The China Question

Apparently the Chinese government has its nose out of joint. Donald Trump has spoken to the President of Taiwan.

I am sure that many people (probably most Americans) don’t understand why this is such a big deal. Democrats are probably saying that it is another sign Trump is unfit for office, without explaining why. Republicans are probably delighted, because these days they find Trump delightful.

The call has sparked a complaint from the Chinese foreign minister, who hoped it wouldn’t damage US-China relations. I wonder if he called the US state department to complain. Be interesting to know what the response of the Obama administration was. I am hoping those officials informed the Chinese that their president (or president-elect) is free to speak with whomever he pleases. That’s because, unlike China, the US is a democracy‎.

That I suppose is the big issue. When the Communists under Mao Tse Tung (as we spelled it when I was a child) took over China in the 1940s, they were unsuccessful in completing the job and taking over the island of Taiwan. The government in Taipei and its counterpart in Beijing, each claims to be the legitimate government of all of China.

When I was younger, countries ignored the Communist mainland and only had diplomatic relations with Taiwan. It was Taiwan that was a UN member and permanent member of the Security Council. Then in the early 1970s the world switched allegiances (can’t miss out on that billion person market and all that cheap labour) and Taiwan found itself out in the cold. Beijing insisted that if you wanted to be friends with them you couldn’t have a relationship with the government in Taiwan.

In Ottawa (and other world capitals) there is a polite fiction in terms of diplomatic representation. Taiwan has a trade delegation here, not an embassy. Functions pretty much like an embassy though.

As a businessman, Donald Trump is probably well aware of the history of the two Chinas. As a businessman I suspect he has had dealings in both countries. And I am sure he has been briefed on the diplomatic ramifications of his phone call with the Taiwanese president. After all, this happened several weeks after his election, it was calculated, not some spur of the moment thing.

I’m assuming he is using the call to send a message to China. And to the world. I wonder if they will understand. Or just chalk it up to ignorance thinking that Trump doesn’t understand how things work. Probably a bit of both – I suspect it is deliberately a mixed message, open to interpretation.

He’s the first president since Jimmy Carter (my favourite American president) to speak to the president of Taiwan. Carter also had a mandate to shake things up in Washington, but was ultimately unsuccessful. Trump is starting well. I must admit that surprises me.



  1. Why was Carter your favourite?

    1. He had more personal integrity than most presidents.

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