Sino-US ties will need more than a friendly mes­sen­ger

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

Upon ap­point­ing Iowa Gover­nor Terry Branstad, whom Bei­jing warmly em­braces as “an old friend”, as US am­bas­sador to China, United States pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump high­lighted the lat­ter’s “long-time re­la­tion­ship with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping”, which he be­lieves will be con­ducive to a “mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial re­la­tion­ship”. With his long­stand­ing re­la­tions with China and its present leader, as well as his fa­mous con­vic­tion to free trade, Branstad’s ap­point­ment, once it gets US Se­nate ap­proval, will no doubt serve both coun­tries well.

He will prove a priv­i­leged, ef­fec­tive mes­sen­ger for han­dling the up­com­ing un­cer­tain­ties in bi­lat­eral ties, par­tic­u­larly in trade.

But a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial re­la­tion­ship en­tails more than a trusted mes­sen­ger. Not to men­tion that a diplo­mat’s suc­cess to a great ex­tent hinges on his coun­try’s for­eign poli­cies.

If the phone call be­tween Don­ald Trump and Tai­wan leader Tsai Ing-wen was in­deed a long-planned move as re­ported and was meant to re­mind Bei­jing that it is deal­ing with a dif­fer­ent kind of US pres­i­dent, it need not have hap­pened in the first place, since Bei­jing is well aware of that.

If, as some an­a­lysts have ob­served, the call was Trump’s “open­ing ne­go­ti­a­tion bid” for the fu­ture of Sino-US ties un­der his ad­min­is­tra­tion, it was rather ill-ad­vised.

The Trump tran­si­tion team ob­vi­ously pinned a lot onto that un­con­ven­tional call. But although they may have viewed it as an at­tempt to put pres­sure on what they con­sider a “lever­age point” with China, it was a mis­judged, if not dan­ger­ous, un­der­min­ing of the con­sen­sus that bi­lat­eral re­la­tions are built on.

Trump may be a shrewd busi­ness­man adroit in com­mer­cial deal-cut­ting. He might have taken a page from his busi­ness man­ual — make a rig­or­ous open­ing bid, then set­tle for less. But make no mis­take about it: Tai­wan stands on top of China’s menu of core na­tional in­ter­ests, and is not ne­go­tiable.

The con­sen­sus on one China has served as the ul­ti­mate bal­last for China-US re­la­tions for nearly four decades, and not with­out rea­son.

Trump is in fa­vor of un­cer­tainty. We all heard his cam­paign dec­la­ra­tion that un­pre­dictabil­ity is a use­ful tool for strength­en­ing US lever­age abroad. How­ever, ig­nor­ing the con­sen­sus on one China will do more than sim­ply in­ject more un­pre­dictabil­ity into cross-Straits di­plo­macy.

Trump wants to rene­go­ti­ate many in­ter­na­tional ar­range­ments he finds un­de­sir­able, and to re­make them in his coun­try’s fa­vor. This is a ma­jor com­po­nent of his am­bi­tious “Make Amer­ica Great Again” project.

If he is mis­led by his ad­vi­sors for what­ever rea­son into be­liev­ing that un­nego­tiables are ne­go­tiable, in this case the one China prin­ci­ple re­gard­ing Tai­wan, the con­se­quences could be se­ri­ous.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.