Republican presidents going back to Ronald Reagan have expressed solidarity with the island of Taiwan and the official GOP platform has sometimes included a shout-out to the democracy as a beacon of hope in the Pacific. But since 1979, U.S. diplomatic policy has shunned Taiwan in favor of the “One China” philosophy; as far as the federal government is concerned, there is no such thing as a separate Taiwanese government. All roads end in Beijing.
On Friday, President-elect Donald Trump blew all of that labored fiction out of the water when he accepted a congratulatory call from Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen. And for a call that reportedly contained little political substance, it landed in the media like a concussion grenade. And as always, the first round of mainstream media reporting was as wrong as it usually is when it comes to Trump.
Oh, he doesn’t know what he’s doing, they told us. He’s in over his head. Someone needs to get in there and talk to him before he winds up starting an international incident! We need a Secretary of State nomination, ASAP! This guy’s nuts!
The story changed when Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters that the president-elect was fully briefed and well aware of U.S. policy on China and Taiwan. And the story changed yet again when the Washington Post spoke to Trump insiders who confirmed that the phone call had been planned for months.
The historic communication — the first between leaders of the United States and Taiwan since 1979 — was the product of months of quiet preparations and deliberations among Trump’s advisers about a new strategy for engagement with Taiwan that began even before he became the Republican presidential nominee, according to people involved in or briefed on the talks.
The call also reflects the views of hard-line advisers urging Trump to take a tough opening line with China, said others familiar with the months of discussion about Taiwan and China.
Trump himself indirectly gave credence to this version of events as he bristled Sunday at China’s criticism of the phone call. On Twitter, Trump said, “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 U.S. doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don’t think so!”
Beyond the long-term China strategy implications, Trump’s call with Tsai now has liberals taking sides with a communist dictatorship over a legitimate democracy.