Trump Taiwan Call, Tweets Irk China 12/05 06:29
BEIJING (AP) -- Donald Trump's unprecedented phone conversation with
Taiwan's president and tweets criticizing China point to the possibility of
major friction between the world's two largest economies.
Trump's talk with Tsai Ing-wen diverged sharply from U.S. practice since
Washington switched diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.
Especially noteworthy were his direct reference to Tsai as "president" and to
U.S. arms sales to Taiwan --- a practice that particularly infuriates Beijing.
That could dampen Chinese expectations that his election would benefit China
through a less confrontational approach and reduced attention to the Asia
Pacific region, where China sees itself as eventually supplanting the U.S. as
the dominant power.
Here are six areas that could develop into flashpoints.
THE ISSUE: Taiwan.
THE STICKING POINT: China and Taiwan split during a civil war in 1949 and
China threatens to reunite with the island by force if necessary. Although
China grudgingly accepts unofficial ties with Taiwan, it objects vociferously
to arms sales and any official recognition of the island's government --- both
of which Trump referenced in his tweets.
THE POSSIBLE IMPACT: A leading Chinese scholar says Beijing will take a
wait-and-see approach, but one possible response is to punish Taiwan, perhaps
by further reducing its scope for participation in international organizations.
China has already cut off relations with Tsai's administration and reduced the
number of Chinese tourists visiting the island. Similar measures could follow,
although how that would affect Trump's approach remains an open question.
THE ISSUE: Trade disputes.
THE STICKING POINT: In his tweets, Trump accused China of currency
manipulation and over-taxation of American imports --- practices seen by some
as exacerbating the U.S. trade deficit with China, which rose to $367 billion
last year. During the election campaign, Trump proposed a 45 percent tariff on
Chinese imports, something experts say could spark a trade war.
THE POSSIBLE IMPACT: U.S. businesses that complain of facing unfair barriers
in the Chinese market could benefit if Trump's tough talk persuades Beijing to
avoid confrontation by making concessions. However, Beijing is equally likely
to harden its position and impose retaliatory measures. A significant rise in
U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports, primarily inexpensive consumer goods, would
also hurt lower-income Americans, the sort of people that voted for Trump in
large numbers in the election.
THE ISSUE: North Korea.
THE STICKING POINT: China is the hard-line communist regime's biggest source
of trade, aid and diplomatic support, something the U.S. argues gives it unique
leverage to press North Korea to end its nuclear and missile programs. Beijing
counters that its influence is overstated and strongly implies that
Washington's refusal to talk directly to North Korea is impeding progress
toward a solution.
THE POSSIBLE IMPACT: A sharp downturn in the U.S.-China relationship could
further reduce Beijing's willingness to pressure North Korea through the
imposition of United Nations Security Council sanctions, which it has so far
reluctantly supported. That could give North Korea more room to develop nuclear
weapons, which it regards as a guarantee against U.S. and South Korean
THE ISSUE: Korean Peninsula missile defense.
THE STICKING POINT: China is adamantly opposed to South China's deployment
of a highly advanced U.S. anti-missile system known as Terminal High Altitude
Area Defense, or THAAD. South Korea and the U.S. say it is targeted only at a
possible North Korean missile attack, not just on the Korean Peninsula but also
on Japan and the U.S. mainland. However, China and Russia say THAAD threatens
their security by allowing the U.S. to peer deep into northeastern China and
gives the U.S. the ability to launch a pre-emptive first strike.
THE POSSIBLE IMPACT: As with North Korea in general, severe turbulence in
U.S.-China relations will erode China's willingness to cooperate on pressuring
the North into giving up its programs. Beijing already opposes any measures
that could drive the North Korean regime to the brink, possibly sending
refugees into China's northeast and U.S. and South Korean troops to its border.
It could also add momentum to China and Russia's budding alliance, stiffening
opposition against the West in areas from Syria to arms control.
THE ISSUE: South China Sea.
THE STICKING POINT: China has been making major strides in asserting its
claim to virtually the entire South China Sea, its islands and reefs,
challenging the U.S. Navy's insistence on free navigation in the disputed,
strategically vital waterbody. Trump raised the issue during the campaign and
referred to China's fortified man-made islands in his tweet, saying Beijing
didn't ask the U.S. if it was OK to "build a massive military complex in the
South China Sea."
THE POSSIBLE IMPACT: Experts, including retired U.S. Navy officers, say
China is committed to asserting control over the area and Trump's tough
rhetoric --- unless backed by action --- may further its sense of mission.
China may move ahead with the long-anticipated step of announcing an air
defense zone in the area that would require other countries to report to it and
follow China's instructions, presenting the U.S. with yet another security
challenge. China could also take stronger action to assert its claims to
uninhabited East China Sea islands controlled by Japan.
THE ISSUE: Human Rights.
THE STICKING POINT: While Trump has shown little interest in advocating
civil liberties in China, past administrations have pushed the cases of
imprisoned dissidents, called for respect for the rights of Muslim minorities
in China's far northwest, and urged dialogue between Beijing and exiled Tibetan
leader the Dalai Lama. Attempts to abandon such advocacy would face heated
opposition both in Congress and from rights groups.
THE POSSIBLE IMPACT: China's growing economic and political clout has
emboldened it in defying such pressure, a tendency that grows stronger when
relations sour with the U.S. and others. China is likely to become even less
accommodating in cases such as blind legal activist Cheng Guangcheng, who was
permitted to leave China with his family after taking refuge in the American
Embassy in Beijing in 2012.