Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Trumping Taiwan Strait


Trump has already created a major distraction and challenge for the next United States Secretary of State, and has given us a clue that he doesn’t know how to implement his professed management style of "delegating."

Trump accepted a congratulatory phone call from the President of Taiwan, and then doubled down by publicly suggesting he would use, as a bargaining chip, the United State’s "One-China" policy towards Taiwan and China. This policy, since being initiated by Nixon and Kissinger in 1972, has been gradually deepening, along with international marginalization of Taiwan’s claim to be a separate country.

If Trump triples down on this suggestion, and perhaps even if he fails to publicly walk it back, then, predictably and probably inevitably, China’s Central Government
will be infuriated,
will pose as being even more infuriated,
will stoke it’s public’s tendency towards suspicion of the United States,
will take actions very costly and disruptive to the huge investments in (and related to) China of the Fortune 500 and other Wall Street players, and
may raise the temperature of international disputes (not to mention “domestic” tensions between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau) so high that, in Asia or worldwide, all business decision-making is affected by perceptions of higher volatility and risk.
The reasons for this are that the Chinese central government:
is deeply committed to the position that China’s sovereignty over Taiwan is a non-negotiable point of principle,
is deeply averse to being publicly seen to allow matters of principle to be used as bargaining chips against it,
has a long track record of responding to disputes with shrill public rhetoric and/or with quiet-but-costly administrative harassment of foreign businesses,
has a potentially restive public that is suspicious of foreign governments;
is always sensitive to the risk of international relations flipping, from their longstanding role as a diversion of Chinese public attention away from domestic economic and political grievances, into a multiplier and igniter of those grievances; and
is not always able to quickly dial-back its public rhetoric (or even administrative harassment) after a dispute is resolved.
Trump’s track record indicates a habit of using discourtesy and protocol breaches as a quickly-abandoned tactic in seeking deals on substantive issues. In contrast, China’s Central Government treats courtesy and protocol has having important, and potentially long-lived, independent substance-- especially in connection with the status of disputed sovereign territories. Any view by Trump that the congratulatory phone call is without substance, or lasting consequences, is not widely shared.

If the US Ambassador to China has a personal relationship with Chinese President Xi Jingping (like that of likely appointee Iowa Governor Terry Branstad), this would probably exacerbate, rather than mitigate, the above difficulties, because President Xi’s personal contacts in the US would probably increase, rather than decrease, his individual sensitivity to the above issues.

The United States is not the only country where politicians’ path of least resistance is to pick fights with foreigners, or where picking fights is easier than unpicking them. This is well-understood not only by every diplomat, but by every person who has ever lived in a foreign country. It is also well-understood by most citizens of countries like Japan and South Korea (and even Taiwanese who voted for their independence-minded President). They know they will be living with China as a neighbor far after Trump and every Trump policy are long forgotten. If Trump loses their confidence, then both Trump and the United States will lose more, for longer, than he appears to realize.

It is possible to envision a carefully considered strategy that includes the United States seeking more leverage over China through the Taiwan issue, but not a strategy that allows a short phone call to initiate a public cycle of recriminations-- before the next Secretary of State has even been confirmed. Prior nominees, in their confirmation hearings, have attempted to minimize the breadth and detail of questions and answers about China, because preserving certain ambiguities has been useful to both countries. That will be more difficult now that Trump has opened the door to questions that he and his nominee will find no less awkward than prior administrations.

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At 10:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, essentially, the complaint is that the standard public obfuscation of our relationship with China is in peril?

With a few word changes, the less than complementary, bullet-pointed segment meant to demean China would serve as an accurate description of the US ... especially now during the Russian hacking hysteria.

It IS clear that Herr Hair is ignorant enough to eventually take the fall for the imminent shit storm over shipping lanes through the South China Sea initiated by Obumma's "pivot to Asia."

John Puma

At 5:21 AM, Anonymous wjbill said...

Now that Putin is the "model" China may feel fully justified in "taking" Formosa as just. Nothing new now that the problem of Crimea has been normalized.

At 5:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Crimea point is well taken.

I would add that China holds more than a trillion in our debt and could (and should) use that as leverage.

Drumpf can schmooze with other despots (putin), bully lesser nations and baffle the simple-minded with his horse/bullshit (americans), but the Chinese are none of those things. It would take some deft diplomacy and an even temperament, neither of which is der fuhrer capable.

At 10:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whatever accuracy there may be regarding the above alleged Crimea/Taiwan(Formosa) "model," recall that it was US provocation (Obumma/Trump, respectively) that has, or will have, caused it.

Just to review what seems not well understood: the partition agreement that granted Ukraine independence from the USSR included a treaty that allowed USSR/Russia to continue using its naval base in the Crimea, along with all ships/armaments and up to 25,000 troops.

The US engineered coup in Kiev was very likely a response to the 2010 extension of the expiration date of the original treaty beyond 2017 to 2042. (Along with US fantasies of blocking Russian gas sales to Europe ... so we can sell them our fracked gas.)

The Crimean naval base is Russia's only warm water seaport. They would no more give it up than the US would allow Tijuana to take over its San Diego naval base.

We will just have to deal with it or start a war to prove our exceptional arrogance and hypocrisy, once again. It appears the ongoing hacking hysteria is pointing us irreversibly in that direction.

As the Herr Hair bumbling has again revealed, there is no agreement of any sort, on anything, between China and Taiwan, much less a Chinese naval base with 25,000 troops.

John Puma


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