President-elect Donald Trump upended decades of American foreign policy last week when he spoke to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. China considers Taiwan a breakaway province, and American leaders hadn’t spoken directly with Taiwan’s leader since the 1970s — though the U.S. has sold military equipment to the island. Critics said Trump too easily risked China’s anger, but some conservatives said Trump’s action signaled support for democracy.
Should America change course on its China policy? Did Trump screw up, or is he just crazy like a fox? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.
Beware unintended consequences.
Conservatives are fond of dishing out this wisdom whenever liberals propose a policy that shakes the status quo. It’s actually good advice: Sometimes the desire to fix one problem can create new, unanticipated problems.
It may be the right thing to ally ourselves with the anti-Communist government of Taiwan. If the only goal of American foreign policy is to promote the so-called Freedom Agenda of the George W. Bush years, such an action might seem desirable.
You might ask why the United States decided to recognize Beijing’s Communist regime as China’s sole government, way back in the 1970s. There were strategic reasons, of course: There was a time when China was America’s partner in acting as a global counterweight against the Soviet Union. (Even the red-baiting 1980s movie Red Dawn, which fantasized about a Russian invasion of the United States, went out of its way to mention that the Chinese were allies in the fight against the Soviets and Cubans.)
Of course, the Soviet Union has disappeared from the scene. China is acting to expand its own burgeoning empire. Why not just go ahead and stick a thumb in the eye of the Communist regime?
One possible answer: North Korea. That country’s leadership is oppressive and unpredictable, with access to nuclear weapons. Any solution to the problem of North Korea will most likely involve China, which variously acts as a patron and leash-holder to Kim Jong Un’s government. Disregard Beijing’s wishes on Taiwan, and maybe North Korea doesn’t get its leash held so much.
Now, there may be good reasons for disregarding all that and proceeding with a Taiwan-friendly policy that will damage relations with China. The problem is: We don’t know what those good reasons are. President-elect Trump didn’t declare his intentions ahead of time — not like, say, President Obama, whose shift on Cuba policy was telegraphed well in advance — and we still don’t quite know if he meant to break with policy, if it was an accident, or if he was manipulated by overeager aides.
We don’t know if Trump is contemplating unintended consequences. Let’s hope somebody on his staff is.
Good grief. Another week, another Trump-induced freak out. Let’s hope at some point these stories become old news as people in and out of the commentariat realize President-elect Trump really isn’t part of the Beltway establishment when it comes to trade, immigration and foreign policy — and that’s a very good thing.
Let’s dispense with the handwringing about dispensing with U.S. policy toward Taiwan and why shaking things up with China is a smart move. “We don’t know what those good reasons are”? Of course we do.
Trump ran, in part, on putting Beijing in check. This was an instance where the press needed to take the Republican nominee seriously as well as literally. When Trump said he wants an “America-first” foreign policy, he meant it. When he said — over and over, long before he entered the 2016 presidential race — the United States needs to “get tougher” because China is “eating our lunch,” he wasn’t fooling around.
Trump’s protocol-shattering phone call with President Tsai is very much a part of that effort.
Fact is, the One China policy has always been a diplomatic fiction anyway. It’s true we ended diplomatic ties with the island in 1979. Now instead of embassies, Taiwan and the United States maintain unofficial institutes in Taipei and New York.
Don’t forget, too, that the United States has an obligation to defend Taiwan against Chinese aggression under the Taiwan Relations Act. And we have sold Taiwan $46 billion worth of military hardware since 1990, including $1.6 billion in just the past year.
If the goal is to prevent China from “eating our lunch,” then appearing to end the fiction — or at least clarifying our relationship with Taiwan — doesn’t look like a reckless act so much as a negotiating stance.
Trump hinted at this on Twitter. “Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the U.S. doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea?” he tweeted. “I don’t think so!”
Remember, Trump sold himself to voters as a dealmaker. Taiwan is a bargaining chip in a negotiation that’s vital to U.S. interests in the region and the world. It’s as simple as that.
Joel Mathis is an award-winning writer in Kansas. Ben Boychuk is managing editor of American Greatness. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or www.facebook.com/benandjoel.