The downside of electing an imbecile

There’s just nothing quite as exhilarating as having a complete novice and intentional ignoramus elected president so that he can amble around provoking war with tiny weak little countries like China.

President-elect Donald J. Trump, defending his recent phone call with Taiwan’s president, asserted in an interview broadcast on Sunday that the United States was not bound by the One China policy, the 44-year diplomatic understanding that underpins America’s relationship with its biggest rival.

Mr. Trump, speaking on Fox News, said he understood the principle of a single China that includes Taiwan, but declared, “I don’t know why we have to be bound by a One China policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade.”

He doesn’t know, which is not surprising since he doesn’t know anything, but then his way of dealing with his lack of knowledge leaves a lot to be desired. Musing about it on Fox News in wording that sounds exactly like a threat is not ideal.

A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Monday that the government had “serious concern” about Mr. Trump’s remarks, renewing a debate that erupted nine days ago when he took a congratulatory phone call from President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan.

At first, Mr. Trump played down the implications of the call, saying he was just being polite. Later, his aides said he was well aware of the diplomatic repercussions of speaking to Taiwan’s leader. Lobbyists for Taiwan, including the law firm of former Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, spent months laying the groundwork for the call.

Wouldn’t it be funny if paid lobbyists for Taiwan, Bob Dole among them, triggered a war between China and the US? No, it wouldn’t.

An editorial on Monday in The Global Times, a Chinese state-run tabloid, said that Mr. Trump was “like a child in his ignorance of foreign policy.”

“The One China policy cannot be bought and sold,” the editorial said. “Trump, it seems, only understands business and believes that everything has a price.”

Mr. Trump, however, did not appear worried about inflaming Beijing. He repeated in the Fox News interview many of the criticisms he has made about China, emphasizing what he said was its unwillingness to help curb the nuclear ambitions of its neighbor North Korea — an issue that foreign policy experts believe could confront Mr. Trump as the first geopolitical crisis of his presidency.

The president-elect said he would not tolerate having the Chinese government dictate whether he could take a call from the president of Taiwan. He reiterated that he had not placed the call, and described it as “a very short call saying, ‘Congratulations, sir, on the victory.’”

Of course he didn’t, and of course he did. That’s Trump all over – he thinks he’s infallible, and he thinks knowledge is irrelevant to (his) decision-making.

China scholar Steven Goldstein says in the Washington Post that Trump’s blowharding will risk war with China.

In other words, the One China policy isn’t a big deal — it’s a bargaining issue, like many other issues. So is Trump right?

No. The big deal is this: The relationship between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Taiwan is an ambiguous one, where the People’s Republic claims Taiwan as part of its national territory but is prepared for the present to let Taiwan continue in existence, while Taiwan also has an interest in not clarifying its relationship with the People’s Republic too precisely. Both the PRC and the United States adhere to the notion of One China, but they mean very different things by it. Undermining the status quo could lead to full-scale military conflict between the United States and China over an island that both see as vital to their national interests and whose unique status they have managed well up to this point.

He gives a very useful explanation of the current situation, the different understandings of Taiwan, and the careful, tricky balance that’s been working since Nixon. The US has more of a relationship with Taiwan than China would like, and less than Taiwan would like. It’s one of those “nobody breathe” things.

While the U.S. position is driven by a variety of political interests, China’s position is driven by a desire for national unity that China’s leadership has defined as existential and nonnegotiable. This means that the U.S. approach flouts essential elements of the Chinese position. Moreover, not only is Washington maintaining a relationship that contravenes China’s One China policy, but it has apparently put itself in a position of setting the conditions for the resolution of the conflict. The reason this has not led to overt hostilities is because all sides have behaved with restraint to maintain a very fragile peace. They know full well how sensitive these differences are.

Enter a conceited, ignorant blowhard who thinks he knows everything.

This is why Trump’s suggestion that One China is another bargaining chip, which the United States can play or not play as it likes, is both misleading and risky. On the one hand, it apparently misses the subtle, but extremely significant, differences between the American “one China policy” and the Chinese “one China principle.” On the other, it endangers the central tenet of American policy in the area — the maintenance of the status quo. The Trump transition team has already referred to Tsai Ing-wen as “President of Taiwan.” This publicly undermines the only aspect of the One China issue where the United States and China actually agree — that Taiwan is not a state, while starkly exposing the reality of the quasi state-to-state relationship that the American One China policy obscures. By using Taiwan’s status as a negotiating ploy, Trump is doubling down on this dangerous strategy. China’s vital national interests are in conflict with U.S. policy, and stable relations are fragile, because all the parties are unhappy with the present situation. If the incoming administration persists in its apparent careless indifference, it runs the risk of grossly destabilizing U.S.-China relations, and even risks war.

Oh well. At least Wyoming and Montana weren’t silenced by all those pesky millions of people in California and New York.

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