In speaking on the telephone with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and lashing out at China on Twitter over the weekend, President-elect Donald Trump did more than bewilder leaders in Beijing and the White House.
He made clear that he’s serious about his vows to wring a new deal from China on trade and appears to be ready to challenge at least the atmospherics of the US relationship with Taiwan — an issue of deep sensitivity in Beijing.
His tactics also show that President Trump promises to be just as much of a disruptor in international relations as he has been in domestic politics, no matter what conventions get broken in the process.
But so far, analysts say, it is not clear that Trump — for all his bombast — is preparing to tear up the strategic framework that has underpinned Sino-US relations since President Richard Nixon went to China to open relations between the two countries four decades ago.
Trump’s inexperience in foreign affairs and the fact that he is yet to name a secretary of state or senior Asia policy team means there is uncertainty in Washington and across the Pacific about his intentions.
Conflict of Interest Watch: Taiwan, Japan and Ivanka
Conflict of Interest Watch: Taiwan, Japan and Ivanka 03:37
China watchers are trying to work out if the call with Tsai is a sign that Trump is ready to challenge the strategic ambiguity of the “One China” policy itself that has been the cornerstone of bilateral relations since the establishment of diplomatic relations.
The formula, enshrined in the documents that eventually led to the establishment of US relations with China, permits Beijing to regard Taiwan as a part of China and the United States to sell the nationalist island arms to defend itself against the mainland, and has headed off a major US-China clash over the issue.
Trump’s call with Tsai was initially described by the presidential transition as a courtesy call. But now his supporters suggest that the first reported direct contact between a president or a president-elect with a Taiwanese leader in 40 years was more significant.