CHENNAI, India, 5 December 2016
When US President-elect Donald Trump held a telephone conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, China immediately protested and conveyed its objection. Obviously, China has fears that Trump taking the initiative to talk to Taiwanese President may lead to the US recognizing Taiwan in a more positive way than has happened in the last few decades .
In 1979 the United States cut off diplomatic ties with Taiwan, while getting closer to China. The US took this unprincipled stand to appease China, keeping its business and trade opportunities in China in view.
When the US decided to cut off diplomatic ties with Taiwan to placate China, China virtually started taking the US for granted and assumed that the US recognized Taiwan as part of China and this would be the fundamental principle of the US-China relationship.
When Trump called the Taiwanese President, China has concluded that this act amounted to violating such understanding between both the countries.
It remains to be seen as to how Trump would react to China’s protest. In all probability, Trump would have anticipated such a reaction from China, and perhaps did not mind this.
China’s unreasonable stand
In any case, the ground reality is that Taiwan and China remain as two separate countries, and many countries have economic relationships with both Taiwan and China.
As a matter of fact, China itself has extensive trade relationships with Taiwan, and many Taiwan-based industries have invested in China. This obviously means that China recognizes Taiwan as a sovereign country for all practical purposes.
In such circumstances, China objecting to the telephone conversation of Trump with the Taiwan President should be rejected with contempt.
China’s overbearing attitude
The world knows that the government of China is not a paragon of virtue.
There are many instances where China has conducted itself with an overbearing attitude and aggressive postures, with least consideration for fairness, particularly while dealing with neighbouring countries.
Of course, the immediate example is China’s forceful occupation of Tibetan territory, which has now persisted for over six decades. It has mercilessly suppressed freedom of speech in Tibet and has objected to any country receiving the Dalai Lama.
While China is still occupying a considerable area of Indian territory after the China India war in 1962, China now claims that Arunachal Pradesh in India should be part of China. It has even gone to the extent of denying a proper visa to anyone from Arunachal Pradesh visiting China.
Pakistan gifted away part of the Kashmir area to China, though India claims that it is a disputed territory and Pakistan gifting the area to China and China accepting is illegal and objectionable. China does not care about India’s objection.
There are so many examples of China’s aggressive postures, which include the dispute with neighbouring countries including Philippines over the South China sea, disputes with Japan regarding Senkaku island, its troubled relationship with Vietnam, etc.
Considering China’s overbearing and aggressive attitude in relation to its neighbours, China now objecting to Trump’s conversation with the Taiwanese President is similar to the act of pot calling kettle black.
US relations with China at the cost of Taiwan
The US has significant trade and business relationships with Taiwan, though the US does not recognise Taiwan as a sovereign country.
The US has sold arms and military equipment worth around 12 billion dollars to Taiwan during the last three decades, and has vibrant import/export trade and other types of relationship with Taiwan.
At the same time, the US has been walking the extra mile during the last several years to keep China in good humour, considering the trade and business potentials.
In spite of the fact that the communist government in China is nearly a totalitarian regime, with political rights denied to the people, the US which claims itself to be a champion of liberty and freedom, has had no hesitation in cementing a relationship with China during the last four decades.
If China claims that Taiwan belongs to China, the fact is that Taiwan claims that China has forcefully annexed its territory and says that Taiwan has legitimacy to claim that entire China is its own. However, the US ignored such claims by Taiwan and humiliated Taiwan by cutting off diplomatic ties even while continuing the trade relationships.
U S knows that Taiwan is too small a country to protest and would put up with such humiliation, and this is what has been happening since 1979.
The US is always known to throw its principles to dustbin with regard to its relations with other countries when its economic and strategic interests are involved.
Refreshing approach of Trump
President-elect Trump’s initiative to speak to the Taiwan President is in sharp contrast with the policy adopted by President Obama and earlier Presidents.
It gives an indication that Trump would not go to any extent to appease China at any cost, as past Presidents have done.
This approach will certainly put China in its place and give hope to several neighbouring countries in Asia who fear China’s expansionist approach and overbearing attitude.
It is a fact that billions of dollars of American investment and valuable technology inputs from the US have gone into China during the last few decades, which have considerably contributed to the industrial and economic growth of China.
Such investments have created a scenario where the US cannot allow any issues with China to go out of hand. At the same time, China also depends extensively on the US market to export its products. If the US would block imports from China, the harm to the interests of China would be very high.
The ground reality is that both these countries depend on each other to a considerable extent.
When Trump spoke to the Taiwanese President, he clearly knows that China’s options are also very limited. China simply cannot walk away from the US.
The shadow-boxing between the US and China is likely to continue, with Trump not relenting any time soon.
About the author
NS Venkataraman is a chemical engineer as well as a social activist in Chennai, India. He is the founder trustee of Nandini Voice For The Deprived, a Chennai-based not-for-profit organisation serving the cause of the deprived and down-trodden and working for probity in public life.
More articles by NS Venkataraman on Tibet Sun.