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Following US President-elect Donald Trump’s phone call to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and lashing out on twitter over China, Chinese-US foreign relations seem to be on a rocky course going into a Trump Presidency.
Both analysts and leaders from both Beijing and the White House are concerned over the possible impact of his actions, as they argue over whether Trump – for all that pompousness – is serious in tearing up the strategic framework that has underpinned Sino-US relations since President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China four decades ago.
Some believe that the President-Elect is merely attempting to put on a tougher initial gambit against China, so as to negotiate for more favourable economic, military and strategic terms with the great power. Others even go as far as to claim that such actions are very well executed, with hopes that such a move would be a beginning of a more realist approach that the US would adopt to counter China’s aim of establishing a regional hegemony around Asia, the same way that the US had done itself through the Monroe Doctrine centuries ago.
Either way, the liberal view of economic interdependence, a view that Beijing seems to take, is now under threat. Trump’s tactics show that he 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. He has shown that he is 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.
Meanwhile, Taipei has been muted in their reactions to these turn of events. Despite a largely positive result from the phone call, Taiwan—who has been rendered nearly invisible in global affairs by decades of accommodation to Chinese pressure—is careful not to come into direct conflict with Beijing over the result of such calls.
The Democratic Progressive Party under Ms Tsai has moved away from its pro-independence roots to a more nuanced form of Taiwan nationalism. The party’s charter still features a clause advocating eventual official independence in the form of a Republic of Taiwan, although in July Ms. Tsai proposed replacing the clause with language that favors maintaining the status quo.
More importantly, the Trump candidacy comes at a time where international relations in the Asia Pacific are facing uncertain times. Both the Philippines under President Duterte, and to some extent Malaysia have been pulled closer towards China’s economic orbit, while Singapore diplomatic relations with China are increasingly strained over the island state’s alleged actions during the Non-Aligned Movement Summit more than two months ago.