So, once again, as usual, Donald Trump when faced with allegations about Russian hacking in his election, quickly gave an interview to Fox News about Taiwan. That helped in diverting much of the traffic towards the issue, in a communication diversion strategy that Trump has mastered since he decided to stand for election. The interview itself was obviously incoherent, and Trumpian…as in he said a lot of things, half said even more, and almost all of them contradictory. Typical example being he claimed Obama’s policies were a failure, but simultaneously claimed that President Obama has been a terrific president. If any observer was watching for signs of Trump’s pivot towards centrism, this is as good as it gets.
However, the important part was his comments about One China policy. Trump said, he understands completely what a One China policy is, and why US governments have followed it for over forty years, but he fails to comprehend why it should be continued if there’s no deal with China. “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,” Trump told Fox, as reported by Reuters.
Well, that’s a bold statement, because for a start, he doesn’t understand One China policy. And, a deal is already in place. The deal is so the planet earth doesn’t look like a sequence from Fallout 4. But on the other hand, he cleverly didn’t say that he wants to topple the One China policy and chart a new US foreign policy towards China. It’s like an art of saying things, without saying things; kind of like thinking out aloud, wondering, what does it matter if the policy is overturned. If the Chinese administration was looking for hint, this is it. Let me explain.
Trump’s world view is quite distinctly mercantile. It’s not realist, although it is broadly based on interests…it doesn’t quite go as far as understanding the relative gains. It’s of course not idealistic and liberal in the least, as it gives two hoots about human rights. It’s mercantile, as in Trump understands deals, and quid pro quo relations. That’s in a way, good, because if someone understands deals, the deal itself gets easy and the only challenge then remains is in the communication of the deal.
The problem here is however, a bit different. Taiwan is considered an intrinsic part of China, not just by China, but also tacitly on United States. The reason is, US calculated, during Nixon’s time, and subsequently afterwards, that Taiwan is not worth a war, or worse, a nuclear war, with China. It’s simple cost benefit analysis, the same logic, why US didn’t help Georgia during 2008, or Ukraine in the current state. While competition and rivalry is good, no great power wants to go out of their way to challenge the primacy of another great power in their own neighbourhood.
But for all it does, is it encourages the small states like Georgia or Taiwan, to risky behaviour and leads to war. If Trump genuinely cares about Taiwan, it will try to reign in Taiwanese adventurism, and maintain the status quo, as if the regional balance starts to topple, and in the eventuality of a war, the cavalry won’t be coming over the Western hill with a setting sun in the background. Taiwan will not realistically get any help from the West, other than lot of moral support and tall words. Great powers, above all tends to focus on their own survival, and if anyone thinks US would risk war with China over Taiwan, then that’s frankly a naïve and absurd analysis of the situation.
Which makes me go back the the first point. Trump is repeatedly hinting at deal with China…is anyone listening? If I am there to give advice, I would suggest forming a team, specifically focussed on Trump, and try to start a backchannel with the Trump team. If this leads to a G2 powersharing and grand bargain, then it will be the best for global order. Trump can of course take all the credit for the “deal”, if that keeps him happy.