How Donald Trump Empowers China

Right now most of the media attention is focused on Donald Trump’s ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. But there is another foreign policy storm that is brewing as we speak.

Following his unprecedented telephone conversation with President Tsai Ing-wen in Taiwan, Trump questioned the need to maintain this country’s One China policy – which has been affirmed by every president since Jimmy Carter. Here is what he said on Fox News last weekend:

“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,” he said.

“I mean, look,” he continued, “we’re being hurt very badly by China with devaluation; with taxing us heavy at the borders when we don’t tax them; with building a massive fortress in the middle of the South China Sea, which they shouldn’t be doing; and, frankly, with not helping us at all with North Korea.”

“I don’t want China dictating to me,” he said.

It probably won’t surprise you that our president-elect said several things in that statement that are untrue. For example, the idea that China is devaluing their currency is old news. They stopped doing that a while ago.  The U.S. has tried taxing Chinese products as a result of trade violations. The problem is…it doesn’t work and threatens to be very dangerous to our economy.

But the key line in all of that was the last one: “I don’t want China dictating to me.” That has always been Trump’s response to a challenge. As we’ve seen over and over again, he views all interactions through the lens of “dominate or be dominated.” That might be something to notice when it is exhibited against a political opponent. But we could very well find out pretty soon how it flies with a major world power like China. We’ve probably already seen the first warning signs:

Preventing Taiwan from achieving internationally recognized independence is one of the top priorities of Chinese foreign policy — one that its military is prepared to go to war over.

Following Trump’s call [to Taiwan], China decided to clarify that last point, by flying a nuclear-capable bomber over its disputed islands in the South China Sea — while also preparing to ship new surface-to-air missiles to those islands…

Writer John Pomfret explains why we should be concerned.

It’s part of the danger of Donald Trump’s referring to Taiwan’s president as the president of Taiwan as if there was a real state of Taiwan. Now, in fact there is, but the fiction is to say there’s not. And that’s one of the things that has kept the peace in Asia by maintaining this fiction. And so if you pull that out and if you basically say the emperor has no clothes, you run the risk of pushing China into a much more aggressive posture vis-a-vis Taiwan.

At the end of the day, I don’t particularly worry about a war between the United States and China right now, but I really worry that this will give people in the Mainland China a justification to squeeze Taiwan even more than it’s already squeezing Taiwan. At the end of the day, I just worry that once again Taiwan’s going to be thrown under the bus.

In other words, by attempting to bully China, Trump is not likely to get them to agree to better trade relations or assistance with North Korea. Instead, he destabilizes the situation in Taiwan and the area as a whole.

The truth is that Donald Trump’s demagoguery on trade (pointed most often at China) as well as his climate denialism are actually empowering China. We saw that immediately after the election, China stepped into the void created by the demise of TPP. They already lead on clean energy investment.

Firmly committed renewable investment plans totaled $286 billion last year, up 5 percent from $273 billion in 2014, according to the study, which is prepared annually by the Frankfurt School-United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Collaborating Centre and Bloomberg New Energy Finance…

China accounted for $103 billion of the total, up 17 percent, ahead of Europe with $49 billion, the United States with $44.1 billion and Asia, excluding China and India, at $48 billion.

In other words, Trump’s election likely means that China will establish itself as the global leader on both trade and clean energy development. I don’t think that’s what his supporters assume he meant when he pretended like bullying other countries would be all about putting America first. That’s yet another way they got conned.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.