WASHINGTON: President-elect Donald Trump questioned in an interview broadcast Sunday whether the United States should continue its “one China policy” unless Beijing makes concessions on trade and other issues, threatening to upend decades of Sino-American diplomacy.
“I don’t want China dictating to me,” Trump said as he made a vehement defense of his recent phone conversation with the president of Taiwan.
“I don’t know why we have to be bound by a one Chinapolicy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade,” he added in the interview with Fox News Sunday.
He was responding to a question about taking a call earlier this month from Tsai Ing-wen, the leader of Taiwan, a self-ruling island that Beijing considers a rogue province awaiting unification.
It was a break from decades of US diplomatic tradition that recognizes Beijing as the sole representative of China, an understanding that has been a cornerstone of the relationship between the countries since Richard Nixon went to China in 1972.
– From trade to Taiwan –
Trump also repeated earlier accusations that China is manipulating its currency, saying “we’re being hurt very badly by China with devaluation.”
He piled on the criticism in other hot-button areas: “With taxing us at the borders when we don’t tax them — with building a massive fortress in the middle of the South China Sea — which they shouldn’t be doing.”
Concerning nuclear weapons, Trump argued that Chinaas North Korea’s main patron “could solve that problem.”
“Frankly, they’re not helping us at all with North Korea,” he said.
Trump said it would have been disrespectful not to take the call from Tsai, who he said wanted to congratulate him on his election win.
The real estate magnate said he had had just a couple hours’ notice that the call from Taiwan was coming, not weeks or longer as has been reported.
“It was a very nice call. Short. And why should some other nation be able to say I can’t take a call?” Trump asked.
Official reaction from Beijing has been muted so far, but state-controlled media have savaged the president-elect.
“Provoking friction and messing up China-US relations won’t help ‘make America great again,'” read a front-page opinion piece last week in the overseas edition of Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily.
– Heartland diplomacy –
But Trump has also made moves to assuage Chinese ire by tapping Iowa Governor Terry Branstad — who has links to Chinese President Xi Jinping dating back to the mid-1980s — as ambassador to Beijing.
Xi visited Branstad’s state in 1985 as the leader of an agricultural research delegation, and the two men have stayed in touch as Xi ascended to the Chinese presidency.
Branstad has overseen the growth of Iowa’s farm exports to China, notably soybeans, soar into the billions.
China called the governor “an old friend” after hearing reports of the nomination.
Branstad will likely have to walk a fine line in his new role, experts said.
It is difficult to imagine the United States not taking some sort of trade action against China in 2017, “on currency or subsidies or cyber-theft of intellectual property,” said Derek Scissors, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and an expert on US-China relations.
Even if such action is limited, “Branstad would then need to smooth ruffled feathers, where his relationship with Xi should help,” Scissors told AFP.