Only A Pawn In Their Game
Taiwan Fears a Trump Trade-Away

When Donald Trump accepted a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan’s President, it was widely seen as a symbolic victory for Taiwan. But after provocative new comments from Trump this weekend, some in Taiwan are now questioning whether the President-elect sees Taiwan as anything more than a bargaining chip in a larger deal with China. Reuters:

“Trump’s comments regularly mention Taiwan. What advantage is this giving Taiwan? This is something we must consider,” Johnny Chiang, an opposition Nationalist lawmaker, told reporters. “Otherwise, among the superpowers, when we are betrayed, we won’t even realize it.”

Trump told “Fox News Sunday” he fully understood 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.” […] 

Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang declined to comment about Trump’s Sunday comments. But Huang told Reuters: “When Taiwan is seen as a contributor in regional politics or regional security then you won’t be ignored nor used as a pawn for others.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s remarks on Taiwan continue to ruffle feathers in Beijing. The Chinese Foreign Ministry rejected the idea that the One China policy was up for debate, warning that cooperation with the U.S. was “out of the question” if Trump refused to acknowledge its Taiwan interests.

The ongoing kerfuffle over Taiwan is beginning to reveal both the appeal and the risks of Trump’s deal-based foreign policy thinking. On the one hand, Trump has shown a remarkable ability to seize the initiative (and the world’s attention) with a bold opening gambit, leaving China scrambling to respond. On the other hand, Trump appears not to have fully thought through the consequences of his moves on third parties. If Trump intended to use Taiwan as a pawn in negotiations with China, he would have been wise to communicate that privately, but his ex post facto public signaling on the issue has clearly caught Taipei off guard.

Trump has promised to bring “unpredictability” to foreign policy, and he is already delivering on that promise. But it is important to remember that whatever Trump gains by shaking up the status quo—in this case, making Beijing think twice about the One China policy—he loses in terms of shaking the confidence of U.S. allies in the status quo. The challenge for Trump will be in calculating the balance of advantage in each deal, weighing the cost of the trade-offs against the potential gain from the negotiation. In some cases, Trump’s transactional approach might well pay off—but it also could bear cumulative costs that may not be immediately apparent.

UPDATE: In an apparent move to reassure Taiwan, the Obama White House has stated its commitment to the One China Policy and that Taiwan is not a “bargaining chip” or “source of leverage.”

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