It was no secret that had Hillary Clinton and the Democrats prevailed in the November election, they would have heightened tensions with Russia even further than they’ve become under the Obama administration, equaling or surpassing Cold War levels. The Clinton campaign’s idea of promoting a “no-fly zone” in Syria could have ultimately led to a direct hot war with Russia.
Many who voted for Trump latched onto his criticism of the Iraq War and his warm embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin as signs he’d be less hawkish than Hillary. But that assessment could all be changing as Trump, either purposely or out of sheer inexperience, just provoked the single greatest threat to the United States and U.S. interests: China.
In a well-reported phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, Trump inflamed one of the Chinese government’s most personal issues: the “one China” policy. According to the BBC, the “one China” policy is:
“[T]he diplomatic acknowledgement of the Chinese position that there is only one China in the world and Taiwan is a part of that China. Under the policy, the US has formal ties with China rather than the island of Taiwan, which China sees as a breakaway province to be reunified with the mainland one day…”
“The policy can be traced back to 1949 and the end of the Chinese civil war. The defeated Nationalists, also known as the Kuomintang, retreated to Taiwan and set up their own government while the victorious Communists declared the People’s Republic of China. Both sides said they represented all of China.
“Since then China’s ruling Communist Party has threatened to use force if Taiwan ever formally declares independence…”
Taiwan maintains its quasi-independence from China, and enjoys much more freedom, autonomy, and a higher standard of living than the mainland. In its attempt to force Taiwan back under the Chinese umbrella, the government has employed ever-increasing measures to bring the policy to fruition.
The “one China” policy, according to Chinese officials, is non-negotiable.
In official state responses to Trump’s call from Taiwan’s president, China has stated it feels like President-elect Trump disrespected the policy. Initial responses from China were expected, measured, and not too concerning. However, Trump’s follow up claims are truly cause for concern for U.S.-China relations.
In an interview yesterday on “Fox News Sunday,” Trump said:
“I fully understand the ‘one China’ policy, but 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.”
This is where it gets scary. In response to Trump’s comments that the “one China” policy could be used as a bargaining chip with China, Chinese state-run media, seen as an official government response, shot back very forcefully. China’s English language Global Times newspaper did not mince words:
“If Trump gave up the One China policy, publicly supported Taiwan independence and wantonly sold weapons to Taiwan, China would have no grounds to partner with Washington on international affairs and contain forces hostile to the U.S. In response to Trump’s provocations, Beijing could offer support, even military assistance to US foes.”
Though U.S. tensions with China are nothing new, Trump’s comments could usher in a dangerous new era in U.S.-China relations: proxy war.
As China’s Global Times concludes:
“Given his inexperience, Trump is easily subject to the hawkish advisers around him. He assumes whatever he says doesn’t matter before he takes office. We will learn more about how he interprets the One China policy after he is sworn in. Meanwhile,China needs to be fully armed and prepared to take a Sino-US rollercoaster relationship together with Trump.”
If you thought the U.S.’ newfound enemy in Russia was scary, I’ve got news for you: China is not Russia. If Russia is David, nuclear-armed China is Goliath. The Democrats’ outcry over Russia’s influence and threat to the U.S. is inflated and over-hyped.
Russia’s economy is 1/8th the size of the United States’. China’s economy, on the other hand, is now larger than the U.S.’ by some estimates. Their military prowess is growing exponentially. China’s military manpower is roughly 300% larger than the U.S.’ Meanwhile, Russia has been slashing its military budget. China and the United States are the sole superpowers in the world.
The Obama administration has been steadily increasing tensions with China over South China Sea territorial disputes. U.S. allies in the region seem to be slowly (and quickly) shifting in China’s direction. The region is already a powder keg waiting to blow, and Trump could prove to be the match that sparks the powder — unless something changes.
China was a convenient campaign trail punching bag for Trump in the wake of a bankrupted U.S. manufacturing base that many perceive was lost to cheap Chinese (and Mexican) labor. This rhetoric may have helped him win the election. But now, in the post-election reality, Trump’s unmeasured, “off-the-cuff” anti-Chinese rhetoric can and will have real world consequences. As Chinese state-run media puts it, people around the world will “need to fasten their seatbelts” if it continues.