Steve Yates, whose most recent piece explains why The Call was the right move, noted on Facebook about my blog post yesterday:
Reminder, China-Taiwan stuff is not really a partisan issue in the US. Michael Turton is a D and I am an R.He also said that I am a delightful person to talk to, which is only true if you've had a few whiskies. But more importantly, he put his finger on the real issue, which is that this should not be seen (or become) a left-right ideological battle. Nope, this is another kind of split, identified by the sagacious Chris Horton (@), a Taiwan-based journalist who has been putting out solid work in the NYTimes of late (and who really is a delightful person to talk to). He tweeted yesterday:
Interesting coincidence that of the China journos/commentators that aren't freaking out about the phone call, large % have lived in Taiwan.Yup -- the conversation between China and Taiwan types sounds like this:
CHINA PEOPLES: [Background: Orff's Carmina Burana] ZOMG Tsai and Trump talked by phone. The apocalypse is nigh!Yesterday Evan Osnos had a widely circulated response in the New Yorker, which several people sent to me with various negative comments. Note the way pro-China language is normalized in his presentation:
TAIWAN PEOPLES: [Background:Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville ] Dudz, chill out. This is great! Have a margarita. Nothing is going to happen. And give me another one of those mojitos, they're excellent.
CHINA PEOPLES: [Background: Rachmaninoff's Isle of the Dead](howls of anguish at lost gatekeeping possibilities) But this changes everything. It's radical!
TAIWAN PEOPLES: [Background: Poppy's Money] Dudz, there are some good English teaching jobs in Dubai, I hear.
CHINA PEOPLES: [Background: Dvorak's Requiem, Dies Irae] But we spent 40 years building these protocols!
TAIWAN PEOPLES: [Background: Queen's We are the Champions] Yeah, well while you were building protocols, China was building... islands.
Taiwan broke away from mainland China in 1949,I've complained about the reflexive use of "Mainland" as an act of pro-China discourse many times on this blog. It should simply be banished. The history is also wrong. Actually, Taiwan had been part of Japan since 1895, and would continue to be under Japanese sovereignty until 1952, at which point its status became undetermined under international law, a position it has held ever since. The ROC government moved to Taiwan in 1949. It was the KMT and the CCP which split in 1949, not Taiwan and "China". Taiwan had never been part of any Chinese empire.
One also has to love the use of abusive language in passages like this:
Though expert reaction to the Taiwan call was generally negative, the move was applauded by a subset of conservative Asia specialists who have long pushed for the U.S. to draw closer to Taiwan as a check on China’s expanding power.Experts reacted negatively, specialists supported it, an opposition which occurs in several places in the piece. Dan Blumenthal is described as a "specialist" not an expert. Especially delightful, that formulation. Never mind that the assertion is wrong, as I can make up a long list of lefty Taiwan "specialists" who loved The Call and hold many of the same positions as the conservative Asia experts. But Osnos is so reflexively focused on China he never thinks of Taiwan as a thing in itself with its own group of specialists who might be worth listening to. This attitude is more fallout from the common move among commentators of seeing Taiwan only in terms of China...
Osnos then goes on with the SOP China Explainer response in which China's future reaction is presented even before China reacts:
Whether it says it or not, China will regard this as a deeply destabilizing event not because the call materially changes U.S. support for Taiwan—it does not—but because it reveals the incoming Presidency to be volatile and unpredictable.Osnos, like virtually every commenter with a China-centric orientation, doesn't ask what China could be doing to please the US (The China Explainers never task China with the responsibility of responding to US needs, except in vague and ideologically-approved ways as in his commentary on how to avoid the enemy trap from last year). Nor does he stop to consider the effect on relations with Taipei or Tokyo (upgraded US relations with Taiwan are good for Tokyo, Manila, and every other nation facing Chinese territorial expansionism). The reflexive, obsessive focus on What Does It Mean For Our China of this crowd is every bit as ideological and narrow-minded as the people they criticize.
Instead, he scolds the US for being potentially volatile and unpredictable. As I have noted many times on this blog, "anger" for China is a policy choice which it deploys to manage and manipulate other nations and individuals who comment on foreign policy. One of the tragedies of the China Explainers is that they treat this anger as everything but what it actually is, a deliberate policy choice, and the constant flow explanations that the commentariat offers, like the bullshit "century of humiliation", are often little more than repackaged CCP propaganda and function as a kind of apologetics. Again and again we are told China is basically the Jessica Rabbit of countries: it's not bad, it's just drawn that way. Consider how Osnos' commentary on how to fix US-China relations last year softens China's territorial expansion in the South China Sea:
The U.S. must differentiate between controversial assertions of power, like those in the South China Sea, and fair reflections of China’s growing contribution to the world, such as the new banks. Likewise, China cannot afford to pretend that the world is unruffled by the profound, if inevitable, change it has introduced in the international order. For both parties, a willful focus on the strengths risks underplaying the weaknesses in their respective positions.China's moves in the South China Sea are naked territorial expansion, not "controversial assertions of power". Yet Osnos would never describe Trump's phone call as a "controversial communication between two presidents of democracies".
Thus, Osnos' complaint about unpredictability is simply a variant of the old game of China managing US foreign policy via anger and sensitivity. It replaces "We mustn't do X because it could anger China!" with "We mustn't do X because China will think we are unpredictable." In every case, the onus is on the US to cede its freedom of action because poor China is so especially sensitive and must be coddled.
China, of course, will do whatever it wants no matter how the US behaves. We're so lucky that our current policy has totally prevented China from suppressing Taiwan's international space, from launching missiles around Taiwan, deploying paramilitary and military forces to Japanese territory in the Senkakus, Philipines waters, and the South China Sea, constructing islands in the South China Sea, suddenly announcing an ADIZ over the Senkakus, turning Laos and Cambodia into protectorates, quietly deploying coast guard ships to Laconia Shoals off Borneo to expand its territorial claims, kidnapping booksellers from third countries, ramping up its military presence on the Indian border, and playing territorial expansion games in Himalayan meadows owned by Bhutan. Damn Trump's advisers for disturbing that peacefulness!
But the whole claim that Trump is unpredictable is both incorrect and nakedly ideological. In reality, it was easy to see what the new policy would be because of who Trump picked to advise him. I wrote about it on this blog, and if a cheeto-eating, panjama-wearing, basement-inhabiting blogger whose only brilliance is the sheen of alcohol evaporating off his skin could see that, surely awesome China Explainers like Osnos should have been able to. If China was unable to predict something like this, it was ill-served by both its intelligence services and by its American brokers. Like Evan Osnos, for example.
Oh yeah -- Who did China have monitoring the media in Taipei which announced The Call hours before it occurred? Obviously nobody. Hello, intel failure.
If you didn't know this was going to happen, you haven't been listening to Trump's advisers talk and write for the last decade. Which, come to think of it, is probably true. Having dismissed them as irrelevant fringers, many commentators simply had no clue what Trump's advisers would do.
In other words, it isn't that "Trump is unpredictable". It's that everyone failed to see this would happen (except those of us lefties in regular contact with Trump people who we disagree with but regard as humans like ourselves, except much better shaved and dressed). But rather than humbly admit that the China Explainers did not properly evaluate things, they withhold humanity from Trump's advisers and claim that the China Explainers couldn't have screwed up, the only explanation is that Trump must be unpredictable. Which is a Bad Thing.
Trump has also shown himself to be highly exploitable on subjects that he does not grasp. He is surrounding himself with ideologically committed advisers who will seek to use those opportunities when they can.Obama and presidents before were so lucky to have enjoyed the services of ideology-free advisers. Poor Donald, alone in a room with those ideological wolves. You can almost smell the Establishment class bias here: if only the right people were in charge of Trump's policy instead of those scruffy and disagreeable neocons. Do those guys even shower?
Similarly The Call shows the massive confirmation bias in the Commentariat. Media: We didn't know this was going to happen, we are never fooled, therefore it could only be that Trump was impulsive. LOL.
It was easy to see there were going to be changes, as I noted above. This one is perfect: it's a phone call, not rebasing of soldiers to Taiwan or a dramatic weapons sale or diplomatic recognition or formal support for Taiwan independence or anything concrete and interesting. This was a small and measured rejection of previous policy, not an IED tossed into Xi Jin-ping's privy. It was the media response that made it huge, not the call itself.
Osnos, like many, refers to the possibility that Trump might build luxury hotels in Taoyuan having some effect on the decision to take a call from President Tsai. Changing the rules of the game is something that Trump's China advisers have been saying they would do if they got power for years and would have occurred whether or not luxury hotels were flying out of the ground in Taoyuan (Osnos even links to a Jan 2016 piece to that effect by John Bolton, which was written long before alleged hotel plans occurred). This phone call is about their dreams of redirecting US China policy, not about Trump's dreams of unlimited wealth. The currently circulating hotel story is presently an unevidenced smear.
This leads to another point, I've also made countless times on this blog, a fact which Osnos hides from our view. The people who comment on China and rotate in and out of the government in China-related positions frequently do business with China. They get junkets and conference invitations and access to officials on and off the record. The anguish and vitriol expressed by that crowd hides the sudden recognition triggered by The Call: we're not in charge any more! What is this going to do with our (financially remunerative) gatekeeping and commenting positions? What is going to happen to our (lucrative) consultancy positions? There's a lot of money at stake (Ref: Silverstein, The Mandarins). But everyone look over here! That Trump, he's putting hotels in Taoyuan... SQUIRREL!
Oh, btw, smear is a game two can play. Word has it that Chinese capital is trying to invest in that airport project too. If I wrote that Osnos is just trying to divert attention from his Chinese buddies investing in the Aerotropolis, that would definitely be a smear, because Osnos is so uninformed about Taiwan I doubt he even knew that. But so many don't give Trump's team the same benefit of the doubt nor try to understand where they are coming from. That's because they are objective truth-telling reporters speaking truth to power, while the other side is clearly a collection of ideological robots.
As of this writing, despite many complaints, Huffpost still has not corrected its erroneous claim that the US is one with many other countries in acknowledging that Taiwan is part of China.
Thanks to @wilfredchan, who observed as I did yesterday, in greater detail:
Nelson Report comments are at the bottom of this post....
For Amusement Purposes Only: Charles Krauthammer spoke from his deep well of Taiwan expertise
“The Chinese are extremely sensitive about these nuances in diplomacy,” said Krauthammer. “They've been at it for four thousand years, and the rules were laid down by Kissinger and Nixon when they made the opening, and it was that we'd be allies of Taiwan, but we would have to observe certain rules… that Taiwan is part of China.”Too bad we don't agree that Taiwan is part of China... as for the rest, Orientalizing the Chinese is a 19th century game. Let's stop with the "they've been at it for four thousand years..."
Trump-Tsai Call Roundup:
- Taiwan News report of impending phone call
- Walter Lohman: Trump call could help reform US-Taiwan Relations
- New Bloom: A Surprise Shift?
- Peter Lee: Trump in the China shop
- Finger licking good: Ketagalen Media: Why the media doesn't get the Trump call
But when the political class slavishly jumps to the defense of a status quo with China that has already moved on, it reveals a severe lack of imagination...Virtually none of the reporters previously covered the Taiwan issue, but now they are piling on to score political points. They scold the Trump administration simply to demonstrate their own superiority on foreign matters. Yet when this happens, the only people getting hurt are the citizens of democracies that have been seeking assurance from their friends to grow the island nation’s international space.'
- C Donovan Smith: Parsing the Significance of The Call
- The Guardian: Donald Trump's phone call affects global stability.
- NYTimes: A single phone call... ZOMG you know the rest.
- NYTimes: This... could... change everything.
- China Post: Call is Risky Bet for Tsai
- LaoRenCha: Careful what you wish for
- Comical AP timeline cannot get a thing right.
- AP (in WaPo): Trump call...
- Gordon Chang: Putting China relations on a new footing
- Steve Yates and Christian Whiton: Trump was right to Talk with Tsai
- CNA report of Tsai Administration Summary of The Call
- Taoyuan Mayor: Trump wants to build luxury hotels in Taoyuan
- Mondo: Trump telefona alla presidentessa di Taiwan. La Cina protesta ufficialmente: è scontro
- Beijing warns Taiwanese businessmen not to use their profits for independence.
- Taiwan Explorer weighs in: things are gonna change with Trump
- Manufacturing activity expands for ninth straight month
- Big anti-gay marriage march
NELSON REPORT COMMENTARY CLICK READ MORE
THE TRUMP/TSAI PHONE CALL AND CHINA'S REACTION
...expert Loyal Reader comments and some good media/Op Eds
SUMMARY: So much for your and my day off! But this, while potentially damned scary, for sure is both important and absolutely fascinating. For the first time since the start of the W. Bush Administration back in 2001, key elements of the "status quo" on US-China-Taiwan have been openly challenged.
It has long been the operating assumption and concern of most Asia governments and analysts that if there is any one realistic risk of war between the US and China, that Taiwan would be at the center of it, and thus the issue most deserving of the most careful management.
So no wonder that the initial reaction to news of the Trump/Tsai call was consternation, not just on the substance of challenging the status quo that has helped keep the peace for two generations, but the not surprising assumptionthat Trump and his small group in New York had not carefully thought through the risks of China's reaction to the event...a possible portent of presumably inadvertent crises to come?
But as critics have long argued, and as we're hearing now in the wake of the stunning revelation of Trump accepting Tsai's call...Trump himself, and key staff advisors involved...have come to the conclusion that concern for the status quo, however inadvertently, has worked to give China unwarranted leverage on actions taken by the USG in pursuit of continued social and economic relations with the people of Taiwan, and elsewhere in Asia (see FON's, THAAD et al).
The sensible Asia journalist Bill Hayton, for example, speculates via tweet:
My guess on Trump/neocon China strategy- systematically target 'core interests' until Beijing agrees deals on US 'core interests'.
That especially comes into play since from Day One of the US-PRC relationship, Beijing has officially objected to the Taiwan Relations Act provision calling on the USG to provide appropriate military support to preserve the option of peaceful development on the island, and thus Asia writ-large. Surely it is indicative of Trump's thinking that he tweeted last night that of course he took a congratulatory call from Taiwan...look at the billions of arms sales the US makes to Taipei!
A preliminary word from Your Editor: we had the privilege to be deeply involved, as a young staffer, with nearly every aspect of the Carter Administration's exploration of and consummation of "normalized" relations with the People's Republic of China. And with current NDU colleague Jim Przystup, both then staffers for the HFAC Asia Subcommittee, played a detailed role in negotiating and helping the TRA through Congress.
So on the one hand we're deeply wedded to the "status quo" that has, with some bumps and ripples, basically underwritten peace and stability in East Asia for the past 40 years...and we're proud of that experience. But...we've always been uncomfortable about the Hobson's Choice forced on Congress and the Carter Administration as the price for a clear historical positive...official relations with the PRC...at the cost of international diplomatic rights for the people of Taiwan.
Back then the choice wasn't quite so painful, as Taiwan was still under old-style KMT military rule. But since then, Taiwan's genuine development into a functioning capitalist democracy in recent years contrasts with a China that has reinforced CCP rule, cracked down on human rights, and increasingly exerted what Beijing feels are its historic strategic rights throughout East Asia, despite what most of the affected governments think about it.
In 1979, even a highly conservative, largely Republican dominated Congressional debate reached the right historic conclusion: the mainland, China, simply could not, should not be kept at bay. The debate then and now apparently being opened-up in full by Trump is...at what cost and to whom?
Clearly the new team forming around the president-elect feels strongly that it's time the old status quo was stretched, if not actually re-defined...that is but one of the potentially life and death issues suddenly thrown onto the burner. So one of the big questions arising: who is the "team", and more than one expert says it's a return of the old "Blue Team", with young acolyte members who perhaps do not have the Cold War experience of worrying about nuclear catastrophe as a realistic risk or consequence from messing with the status quo.
Last night, our Report asked, or speculated, that the Trump Tower team had not fully thought through, nor carefully prepared for the possible consequences of accepting Pres. Tsai's congratulatory call. News accounts today generally agree she placed the call, but informed sources in Asia and here cite the likely role in Trump staff preparation that both indicated to Tsai that the phone would be answered, and that Trump and his current team have some definite policy outcomes in mind.
For example, scroll down and you will see that then-GOP chair, now WH chief-of-staff designate Priebus was in Taipei at least twice, met with Pres. Tsai there, and with her DPP delegation at the Republican National Convention... and seems to have been present Friday for the consummation, as it were.
On the call itself, Reuters:
The telephone call between Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen and U.S. president-elect Donald Trump was agreed to ahead of time, said presidential office spokesman Alex Huang on Saturday. "Of course both sides agreed ahead of time before making contact," Huang told Reuters, when asked about Trump's Twitter message stating that it was Tsai who called him.
For suggestions on the kinds of things that might have been discussed at Trump Tower to advance the call, a selection of compiled tweets from Loyal Reader Dan Blumenthal, AEI, may well provide guidance:
"China has been defining the status quo on Taiwan for two long. People who should know better are calling a phone call a 'provocation'! [They] don't know that dual recognition was policy until Taiwan walked away from it. I always said if Americans knew how badly we treat a democracy of 23-million people they would be outraged. We have a legal obligation to Taiwan. Relations with both sides. [Critics are engaging in] zero sum thinking. We can't have good relations with both sides?"
EXPERT LOYAL READER REACTION, followed by a cross section of good media coverage from the Times, Post, New Yorker and Singapore Straits Times:
CSIS's Bonnie Glaser sums up for the concerned critics:
The Taiwan press reported that Trump received a briefing on Taiwan and cross-Strait relations, and that he subsequently agreed to accept the phone call from Tsai Ing-wen. It is still not certain, however, whether Trump fully appreciated that his action was unprecedented and could signal a potential shift in long-standing U.S. policy. His tweet, "Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call," suggests a lack of understanding of the sui generis nature of US relations with Taiwan.
Some may think that this was a good move, but I do not. It will likely raise expectations in Taiwan of a pending shift in the US "one China" policy that is not likely to be forthcoming. Beijing will probably seek to exact a price from the new Trump administration and will be deeply mistrustful of him and his new team. Other leaders around the world will continue to be unsettled by the uncertainty and unpredictability in US foreign policy.
The US should strengthen ties with Taiwan, but in a substantive rather than a symbolic way. Let's negotiate a free trade agreement with Taiwan, and encourage other countries to do so as well.
Senior Adviser for Asia
Senior Adviser for Asia
Some historical perspective from former AIT chief Taipei and US rep to Hong Kong, the now happily retired FSO but still active Red Sox fan, Steve Young:
Chris, you and others our age might recall a similar kerfuffle w President-elect Reagan in fall of 1980, in which Reagan said things like he didn't understand why we couldn't treat our old friends better, provoking the Chinese to throw a fit before transition team folks smoothed things a bit. Reagan knew Taiwan from a couple of earlier visits, possibly when he was CA governor. But that is a long long time ago.
The other factoid of some relevance is that pretty much every ex-Prez since Carter has visited Taiwan after leaving office. I know. I hosted Jimmy Carter a couple of times and followed similar visits by George W and Bill from afar. Let's face it, Taiwan is a plucky story and they can be terrific hosts for the once high and mighty who miss the old days.
But still, this is singular, and Beijing might overplay things and tick- off the Trumpster, who has not shown a great deal of sophistication in his remarks on China or Asia of late.
Former AIT chief and long-time Loyal Reader/Adult Supervisor Richard Bush, Brookings:
China can handle this one of two ways. It can tolerate this for the sake of having a good relationship with the US. Technically, Trump is a private citizen so this is not an interaction between officials of the two governments. And BJ did demonstrate forebearance in 2001 and 2002 when Bush 43 did some new things. Or it can regard this as the first step of creeping officiality and decide that it has to "kill the monkey to scare the chickens." Playing into this choice are perceptions of relative power; perceptions of TW's vulnerability; and its approach to risk.
Also a former AIT vet, Loyal Reader Dave Brown:
Yes, the Tsai-Trump phone conversation was a surprise. Yes, it's entirely possible Trump didn't understand all the implications. Preibus was probably involved with setting this up; and having visited Taiwan more than once he presumably knows something of the ground rules. And yes, it's a first president-elect to Taiwan President call I'm aware of. But there's another way to look at it. Trump is not yet President; so is it an infringement of our commitment not to have official contact with Taiwan? For at least a decade, State has frequently arranged for mid rank officials who won't be able to visit Taiwan in office to visit before taking office. I'm sure this isn't the way Beijing will look at it, but its a useful perspective to adopt. Beijing will probably seize this as an opportunity to teach the incoming administration about their views.
Long-time China Commission member and former Heritage Foundation expert, Loyal Reader Larry Wortzel, on our worried comments last night:
You think this was not thought out? Trump's transition people have been to Taiwan twice since the convention. Calls from a sitting president to a president elect are timed and arranged through staff in advance. Talking points are written (on the US side for sure, but I've met Tsai a few times and she would have prepared). Do you think Trump has Tsai's number on his cell phone contact list and calls her regularly just to chat? Or the reverse?
What you (and the Obama/Clinton folks) seem to be focusing on is that a president elect, of a different political party, did not ask the Obama appointees at State for an opinion on the call. Well duh? Tough to say how Beijing will react. But to imply this was some bumbling error and that the transition team did not know about USS-Taiwan-China relations is a little naive.
Support also from Down Under, Loyal Reader Bruce Jacobs, Monash University:
As you know, I have had many fears about the future with Trump as a world leader, but I believe Trump's call with President Tsai should be praised, not feared. The basis for the fear is that China will 'do something'. But it is about time that people made clear that China has no rights to any claim for Taiwan. Their claim is based on Chiang Kai-shek's rule, but Chiang's rule was colonial and oppressive (and murderous) in Taiwan. No one today says that India still belongs to Britain or that Algeria and Vietnam belong to France.
In the past 6000 years of Taiwan history, a Chinese regime in China only ruled Taiwan for four years from late 1945 to late 1949. These were the worst four years in Taiwan's history with the systematic murder of 20,000 or more Taiwanese after the February 28 democratic movement. So China's "claims" have absolutely no validity. Furthermore, in his 1936 interview with Edgar Snow, Mao Zedong even said that Taiwan should be independent!
So, whatever the motivation, Trump's telephone chat with President Tsai has potential to unravel a mess that has developed through ignorance over a long period of time. I believe there is a lot of good that can come from this!
OK...but here's a long-time US-China-Taiwan handler:
Any "containment" of China approach, with Taiwan once again the largest damn air craft carrier in the world, would be disastrous - for Taiwan, for the region, for the US. I fear our 'blue team' gang will try to move policy in that direction. God help us if this is how it is gonna be....
GOOD OP EDS AND MEDIA COVERAGE...
The architect of Obama china policy...former NSC Sr. Director/Asia Jeff Bader, is worried...
Trump, Taiwan, and a break in a long tradition
(The remainder consists of commentaries linked on my blog yesterday...)
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