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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.


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