Rookie mistake, ignorance or a well aimed shot across the bows?

2016-12-03t055851z_205555319_rc1d52ba2600_rtrmadp_3_usa-trump-taiwan-630x378The media is full of reports that “Trump speaks with Taiwan’s president, risking China tensions,” as the headline in the Globe and Mail puts it. It begs the question: was this call trump13a rookie mistake? Was it just good manners in a difficult situation? Is it wilful ignorance of or even contempt for the State Department briefings that must have included warnings about America ~ China ~ Taiwan?

Or is it, perhaps, a carefully aimed and very well timed shot across China’s bows?

According to the Globe and Mail report:

Trump’s office said he spoke with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, “who offered her congratulations.” He is believed to be the first president or president-elect who has spoken to a Taiwanese leader since at least 1979, when the United States severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan as part of its recognition of the People’s Republic of China;” but

Diplomats with ties to Taiwan said it was highly unlikely that the Taiwanese leader would have made the call without arranging it in advance, and Taiwan’s Central News Agency hailed it as “historic;” and

Initial reaction from China about Friday’s telephone call was surprise, verging on disbelief. “This is a big event, the first challenge the president-elect has made to China,” said Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. “This must be bad news for the Chinese leadership” … [and] … Among diplomats in the United States, there was similar shock. “This is a change of historic proportions,” said Evan Madeiros, a former senior director of Asian affairs in the Obama administration. “The real question is, what are the Chinese going to do?”

A few points:

  • 160510133535-americas-debt-780x439The top holder of US debt (mostly bonds) is by far “U.S. citizens and American entities, such as state and local governments, pension funds, mutual funds, and the Federal Reserve. Together they own the vast majority — 67.5% ~ of the debt,” according to a six month old CNN report, while “Foreign nations only hold 32.5% of the total.But China, alone, holds about ¼ of the foreign debt which is over 10% of the US’ total debt. That matters;
  • But, China is so deeply invested in the USA that it would make neither political nor economic nor any sort of strategic sense to do anything sudden to undermine the US economy; but
  • Even for those of us who believe, as I do, that the global “greater good” will be served when Taiwan is peacefully reintegrated back into China, there is a need for us, in the US led West, to stand with Hong Kong and Taiwan as they struggle to make sure that “one country/two system” has some real political meaning.

Canada should be pursuing a grand strategy that includes better relations and free(er) trade with China and Taiwan (and India, the Philippines and South Korea and so on, too) through e.g.the RCEP trade deal, as one example. We should also be trying to convince China to expand Hong Kong’s “independence,” rather than constraining it, so that, eventually, Taiwan will feel more secure about rejoining China as a province.

My hope is that President elect’s call with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen is a signal to China that Taiwan still matters to the US led West and while we, that entire block, do not oppose the reunification of China, we do expect that China will treat fairly and honestly with the peoples of Hong Kong and Taiwan.

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