So Donald Trump hasn’t even become president yet but he’s already causing international scandals. Judging from some of the shocked and horror-stricken reaction in the media and from some people, it is like he almost caused World War III to erupt. If you don’t already know, what Trump did was to call the president of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen, and have a conversation with her last Friday, December 2. It was a mere phone call, but it was unprecedented in American history, because it was the first time any US leader or president-elect had spoken directly to a Taiwan president since official relations were severed in 1979.
As expected, China reacted angrily though not as badly as many people expected, because they were probably as stunned by the seeming audacity out of nowhere from Trump. After all, this is a guy who many people in his own country don’t understand.
Now, I’m no supporter, fan or admirer of Trump and I think he is a vile, arrogant and pretentious person. But I can’t deny I felt a little bit of admiration for what he did. Many people don’t see it that way because they think this upsets the critical state of affairs between the US and China over Taiwan.
Basically, Taiwan is a nation that China claims belongs to it, due to the losing government side in the Civil War fleeing to Taiwan, then a former Japanese colony that had been returned to China, in 1949 to govern for themselves. Since then, Taiwan has become a democracy and a relatively well-off country with its own government, army, currency, courts and schools, in short basically everything a country has. And China has never relinquished its view that Taiwan belongs to it, forcing all major nations and the UN to give up official relations with Taiwan. The US also gave up official ties with Taiwan in 1979, but remains Taiwan’s main ally and provides tacit support, including military arms albeit outdated and in limited quantities.
However, many people were annoyed or angry at what Trump did, because they think this might provoke China into declaring war on the US and starting a regional war in East Asia and the South China Sea. But while I understand these folks, including a few expat friends and acquaintances of mine in China, don’t support China’s regime, they are letting their anger at Trump overshadow the actual situation. They guess that Trump is a fool who made a reckless move (I doubt that though), or that he only made the call (Trump has since claimed Tsai called him) to discuss investment projects his associates had previously visited, as reported by the BBC. The danger though is that they end up supporting or giving weight to China’s position, as unjust and groundless as it is.
One person who I know from Beijing, a very intelligent and knowledgeable writer, came out with this piece where he makes an interesting but in my opinion, flawed, argument. Basically, it is that the Communist regime has drilled into its people so successfully the idea that Taiwan belongs to China. If the government even appears to look weak by not constantly pressing its claim on Taiwan and allowing even the slightest international acknowledgement of Taiwan as an independent nation, there is a danger than an angry Chinese population could stir up and force the Chinese government into taking military action. The article has a few good points to back up this argument, but there are a couple of big holes which ultimately make it a flawed argument.
One is that what the Chinese government imposes on its citizens about Taiwan belonging to them is a lie, and one which has serious international ramifications. As foreign countries and the UN freeze Taiwan out (besides not being part of the UN or many international bodies, Taiwan participates in the Olympics as Chinese Taipei and flies an artificial flag that is not its own), this perpetuates the lie among many mainland Chinese. However China reacts, whatever it does, such as threaten or increase provocative actions near Taiwan, the fault is not Trump dared to talk to a Taiwanese president, but that the Chinese Communist Party has maintained a nonsensical lie for decades while attempting to bully and coerce a nation of 23 million people.
The second is that the writer stresses that the lie is so deeply ingrained that to mainland Chinese, it is “weird and taboo” to consider Taiwan as anything but a part of China. This is not true in my experience because I have met a number of mainlanders who are sympathetic or open to Taiwan being a separate nation.
It is time more mainlanders become aware that the world isn’t what their party forces to tell them. They need to know that Taiwan is not a part of China, but a separate nation, and just because their government claims it is, that is not true. If a lot of Chinese can’t accept that and get their “feelings hurt,” so be it. But I doubt all 1.3 billion Chinese, especially not the ones I know, are rabid, mindless, nationalist maniacs intent on forcing Taiwan into being part of China. This situation is still causing consternation with both China and Trump, with Trump responding with some bold (but not exactly untrue) tweets about China after Chinese state media criticized him.
So whether Trump’s motives were, the result is that it has brought Taiwan’s plight into the open, and put some pressure on China. I’m still not certain or ready to accept he could be a decent president, but I certainly don’t share a lot of people’s anger over Trump and I grudgingly give him a little credit for talking to Taiwan’s president on the phone.