Trump’s Taiwan call wasn’t a blunder. It was brilliant
Marc A. Thiessen
Relax. Breathe. Donald Trump’s phone call with the president of Taiwan wasn’t a blunder by an inexperienced president-elect unschooled in the niceties of cross-straits diplomacy. It was a deliberate move — and a brilliant one at that.
The phone call with President Tsai Ing-wen was reportedly carefully planned, and Trump was fully briefed before the call, according to The Post. It’s not that Trump was unfamiliar with the “Three Communiques” or unaware of the fiction that there is “One China.” Trump knew precisely what he was doing in taking the call. He was serving notice on Beijing that it is dealing with a different kind of president — an outsider who will not be encumbered by the same Lilliputian diplomatic threads that tied down previous administrations. The message, as John Bolton correctly put it, was that “the president of the United States [will] talk to whomever he wants if he thinks it’s in the interest of the United States, and nobody in Beijing gets to dictate who we talk to.”
Amen to that.
And if that message was lost on Beijing, Trump underscored it on Sunday, tweeting: “Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the U.S. doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don’t think so!” He does not need Beijing’s permission to speak to anyone. No more kowtowing in a Trump administration.
Trump promised during the campaign that he would take a tougher stand with China, and supporting Taiwan has always been part of his get-tough approach to Beijing. As far back as 2011, Trump tweeted: “Why is @BarackObama delaying the sale of F-16 aircraft to Taiwan? Wrong message to send to China. #TimeToGetTough.” Indeed, the very idea that Trump could not speak to Taiwan’s president because it would anger Beijing is precisely the kind of weak-kneed subservience that Trump promised to eliminate as president.
Trump’s call with the Taiwanese president sent a message not only to Beijing, but also to the striped-pants foreign-policy establishment in Washington. It is telling how so many in that establishment immediately assumed Trump had committed an unintended gaffe. “Bottomless pig-ignorance” is how one liberal foreign-policy commentator described Trump’s decision to speak with Tsai. Trump just shocked the world by winning the presidential election, yet they still underestimate him. The irony is that the hyperventilation in Washington has far outpaced the measured response from Beijing. When American foreign-policy elites are more upset than China, perhaps it’s time for some introspection.
The hypocrisy is rank. When President Obama broke with decades of U.S. policy and extended diplomatic recognition to a murderous dictatorship in Cuba, the foreign-policy establishment swooned. Democrats on Capitol Hill praised Obama for taking action that was “long overdue.” Former President Jimmy Carter raved about how Obama had “shown such wisdom,” while the New York Times gushed that Obama was acting “courageously” and “ushering in a transformational era for millions of Cubans who have suffered as a result of more than 50 years of hostility between the two nations.”
But when Trump broke with decades of U.S. diplomatic practice and had a phone call with the democratically elected leader of Taiwan, he was declared a buffoon. Well, if they didn’t like that phone call, his critics may hate what could come next even more. Trump now has an opportunity to do with Taiwan what Obama did with Cuba — normalize relations.
There are a number of steps the Trump administration can take to strengthen our military, economic and diplomatic ties with Taiwan. My American Enterprise Institute colleague Derek Scissors has suggested that Trump could negotiate a new free-trade agreement with Taiwan. “Taiwan’s tiny population means there is no jobs threat,” Scissors says, but Taiwan is also the United States’ ninth-largest trading partner. A free-trade agreement would be economically beneficial to both sides and would send a message to friend and foe alike in Asia that, despite Trump’s planned withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the United States is not withdrawing from the region.
On the military front, Trump could begin sending general officers to Taipei once again to coordinate with their Taiwanese counterparts and hold joint military exercises. On the diplomatic front, Bolton says the new administration could start “receiving Taiwanese diplomats officially at the State Department; upgrading the status of U.S. representation in Taipei from a private ‘institute’ to an official diplomatic mission; inviting Taiwan’s president to travel officially to America; allowing the most senior U.S. officials to visit Taiwan to transact government business; and ultimately restoring full diplomatic recognition.”
Beijing would be wise not to overreact to any overtures Trump makes to Taiwan. When China tested President George W. Bush in his first months in office by scrambling fighters and forcing a U.S. EP-3 aircraft to land on the Chinese island of Hainan, its actions backfired. After the incident, Bush approved a $30 billion arms package for Taiwan, announced that Taiwan would be treated as a major non-NATO ally and declared that the United States would do “whatever it took” to defend Taiwan. His actions not only strengthened U.S. ties with Taiwan but also set the stage for good relations with Beijing throughout his presidency.
China does not want to make the same mistake and overplay its hand with Trump. Trump’s call with Taiwan’s president was a smart, calculated move designed to send a clear message: The days of pushing the United States around are over.
That may horrify official Washington, but it’s the right message to send.
Pence: Obama Can Reach Out to Cuban Dictator, But Trump Can't Take Call From Taiwan's Leader?
The American people are "encouraged" to see President-elect Trump "taking calls from the world, speaking to the world," including the democratically elected leader of Taiwan, Vice President-elect Mike Pence told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday.
"But I think it all begins with relationships, and...that was nothing more than taking a courtesy call of congratulations from the democratically elected leader of Taiwan."
China, which claims Taiwan as its own, has complained about Trump's contact on Friday with the leader of Taiwan, a breach of longstanding diplomatic protocol. The United States, under President Jimmy Carter, broke off formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979, in deference to communist China, but the U.S. maintains unofficial ties with Taiwan to this day.
Pence told "This Week" host George Stephanopoulos, "It's a little mystifying to me that President Obama can -- can reach out to a murdering dictator in -- in Cuba in the last year and be hailed as a hero for doing it and President-elect Donald Trump takes a courtesy call from a democratically elected leader in Taiwan and it's become -- it's become something of a controversy, because I think the American people appreciate the fact that -- that our president-elect is taking calls from and reaching out to the world and preparing on day one to lead America on the world stage."
Appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation," Reince Priebus, Trump's incoming chief of staff, said Trump did not believe he was talking to the leader of a sovereign state when he accepted the congratulatory phone call from the leader of Taiwan.
"No, of course not," Priebus said. "He knew exactly what was happening. But, look, we have got a lot of problems to solve in this country, and we're not going to solve them by just making believe that people don't exist. This was a two-minute congratulatory call. He talked to (Chinese) President Xi over two weeks ago. I'm sure he'd be willing to talk with him again.
"This is not a massive deviation of our policy," Priebus continued. "But President Trump has made it clear that he's going to work with China, PRC, to make sure that we have a better deal, that we have better trade agreements, and that we do a better job in protecting the American worker. And he's going to continue to do it.
"So, courtesy call, not a change in policy?" host John Dickerson asked.
"Exactly," Priebus said.
On Friday, Trump tweeted: "Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call."
The best cure for corruption
If you ask what worries me about the incoming Trump Administration, I’ll immediately point to a bunch of policy issues.
Will Trump be too timid to deal with the huge entitlement problem?
Will Trump do a business-as-usual pork-filled infrastructure deal?
Will Trump’s tax cut be feasible without concomitant spending discipline?
Others, though, are more focused on whether Trump’s business empire will distort decisions in the White House. Here’s what Paul Krugman recently wrote about Trump and potential corruption.
"…he’s already giving us an object lesson in what real conflicts of interest look like, as authoritarian governments around the world shower favors on his business empire. Of course, Donald Trump could be rejecting these favors and separating himself and his family from his hotels and so on. But he isn’t. In fact, he’s openly using his position to drum up business. …The question you need to ask is why this matters. …America is a very rich country, whose government spends more than $4 trillion a year, so even large-scale looting amounts to rounding error.
What’s important is not the money that sticks to the fingers of the inner circle, but what they do to get that money, and the bad policy that results. …what’s truly scary is the potential impact of corruption on foreign policy. …someplace like Vladimir Putin’s Russia can easily funnel vast sums to the man at the top… So how bad will the effects of Trump-era corruption be? The best guess is, worse than you can possibly imagine"
I’m tempted to ask why Krugman wasn’t similarly worried about corruption over the past eight years? Was he fretting about Solyndra-type scams? About the pay-to-play antics at the Clinton Foundation? About Operation Choke Point and arbitrary denial of financial services to law-abiding citizens?
He seems to think that the problem of malfeasance only exists when his team isn’t in power. But that’s totally backwards. As I wrote back in 2010, people should be especially concerned and vigilant when their party holds power. It’s not just common sense. It should be a moral obligation.
But even if Krugman is a hypocrite, that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. At least not in this case. He is absolutely on the mark when he frets about the “incentives” for massive looting by Trump and his allies.
But what frustrates me is that he doesn’t draw the obvious conclusion, which is that the incentive to loot mostly exists because there’s an ability to loot. And the ability to loot mostly exists because the federal government is so big and has so much power.
And as Lord Acton famously warned, power is very tempting and very corrupting. Which is why I’m hoping that Krugman will read John Stossel’s new column for Reason. In the piece, John correctly points out that the only way to “drain the swamp” is to shrink the size and scope of government.
"…today’s complex government allows the politically connected to corrupt… most everything. …In the swamp, no one but taxpayers pays for their mistakes. …it’s well worth it for companies to invest in lobbyists and fixers who dive into the swamp to extract subsidies.For taxpayers? Not so much. While the benefits to lobbyists are concentrated, taxpayer costs are diffuse. …Draining the swamp would mean not just taking freebies away from corporations—or needy citizens—but eliminating complex handouts like Obamacare. Candidate Trump said he would repeal Obamacare. Will he? He’s already backed off of that promise, saying he likes two parts of the law—the most expensive parts"
As you can see, Stossel understands “public choice” and recognizes that making government smaller is the only sure-fire way of reducing public corruption.
Which is music to my ears, for obvious reasons.
By the way, the same problem exists in many other countries and this connects to the controversies about Trump and his business dealings. Many of the stories about potential misbehavior during a Trump Administration focus on whether the President will adjust American policy in exchange for permits and other favors from foreign governments.
But that temptation wouldn’t exist if entrepreneurs didn’t need to get permission from bureaucrats before building things such as hotels and golf courses. In other words, if more nations copied Singapore and New Zealand, there wouldn’t be much reason to worry whether the new president was willing to swap policy for permits.
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