United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 22, 2016
Executive Summary: Will Donald Trump abandon the one China policy? He has at least loosened it. Some predict he will eventually return to the one China policy. Others think he may even restore diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and defend Taiwan. These are all mere speculation, because Trump is highly unpredictable.
Full Text Below:
Will Donald Trump abandon the one China policy? He has at least loosened it. Some predict he will eventually return to the one China policy. Others think he may even restore diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and defend Taiwan. These are all mere speculation, because Trump is highly unpredictable.
The following is an attempt to analyze the situation from the perspective of Washington, Beijing, and Taipei.
Trump's action can be viewed from three levels. On the first level, he sees himself as the "Kim Jong-un of the United States". He wants to dominate the situation with slippery but shallow rhetoric. To some extent, he has already done this. But this sort of "ranting politics" can only increase hostility, worsen the situation, and leave problems unresolved. On the second level, we have the commercialization of the one China policy. In fact, Trump wants to commercialize all international strategic cooperation, including the relationship between the United States and South Korea and Japan. If Beijing wants the United States to abide by the one China policy, it must pay a “user fee”. But this approach, as Richard Bush noted, would forfeit the moral high ground, thereby undermining the one China policy. Moreover, the US-China economic and trade relationship, generally speaking, is mutually beneficial. Harming Mainland China will not necessarily benefit the US. The room for political intervention is limited.
The third level demands close attention. Is Trump using non-recognition of the one China policy to prevent China's rise? First of all, if the United States abandons its one China policy, will that really stop China's rise? Second, if Trump does not want the US to be the world's policeman, but abandons the one China policy and stirs up trouble in the Asia-Pacific region, won't he be adding fuel to the fire? Third, abandoning the one China policy in order to change US China economic and trade relations, is no way to solve the problem. Fourth, abandoning the one China policy will seriously undermine US-China relations. Trump is a businessman. Does he really want such a lose/lose outcome? Trump's move cannot prevent China's rise. Even abandoning the one China policy cannot prevent China's eventual rise. If Trump does this, he will be no wiser than Kim Jong-un.
Beijing's response can also be viewed from three levels. On the first level, it can refuse to lower itself to the level of a Kim Jong-un. It can exercise restraint in its official words and deeds. It can use its official media to respond to Trump personally. This would effectively talk down to Trump. On the second level, if the one China policy is “negotiable”, and can be abandoned, it will highlight the United States' moral perfidy. Beijing would emerge the winner. If the one China policy is reduced to a matter of quid pro quo, to the level of a business deal, Beijing actually holds plenty of chips. On the third level, Beijing and the United States can continue to clash without severing relations. Taiwan will remain constrained by the one China principle. It will prevent the realization of Taiwan independence. If the US abandons its one China policy, that will not change the cross-Strait strategic scenario. This would then test Trump's bottom line. Does he want to resolve the cross-Strait issue, or worsen cross-Strait relations?
Taiwan's response can also be viewed from three levels. On the first level, the Tsai government and much of the public do not consider Trump's move undiluted good news. They are deeply alarmed. Their reaction is the result of years of experience, in office and out. On the second level, Trump is selling the one China policy not just to Beijing, but also to Taipei. This policy is a double-edged sword, and is being sold to two buyers. The loss of the moral high ground and the sense of responsibility in US China policy would constitute a huge loss for Taiwan and pose a hidden danger.
The most serious problem will be found on the third level. As previously noted, Trump has desecrated the formerly sacrosanct one China policy. How will the Tsai government interpret this? Will it take advantage of this? Will Tsai move toward the "Republic of China” and “one China, different interpretations”? Or will she move toward backdoor listing or de jure Taiwan independence? It all depends on whether the Tsai government will correctly assess its strategic situation.
At this point, the Tsai government may be able to take advantage of the "Republic of China” and “one China, different interpretations”. But if it continues to resort to backdoor listing and de-Sinicization, or if it fails to prevent a "national referendum" on Taiwan independence, it will place Taiwan in danger.
As the above situation shows, we must see whether Washington, Beijing, and Taipei can correctly assess their own strategic circumstances. This will determine what they do. Does Trump want to prevent the rise of China? If he does, he must do certain things. Common sense would suggest that he does not. But Trump is not bound by common sense. Will Beijing tolerate backdoor listing or Taiwan independence? That too will require different strategies. All one can be certain of, is that Beijing will not accept it. As for Taiwan, Trump has shaken the one China policy. Will Tsai attempt to dispense with the one China principle? Or will she safeguard cross-Strait relations by returning to the one China principle and one China, different interpretations? This too requires the serious evaluation of different strategies.
The Tsai government must ask itself what it must do in response to cross-Strait realities, regardless of what Trump does.