By Mitchell Blatt*
Donald Trump’s phone call with Taiwan’s president Tsai Ying-wen upended 37 years of precedent in U.S. foreign policy and potentially raised tensions with China, but his tweets afterwards didn’t help matters.
Since the phone call made the news, Trump tweeted, “The President of Taiwan CALLED ME” in an attempt to deflect some of the responsibility, and then added, “Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call.” (Taiwan’s government said that both sides agreed to the call ahead of time and agreed that Tsai would formally initiate the call, according to the Straits Times.)
What these tweets show is Trump is ignorant of world affairs and doesn’t give much consideration to how his words could affect foreign relations. Does he not know the rest of the world can read his Twitter feed, too? More likely he just doesn’t care.
Since 1979, the U.S. has had diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. China demands that any country with whom they have diplomatic relations not recognize Taiwan as an independent country. While America continues to have under-the-table relations with Taiwan, America doesn’t openly recognize Taiwan as a country and doesn’t have an official embassy on the island. (The American Institute in Taiwan, technically a non-profit organization, serves the functions of an embassy.)
To call Tsai the President of Taiwan is taken by many in China as to imply that Taiwan is a sovereign nation.
Next he tweeted about the fact that America sells weapons to Taiwan. (He could have also mentioned the fact that his company is trying to develop hotels in Taiwan.)
Of course everyone knows that Taiwan has a defacto president and that America sells them weapons–he’s not sharing confidential information. But such comments and actions could unnecessarily provoke China. He could start a conflict through his own ignorance.
Moreover, the DPP, which supports greater autonomy from China and pushes for formal recognition of independence, could use Trump’s ignorance to push for its own agenda. A DPP legislator praised the call as a breakthrough in the Straits Times.
His tweets were widely shared on China’s Weibo microblog:
Wang Jingyu, a professor of law at the National University of Singapore, remarked about how Trump called Tsai the “President of Taiwan” and said there was a risk of provocation. “How can the people in China who welcomed Trump taking office console themselves?”
To that effect, another Weibo user said, “Chinese Trumpsters, be careful what you wish for!”
There was a narrative in China that Trump, due to his calls to stay out of foreign interventions and threats to withdraw from Korea and Japan, would be better for China than “warmongering” Hillary Clinton. Now one can see that complete ignorance of the world can be more dangerous than cold-hearted pursuit of a nation’s national interests.
Thomas Chen, a news editor for Sina, wrote that Trump’s comments about weapons were “very funny!”
Wei Peng wrote, “Trump must be receiving widespread criticism from America’s diplomatic circle.”
About the author:
*Mitchell Blatt moved to China in 2012, and since then he has traveled and written about politics and culture throughout Asia. A writer and journalist, based in China, he is the lead author of Panda Guides Hong Kong guidebook and a contributor to outlets including The Federalist, China.org.cn, The Daily Caller, and Vagabond Journey. Fluent in Chinese, he has lived and traveled in Asia for three years, blogging about his travels at ChinaTravelWriter.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @MitchBlatt.