It is impossible to know with Trump whether some “move” of his is just a poorly controlled impulse (like his Twitter messages) or a calculated effort to create or build a negotiating position. However, we know he doesn’t care about any other countries, so it is unlikely he has the best interests of the people of Taiwan at heart. The call could be part of an effort to suggest that “One China” is no longer the U.S. position, as part of a campaign of bluffing for negotiating with China on a range of trade matters, or it could just be meant to demonstrate that he is unpredictable, or it could just be ignorant posturing for his populist backers.
If I were China’s leadership, I’d be standing back and letting Trump make all the hot air he wants, and basically ignoring him unless he does something that actually affects the world materially. China knows he lacks legitimacy or leverage in the U.S., and can easily string him along for as long as it wants, knowing he and Congress and the courts will be at each other’s’ throats very soon in yet another cycle of gridlock. As for Pillsbury, he will quickly find that, no matter how brilliant he is, and how agile, Trump will eventually do or say something stupid that shows he wasn’t listening or didn’t care. Then the question will be, will he stick around and look uncomfortable, like Chris Christie, or will he just walk away and throw his expertise in with one of the other power blocs jockeying to stay in the game while Trump makes a mess. And as for Kissinger, how could he resist another day on the big stage? But I don’t think he’s ever had to deal with someone like Trump before – he (Kissinger) is only accustomed to dealing with people who take what they are doing seriously. Eventually, he’ll hit the wall with Trump the same way that Pillsbury will.
At the same time, if I were China’s leadership, I’d be looking very, very hard at my big ugly bear of a neighbor to the far north – a neighbor that has no qualms about interfering with other nations through clandestine means (hacking, assassinations, sabotage, faked news, etc.) – and has a strong sense of entitlement to the former Soviet Republics in central Asia as part of its sphere of influence. “One Belt” is a clear challenge to Russia, and Chinese shipping through the rapidly opening shipping routes over the Arctic will be going through waters that Russia considers its territory, too. Trump may be unpredictable, but the U.S. still has built-in checks and balances. Russia, on the other hand, is unpredictable on an entirely different level, and Russia’s interfering with the U.S. will not make China’s situation more predictable either.
Basically, three new realities have emerged with Trump’s America that China has to be cognizant of:
1. The Trump administration, as well as US state power in general, is both volatile and fragile as never before. What China must be prepared for is when Trump takes adventurous foreign policy actions to divert attention from domestic pressures.
2. He is putting 3 ex-soldiers (who are not very smart people, by the way) in key national security positions. China is wondering: if you don’t go to war, what use do you have for these bimbos? So, China has to be prepared.
3. Trump will always do things you don’t like. That’s his style in business and surviving through multiple bankruptcies. But poking at the core interests of the Chinese will not get him “bargains” on other issues. Quite the opposite, China will take advantage of his “infractions” and toughen its stance on issues and grab oppotunities to fortify its positions. In the end, as they say, Trump will just lift the rock only to drop it on his own feet.
Both Pillsbury and Kissinger will find it frustrating dealing with Trump because he is a crook by nature.
The triangular relationships between America, China and Russia will play out very dramatically. It reminds the Chinese of their “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” period. I am of the opinion that we are living in a Polycentric world power reality at the moment. On top of the big three, we have to contend also with Europe, Japan and Britain as significant players. During polycentric periods of history (of which I would point to the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods in China as the quintessential example), even small nations (witness the Philippines recently) can make considerable impact and send everybody into a spin. Nevertheless, in today’s reality, US and China constitute the main axis in the polycentric spindles. If they unite and cooperate, the various circles will enjoy relative stability and order, whether independent of or connected with the two of them. If they clash with each other, all the members in whichever circle of interests and functions will suffer. US-China cooperation will be crucial to the new world order.
By the way, China is fully aware of Russia and Putin’s unreliability. Given many episodes in recent history, Chinese leaders will be foolish not to wary of the Northern Bear.