(ANTIMEDIA) — For about forty years, the U.S. has had a longstanding policy of not formally recognizing Taiwan as an independent state even though America has its own covert strategy to contain China. However, Donald Trump openly ran his presidential campaign on a strict anti-Chinese platform, even stating that the U.S. “can’t continue to allow China to rape our country.” Then, in December 2016, Trump inflamed China on its non-negotiable “one China” policy in a well-reported phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
“I fully understand the ‘one China’ policy, but I don’t know why we have to be bound by a ‘one China’ policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade,” Trump said in an interview on Fox News Sunday.
This verbal attack was a significant development at the time because the comments immediately rattled China, who indicated they would respond by arming America’s rivals.
Despite this, Trump’s behavior and rhetoric since then have largely painted a different story. Trump was lavishly welcomed in China at the end of last year, and as CNN explained, Trump “hasn’t imposed double-digit tariffs on Chinese imports,” has “entirely abandoned his plans to label China a currency manipulator,” and “hasn’t retaliated against Beijing’s abusive trade practices with draconian measures of his own, as his campaign once foreboded.”
It is worth noting, however, that on Thursday, Trump announced that the U.S. has decided to slap China with tariffs on up to $50 billion in imports, hinting that there was more to come.
Just recently, Trump’s anti-Chinese stance has come full circle as the administration looks set to extend the Obama-era “Pivot to Asia” strategy in an attempt to further undermine Chinese influence. And they know exactly where to hit in order to do the most damage to China’s regional ambitions.
While the media focuses on the oncoming trade war between the two countries, the truth is that what will really irk China is not Trump’s anti-trade rhetoric but how the Trump administration is now flirting with the Taiwan issue once again, most notably by signing into law the Taiwan Travel Act, calling for increased high-level visits to Taiwan by U.S. civilian and military leaders. From Bloomberg:
“Now, a series of moves in Beijing, Taipei and Washington are threatening to bring the Taiwan question back to the fore. One Chinese official in Beijing said there was concern that Trump could play the “Taiwan card” and that the government was prepared to take a strong stand against any U.S. moves on the issue.”
In response to what China has viewed as an increasingly anti-Beijing sentiment in Taiwan and the small country’s growing relationship with the United States, China has allegedly exercised its air force around Taiwan at least 16 times in the last year or so. As it stands, according to Bloomberg, Taiwan is requesting advanced weapons such as Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 fighter jets, a move that will greatly infuriate China if ever brought to fruition.
In early February, Donald Trump said he planned to nominate Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, as ambassador to Australia. This is the same admiral who openly called China’s artificial island project “a Great Wall of sand” and has repeatedly dubbed China’s policy in the South China Sea “provocative and expansionist.”
Not long after, Harris began advising the United States Congress that Washington should prepare for the possibility of a war with China in the South China Sea, adding that “China’s impressive military build-up could soon challenge the United States across almost every domain.
We would do well to pay close attention to these ongoing developments. While the question of Taiwan may not seem like a big deal to most of us in the west, the one issue China is unlikely to ever want to negotiate is the future of Sino-Taiwanese relations, even if the U.S. appoints hawkish officials like Harris to beat the drums of war against China.
“To the Chinese government, Taiwan is the primary issue in U.S.-China relations,” Zhou Qi, director of the Institute of American Studies at the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said as quoted by Bloomberg. “And it can’t be used as a bargaining chip in trade talks.”