Donald Trump’s Taiwan Call Just Step One of a New Asia Strategy
To be honest, it was quite amusing to watch the American and in many respects, international media, go into total meltdown when US President-elect Donald Trump took a simple phone call from the President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen.
Appearing on the Sunday talk shows, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, using the word’s “President of Taiwan,” stating obvious reality, and creating another uproar in the process, gets to the heart of a foolish game of make-believe that the new administration could be itching to end.
Indeed, for many of us conservative leaning foreign policy professionals here in Washington who have bitterly commented on the Obama administration’s poorly resourced so-called “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific, this seemingly simple act was a clear sign of things to come — and was no surprise at all.
What President-elect Trump must do now is offer up a much more expansive vision for America in the larger Indo-Pacific region while making the case to the American people why they must support such a vision. When he does, another so-called “shocker” will reverberate the world over but will be something many China watchers have been begging for: a tougher line against Chinese aggression.
Long Overdue Shift:
A shift in policy toward Taiwan, and indeed the whole Asia-Pacific and larger Indo-Pacific region, has been something discussed in US conservative foreign policy circles for almost a decade — even longer depending on what you base as your starting point.
The reason for such a shift is obvious. To start, Beijing flipped from foe to friend thanks to Richard Nixon — a welcomed ally against the Soviet Union. Furthermore, since the late 1970s, a largely bipartisan group of foreign policy intellectuals has pushed the idea of welcoming a peacefully rising China into the international community under the guise of what Robert Zellick famously termed becoming a “responsible stakeholder.”
The idea was to ensure China did not turn into an adversary by giving it an important place in the current international order, to prosper from it, and in many respects, help defend that prosperity for generations to come. Beijing, it was thought at the time, if given a prominent place in the status-quo, would have little reason to fight against it.
And such a policy largely worked, for a time. One can make a credible argument that Beijing did not challenge the international system, a system created largely by the United States and Western powers, for decades.
China’s economy integrated into the world financial system and Beijing became rich in the process. China now sports the second largest economy by measure of GDP (Number one if PPP is used), it has lifted hundreds of millions of its citizens out of poverty and its borders, for the most part, across all domains, are largely secure.
However, since the fall of the Soviet Union and accelerating over the last decade or so, the People’s Republic has grown weary of an international system it was not strong enough to shape at the end of World War II. Chinese leaders, quick to cite a century of humiliation at the hands of western powers along with Japan, now want to amend that system to have a greater say in Asia’s affairs, and indeed, become the dominant power, its traditional place in the Asia pecking order for centuries, before its humiliation.
As one famous Chinese academic, based in Beijing, told me recently: “You Americans actually thought we would continue to support an international system that we never had any input in creating? Especially in a time when you are in decline?”
And events in recent years only go to show the great lengths China will push to change Asia’s order to its liking. For example, Beijing’s actions over the last several years in the South China Sea — through which 80% of the natural resources it needs to power its economy passes — have sparked heated debate in America that China not only may have dangerous ambitions, but seeks to push America out of the Asia-Pacific entirely.
Such actions include: declaring a ‘nine-dash-line’ which acts like sovereign borders over the richest ocean-based trade route on the planet, building fake islands that are now being transformed into small military bases and creatively using nonmilitary maritime assets to push outlandish territorial claims all the way to far away Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
What Will Such a Shift Look Like?
So what will a Donald Trump policy for Asia look like? If Trump takes the advice of his most experienced Asia hands, people like Peter Navarro, Michael Pillsbury, Randy Forbes (Trump’s rumored pick to be Secretary of the Navy) and Forbes’ former deputy Alex Gray, Beijing will be in for a rough ride indeed.