played down the potential consequences. It did not signal a change of US policy towards China, they insisted.

But then the man himself upped the ante. He suggested that unless Beijing makes concessions on trade, America will consider abandoning the One China policy, the foundation of Sino-American relations since 1979 and which has allowed the world’s sole superpower to develop a working relationship with the world’s aspirant one.

What had been a restrained response on Beijing’s part hitherto, interrupted into anger, albeit channelled through the state-run Global Times, a publication that never misses the opportunity to blow hard about Chinese nationalism.

It has a reason, though, to suspect that there is an organised campaign to restore Taiwan’s a diplomatic status in the United States. Beyond the telephone call from Tsai, John Bolton, likely to be Trump’s assistant Secretary of State, is known as a China hawk, especially over the issue of Taiwan. Our man in New York sends word that Trump and Bolton met shortly before Trump dropped his hint that the One China policy was in jeopardy.

The extent to which Trump understands the ramifications of the United States abandoning the one China policy is unclear. Less so his advisers. They will know that Taiwan is a red line for Beijing. Trump, on the other hand, possibly regards his comments as no more than an opening bid in a trade negotiation.

In this scenario, Taiwan is no more than a bargaining chip. Beijing, however, sees Taiwan as a first domino that must not be allowed to fall.

Its default position is that the Americans are playing a long game, just as it would. If Taiwan goes, then Hong Kong might also be at risk, especially as there would be support from within the former British colony for any advocacy of Hong Kong independence.

More importantly, Tibet might be next; then possibly Xinjiang. America, this theory goes, is trying to pick apart China one province at a time and thus must be resisted from the outset.

What, though, can Beijing do, and especially against a man who isn’t yet president?

Its easiest option would be to stop supporting the yuan, making Chinese imports into the United States cheaper. That would skewer Trump’s accusations that China is a currency manipulator, at least in the eyes of economists, if not, perhaps, in those of the blue-collar Americans who supported him, in large numbers in the rust belt, in the election campaign.

It could also make life a lot harder in China for those American direct investors, particularly high-tech companies, who manufacture there to export back to the United States or to pursue the market share in China itself of which they dream.  China could also go after big-ticket US exporters to China, such as Boeing, by cancelling orders.

The hope that would be on both scores that US companies would apply pressure on Trump at home not to endanger the trade and investment relationship with China by insisting one following the reckless path of abandoning One China policy.

What Beijing has to do first, however, is to figure out Trump’s true intentions. That may be the hardest part of all.

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Donald Trump, Taiwan And Interesting Times

US President-elect Donald Trump. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore. Licenced under Creative Commons

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.

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How Much Candidate Trump Will President Trump Contain?

Donald Trump seen in Washington, November 2011. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore. Licenced under Creative Commons

THE U.S.PRESIDENT-ELECT, Donald Trump (above), had few kind words for China during the presidential election campaign. He accused it of stealing millions of American manufacturing jobs and threatened protectionist tariffs against Chinese exports.

Yet to China he was the preferable candidate. His Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, was seen, on the basis of having been seen at close quarters as U.S. secretary of state, to be no bosom buddy of Beijing.

The maverick nature of Trump’s campaign and his questioning of the basis of the United States’ traditional security alliances had, however, caused some optimism in Beijing that his election would weaken America’s international standing in the region and that his reservations about free-trade agreements would kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the economic prop of Washington’s ‘Asian pivot’.

However, set against that the uncertainty and volatility in regional affairs that a prospective Trump presidency will bring, in particular on the Korean peninsula. Beijing does not like uncertainty, and there less than anywhere.

Worse, long-cultivated contacts with the Washington China-policy and financial elite have been rendered for nought by the imminent arrival of a US president who at 70 has never held elected office and so has no track record, no known team and no known thought-through China strategy. Beijing also has reason to fear that Trump’s victory will put at risk the forces of globalisation that have propelled China’s economic and thus global ascendency.

It is unrealistic to expect that a Trump administration can repatriate low-wage manufacturing jobs. Those that automation and technology have not rendered redundant are already going to Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia if they are going anywhere as China ‘rebalances’. Moreover, China is only one aspect of the economic trends that are transforming the US economy in a way that leaves so many Americans, especially older, white ones, feeling left behind, a sentiment Trump so expertly tapped during his election campaign.

That is not to say that Beijing will not try to score points against electoral democracy, though it will not want to examine too closely the insurgence of rank-and-file voters against a ruling political class. Beijing is also unlikely to pass the opportunity to take an early measure of the next US president, probably by being more assertive in the South China Sea.

That, though, is a double-edged sword. It risks prodding Trump in the direction of politicising the issue rather than contesting it on legalistic grounds — such as through asserting freedom of navigation rights and using the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. That approach, adopted by the Obama administration, has given Beijing scope to build its presence in the South China Sea with a lessened risk of direct US military confrontation.

Beijing’s scope for action now will also be tempered by the reactions of other regional nations to Trump’s election victory. Japan, for one, may see an opportunity to fill a potential vacuum both by building up its military capabilities and by being more active with its development aid and investment in the region. The Asian Development Bank, which falls under its sway, easily outguns the Beijing-created Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

South Korea, too, may end up with nuclear weapons from a Trump administration, a development that would be unwelcome in Beijing, not least because it ups the nuclear stakes on the peninsula, elevating the risk of instability that Beijing so abhors.

Further south, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia are all calculating where their strategic interests lie between China and the United States.

There has been a quiet (pace the Philippines new president Rodrigo Duterte) shift of emphasis towards developing stronger economic links with China while retaining Washington’s security umbrella. That shift will be being recalibrated in the light of candidate Trump’s criticism that US security partners are ‘free-loading’.

He is not the first US president to have made that complaint, but few have suggested that the US will take its umbrella away if its regional allies do not contribute their fair share to the costs.

Whether President Trump will take the same view as candidate Trump on this and all the other issues that touch on China is probably as much of a guess in Beijing as it is in the rest of the region, and even possibly, at this point, in Washington.

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