The actions taken by US president-elect Donald Trump have infuriated China. He accepted a congratulatory phone call from Tsai Ing-wen, the president of Taiwan, and has threatened to abolish the “One China” agreement. In retaliation, China has reportedly seized one of America’s unarmed drones that was in international waters near the South China Sea. With Sino-US tensions so fraught, perhaps Trump should reconsider his approach to diplomacy and reassess his foreign policies.
The “One China” principle was established as the foundation of the Sino-US relationship during the Nixon and Mao era in the 1970s, when they agreed that Taiwan is but a province temporarily separated from China.
Trump’s reason for abolishing the principle is dazzling: to bargain with China on its trade and economic policies, and its failure to halt North Korea’s nuclear advances. There is a substantial difference between bargaining over a country’s trade and foreign policy and its sovereignty. The former is up for bargaining, while challenging the latter could be taken as a declaration of war. The case of Taiwan and China is particularly sensitive.
What is worrying is that Trump is turning a lot of what he said in his campaign into reality. Here we are seeing the consequences of letting someone who has no clue about diplomatic ties and international relationships handle US diplomacy.
His impulsiveness is also very problematic. After the phone call with president Tsai, Trump appointed Terry Branstad as the US ambassador to China in what was seen as a friendly gesture. His actions have caused a lot of confusion, with China unable to comprehend his intentions let alone his attitude towards China.
With the already-tense South China Sea where multiple countries are having territorial disputes and China's rapidly expanding military operations, such actions would only serve to heighten the tensions, causing more potential conflicts.
The recent seizure of the unarmed drones is an act completely unheard of since the incident in 2002 where US and Chinese vessels collided, causing the death of a Chinese pilot. However, despite China and US reaching an agreement for the return of the drone, Trump then tweeted, “Let them keep it!”. This comment was both unwise and serves to prove how ignorant he is to the gravity of the issue.
The purpose of the tweet is blatantly obvious - to impress his supporters. Since the day he began running his campaign, Trump has been called an entrepreneur and an unpredictable leader. However, as much as those qualities may appeal to voters in the US, it is simply not going to work for China. His impulsiveness, boastfulness and unpredictability simply isn’t something we hope to see from the leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world. Trump needs to reassess his policy on diplomacy and on China or we could end up with a war on our hands.