Trump's actions signal new approach to China

A copy of the local Chinese magazine Global People with a cover story that translates to "Why did Trump win" at a news stand in Shanghai, on Nov 14, 2016.
A copy of the local Chinese magazine Global People with a cover story that translates to "Why did Trump win" at a news stand in Shanghai, on Nov 14, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

Mr Donald Trump's second volley of Twitter attacks on Beijing on trade and its South China Sea military build-up strengthens the view that it is a calculated move by anti- China hawks to redefine the US-Taiwan relationship.

On Sunday, Mr Trump tweeted: "Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the US doesn't tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don't think so!"

The tweets came barely two days after his 10-minute conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen raised eyebrows and drew a protest from Beijing.

That call was planned well in advance, The Washington Post reported. As such, it was carefully calculated. The conversation - and the latest tweets - signal a new robust approach to China advocated by key people in the Trump camp and in the conservative foreign policy community.

In Taiwan itself, the US President- elect's chief of staff, Mr Reince Priebus, is seen as being pro-Taiwan. On Nov 14, Taiwanese Foreign Minister David Lee told the island's Parliament that Mr Priebus' appointment was "good news for Taiwan".

 

"He has been a friend to Taiwan," Mr Lee said. Mr Priebus has visited Taiwan in the past, and in October last year, along with a Republican National Committee delegation, met Ms Tsai.

Other pro-Taiwan - or hardliners on China - people in the Trump camp include Mr Dan DiMicco, the leader of Mr Trump's transition team for the office of the US Trade Representative and a strident advocate of trade action against China.

Economics professor Peter Navarro, a senior adviser, is another. He wrote the 2011 book Death By China - an account of the loss of the US manufacturing base to China.

Last month, Mr Navarro and co-author Alexander Grey wrote an article in Foreign Policy magazine headlined "Donald Trump's Peace Through Strength Vision For The Asia-Pacific: How The Republican Nominee Will Rewrite America's Relationship With Asia".

They argued that President Barack Obama's "pivot" to Asia was an "imprudent case of talking loudly but carrying a small stick, one that has led to more, not less, aggression and instability in the region".

"Taiwan has been repeatedly denied the type of comprehensive arms deal it needs to deter China's covetous gaze, despite the fact that such assistance is guaranteed by the legally binding Taiwan Relations Act," they wrote.

Mr Jon Huntsman, a former US ambassador to China and Singapore who is reportedly included in an expanded slate of candidates for secretary of state, told The New York Times on Dec 3: "Taiwan is about to become a more prominent feature of the overall US-China relationship.

"As a businessman, Donald Trump is used to looking for leverage in any relationship. A President Trump is likely to see Taiwan as a useful leverage point."

There is also no shortage of Republicans who have sprung up to support Mr Trump after he drew criticism from pundits and Democrats over the phone call.

Republican Senator Newt Gingrich told Fox News on Sunday: "Beijing does not dictate who the president of the United States speaks to. We elected him not to listen to the current State Department."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2016, with the headline 'Trump's actions signal new approach to China'. Print Edition | Subscribe