On Friday December 2nd, President-elect Donald Trump answered the congratulatory call from Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, the first time a U.S. president-elect, or president has communicated directly with a Taiwanese president since 1979. The Chinese Government immediately lodged a complaint in reaction to the public airing of the call, initiated by Tsai Ing-wen. Why did Trump accept the call? It’s called, in the context of “The Art of the Deal,” authored by Trump, garnering leverage.
China has long viewed Taiwan as a rebel province. No doubt the Chinese leadership views any U.S. overture toward Taiwan as an intrusion into their internal affairs. The U.S. has a treaty to defend Taiwan against any invasion, and has long provided the country with defensive weapons. Moreover, the U.S. reinforces its commitment to Taiwan’s defense by deploying 1-2 carrier battle groups into the Taiwan Straits, whenever China begins to flex its military muscle by conducting naval and pre-invasion exercises near Taiwan. Trump, in taking the call, has signaled to the Chinese leadership that not only will the U.S. meet its obligation to defend Taiwan, but also that he will speak to anyone he wishes to, regardless of the policy and potential reaction any nation, including in this case, China might have. In effect, Trump is declaring to China, and the Pacific Region, that no one will dictate U.S. foreign policy.
Recall that Trump, as a primary candidate, repeatedly declared China as a currency manipulator, and that China has the political influence to exercise control over the unpredictable North Korean leader Kim Jung Un. It is Trump’s intention to reshape the economic relationship the U.S. has with China, and to reassert American military dominance in the Pacific theater. Direct engagement with Taiwan is one point of leverage Trump is garnering toward this end. Other points of leverage will include the build-up of the U.S. navy, with Trump’s proposed increase from about 280 to 350 ships; and reconstituting manufacturing in America, which will stimulate U.S. economic activity; reduce dependence upon China; and ultimately generate additional tax revenue, an imperative for financing Trump’s U.S. military build-up.
In short, Trump is already renegotiating the U.S. relationship with China. This posture also sends a message to all nations in a trade relationship with the U.S., and security allies and potential adversaries, that the incoming President, Donald Trump, will back-up his campaign promises with bold action, in support of his America First doctrine.
By Allen Sutton