Call From Taiwan
This shows Trump’s ignorance. China policy will not be the only area in which Trump will have to “learn on the job”. By the way, he will soon learn also that being the US President is indeed a “job”, i.e., he is an employee and no longer the owner of a business and will have to listen to and behave within the boundaries of invisible “bosses” and overseers of state power. He may find it hard to get used to that.
US-China relations is too important to be endangered by his expected lack of knowledge. Initially in every US president’s tenure, mistakes are made until the person in the new office learns the basics and begins to understand the realities. There is no finishing school for US presidency and we sometimes elect very under-qualified candidates for the job, Obama being a stark example of that. That doesn’t mean they cannot end up doing a good job (I don’t mean Obama here).
China quickly contained the fallout from Trump’s faux pas. Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, immediately pointed out that this was a typical tacky antic on Tsai Eng-wen’s part to attempt to entrap Trump into wrecking America’s relations with China. Trump fell for it, but China did not. In the bigger picture and larger dynamics, China is not going to let this incident at this stage to derail relations and business as usual. Of course, Trump must not get carried away. Already, while seemingly letting him off the hook, the Chinese have marked a score in the debit column on Trump’s account in future negotiation. For example, China will make life more difficult for him when he tries to satisfy the appetite of the US military industrial complex in selling obsolete arms to Taiwan at hugely inflated prices (a customary practice in every administration since Ronald Reagan). There are many more ways China can make Trump pay the price but, for now, it will look the other way and wait for Trump to stuff bigger shoes into his mouth.
US-China relations always suffer a teething pain period with every new US president. It is to be expected with Donald Trump who has surrounded himself with a motley crew of military trash-talking hardliners (apparently because he has to repay his debt to those in the military and intelligence circles who helped him get elected). At some stage, sooner rather than later, China will have to defang these pitbulls. It will work to China’s advantage because these are not smart people. Meanwhile, the smart people will be working out of sight and ear-range, for what it is worth.
Michael Pillsbury Sighted In Taipei
Interestingly, two days after the call, Donald Trump’s behind-the-scene man Michael Pillsbury landed in Taipei. Even more interestingly, he was greeted at the airport’s ordinary passenger gate on this supposedly “private” visit by a throng of camera men, flashing strobes and all, from a China-related TV network! They trailed him all the way to luggage pickup and airport limo. He maintained his composure and bantered with the reporters in Putonghua. Not long after, the footage was on the evening news. So much for behind-the-scene.
Only history will tell us whether he was being outed, or he purposely outed himself as part of a plan.
Putting The Eggs In A Roll?
The heated speculation right now is whether he is in Taiwan to damage-control, or plot the next steps. My read on Pillsbury is that he is intent on playing Taiwan as a big card, now. It is a first step in the negotiating strategy, to up the ante and build up bargaining chips. It is a potentially dangerous double-edged sword, especially up against the very sophisticated Chinese counterparts. After all, when you flagrantly flout your nation’s undertaking without prior notification, you empower your adversary with implicit entitlements.
Pillsbury should be the person orchestrating the show put on with the Taiwan leader, if it were indeed a premeditated ploy. As a normal course in this unequal and extra-legitimate relationship between the US and Taiwan, he would have to remind Tsai who is the boss. He would reiterate who the real director of the show is, what her roles are and are not, and for her not to try to cast herself as a lead actor but to follow the given scripts as a member of the supporting cast. He would likely recite parts of the Riot Act to her: “… and don’t you dare try to approach the producers with your own ideas”. In short, the Americans know from experience that the Taiwanese need to be put into their place, or else they will play you. Too much is at stake to allow accidental foul-ups. For American realists, Taiwan is, at all times, nothing more than a temporary piece of prop with an eventual sell-by date.
In any case, such maneuvers should not be played out in the public eyes. It makes America look like a colonial master, and observers to witness disingenuity as regards the welfare and destiny of the people of Taiwan. Officially, they may now have to pretend that he is in Taiwan to make preparation for a previously-announced visit by Tsai to the US. This is bound to be another can of worms, and Round 2 of Trump’s dilemma — To see her, or not to see her, that is the question.
Meanwhile, Kissinger is observing that “China is admirably composed” and the Obama administration is distancing itself from this premature conduct of foreign policy by a yet-to-be administration.