More provo­ca­tions by Trump will jeop­ar­dize Sino-US ties

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

Close at­ten­tion will be paid to Tai­wan leader Tsai Ing-wen’s tran­sit via the United States when she trav­els to Gu­atemala in early Jan­uary, for it will shed light on what di­rec­tion Sino-US re­la­tions will take when Don­ald Trump en­ters the White House. De­spite Bei­jing’s op­po­si­tion, the US in­sists it is a “long-stand­ing prac­tice” since it has given the nod to such tran­sits by lead­ers of the is­land many times be­fore. How­ever, Tsai’s tran­sit is tak­ing place soon af­ter she and Trump held a phone con­ver­sa­tion, break­ing with decades of prece­dent.

No in­cum­bent or in­com­ing US pres­i­dent has spo­ken by phone with a Tai­wan leader since 1979, when Bei­jing and Wash­ing­ton es­tab­lished diplo­matic re­la­tions.

The in­ci­dent, if in­deed by de­sign as re­ported, could in­di­cate a ma­jor US pol­icy shift that would threaten re­la­tions, since they are built on the long-stand­ing ac­knowl­edg­ment by the US of one China, which is the sine qua non for healthy re­la­tions.

So far Bei­jing’s re­sponse to the con­ver­sa­tion has re­mained re­strained. It has taken a wait-and-see at­ti­tude, giv­ing Trump the ben­e­fit of the doubt since he is a novice in for­eign pol­icy and won’t take the helm un­til the Jan 20 in­au­gu­ra­tion. Bei­jing has demon­strated calm­ness and con­fi­dence again af­ter Trump, in a twit­ter tirade, lam­basted China for its trade, cur­rency and South China Sea poli­cies on Sun­day; and even af­ter his eco­nomic ad­viser Stephen Moore went so far as to say “screw them” in a vul­gar ver­bal at­tack against China.

Such pru­dence is laud­able for the time be­ing, for a good Si­noUS re­la­tion­ship serves not only the best in­ter­ests of peo­ple in both coun­tries, but also peace and sta­bil­ity in the Asia-Pa­cific and be­yond.

How­ever, with sep­a­ratist-minded Tsai due to set foot on US soil, fur­ther provoca­tive moves by the US pres­i­dent-elect and his team can­not be ruled out given the reck­less and im­pul­sive style of lead­er­ship that Trump dis­plays. Es­pe­cially, as hawks in the US have never given up hope of us­ing Tai­wan as part of the US’ pivot to Asia aimed at con­tain­ing the main­land’s rise.

Although Bei­jing has shown that it is will­ing to keep the big­ger pic­ture in mind, this at­ti­tude should not be mis­taken for weak­ness.

China has to pre­pare for the worst, even though it will con­tinue to do all it can to main­tain a healthy bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship. What has hap­pened over the past weeks tends to sug­gest that Sino-US re­la­tions are fac­ing un­cer­tainty as never be­fore, as Trump’s words are not nec­es­sar­ily more bark than bite.

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