The View From Asia

Taiwan and the Trump trajectory on US-China ties

US President-elect Donald Trump sets regional commentators thinking hard about the changing state of US-China ties. Here are excerpts from commentaries in Asia News Network papers.

Tough talk on trade

Editorial China Daily, China

US President-elect Donald Trump is usually described as a pragmatic and successful businessman - a man who knows how to cut a deal to his own advantage. So it was strange to hear him say that he wants to use the US' continued observance of the one-China principle regarding Taiwan as a bargaining chip in trade talks with Beijing, because that has no leverage.

Taiwan is part of China, no matter what he says. However, since he has indicated that his real interest is trade, let's talk about trade.

Bilateral relations have come a long way on an upward trend since China began its ongoing opening-up. Now, as the world's two largest economies and each other's biggest trading partners, China and the United States have developed a "symbiotic relationship", achieving a trade volume of nearly US$600 billion (S$866 billion) last year.

Still, Mr Trump likes to claim that China is not playing fair in its economic competition with the US.

Soon after his "I was just being polite" phone call with Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen that had actually been long in the planning, he raised his now-familiar accusation that China imposes heavy taxes on US imports which the US does not do on Chinese goods. Like so much of what he says, this stretches the facts in a direction that is at odds with the truth.

China abides by World Trade Organisation rules and adheres to its bilateral and multilateral trade and tariff agreements. To put the two countries' trade relations into perspective, General Motors saw more than one-third of its 9.96 million vehicles sold globally bought by Chinese customers last year, while one out of every three cars produced in North America uses parts made by Wanxiang, a Chinese-funded company that employs 12,500 people in the US.

History proves what is good for Sino-US relations is good for their economies.

For the American economy to be great again the US needs to cement its economic relations with China, rather than destroy them.

A Chinese magazine featuring Mr Trump on the cover on sale at a newsstand in Shanghai on Wednesday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

US, Taiwan and arms deals

Yuan-Ming Chiao  The China Post, Taiwan

Last week, Chinese military jets circled Taiwan. On Dec 15, the Taiwanese government acknowledged that China could send naval vessels to follow suit. These actions are clearly meant to signal China's acute sensitivity and wariness towards the United States, as well as its opposition to any change to the "one China" policy, which the US President-elect called into question last week.

Ms Tsai Ing-wen's strategic gambit to raise Taiwan's international profile via a Trump phone call has continued to play out to the island's disadvantage.

While Washington emphasised that its stance on the "one China" principle had not changed and that Taiwan was a partner and not a bargaining chip, it also noted quite conveniently that it was time for Taiwan to up its military spending.

Taiwan's military subsequently confirmed that new strategies were being formulated and that once approved, new resources would be injected to implement them.

Are there causal links between Mr Trump's public criticism of the "one China" policy and the US Defence Department's urging that Taiwan increase its military spending? If so, what would such a development entail?

We should remember that US Senator John McCain, leader of the influential Armed Services Committee, led the largest delegation of senators to visit Ms Tsai in Taiwan in June. It was also the first time the committee chairman had visited the island in 24 years.

The visit underscored the importance of arms sales in maintaining Taiwan-US relations, which were part of Taiwan's bid to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Experts and policy analysts have argued for years that Taiwan's defence spending should amount to at least 3 per cent of the country's GDP in order to maintain a credible deterrence against China's build-up over the years.

The calculus of Washington- Beijing-Taipei relations following Mr Trump's victory last month will only strengthen these arguments.

While the TPP may be on life support, (or, as some infer, dead already), arms deals are likely to grease Taiwan's bid to forge more extensive trade relations with the United States as an alternative.

The consequences of these actions mean that Taiwan is rapidly moving towards pursuing a less ambiguous posture between the United States and mainland China, a stance that will diminish its chances of becoming an important broker for stability.

Using Taiwan to toy with China

Mahir Ali Dawn, Pakistan

Nothing what Mr Trump had previously said prepared Beijing for the Taiwan card to be played with such reckless abandon.

There is certainly a case to be made for recognising Taiwan's independence. But trying to blackmail China into relinquishing its claim to the island would be extraordinarily unwise.

Then again, there are already plenty of other indications that an extraordinary lack of wisdom is precisely what the incoming administration will bring, to a large extent, on both domestic and international fronts.

Some of the most deleterious effects of the coming presidency will no doubt be felt within the US, but far-reaching consequences can be expected in the wider world, too.

China is just one potential flashpoint.

Efforts to unravel the nuclear deal with Iran could prove disastrous, but Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reckons he stands an excellent chance of convincing the new administration otherwise.

Russia, meanwhile, appears to see Mr Trump as a potential saviour - and one who has, at that, dismissed out of hand purported evidence from the CIA that Moscow-backed hackers possibly helped to secure his election.

There is, of course, much irony in the CIA complaining about foreign interference in securing the election of a far-right candidate, given that that has been its speciality over the decades in all corners of the world. And Mr Trump isn't entirely wrong in saying these are the same people who insisted Saddam Hussein had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction.

That doesn't mean the CIA is necessarily barking up the wrong tree this time around.

•The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 21 newspapers. For more, see

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 17, 2016, with the headline 'Taiwan and the Trump trajectory on US-China ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe