US Leaders Don’t Answer to Beijing

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According to the mainstream media, foreign policy experts and Democrats, President-elect Donald Trump made a serious error when he accepted a phone call from Taiwan President  Tsai Ing-wen congratulating him on winning the 2016 presidential election.  Trump’s critics apparently believe Mr. Trump is not allowed to speak with the president of one of the world’s leading democracies and a close friend of the United Stats because the Chinese government forbids this.

Sorry, but China does not tell American officials who they can and cannot talk to.  Despite the 1979 decision to open diplomatic relations with China and withdraw diplomatic relations with Taiwan, America and Taiwan remain close friends.  We sell Taiwan billions of dollars in military hardware.  America may have an unofficial relationship with Taiwan, but this does not mean our leaders should shun or insult Taiwan’s president.

Trump’s critics claim his decision to accept Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s congratulatory phone call indicates he does not understand foreign policy.  I disagree.  This was an act of leadership by a president-elect who plans to enact a new U.S. foreign policy that rejects President Obama’s failed foreign policy of retreat, appeasement and leading from behind.

The Donald Trump-Tsai Ing-wen phone call also could reflect an intention by the Trump administration to reevaluate America’s relationship with Taiwan and possibly upgrade relations.  Such a move is long overdue. Taiwan is by any measure a thriving democracy and an independent state.  Although the United States in 1979 recognized that China and Taiwan believe in a “one China” policy, the U.S. government has never officially endorsed this position.  Instead of a U.S. embassy or consulate in Taipei, the United States maintains a nonprofit center known as the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), which operates as a barely unofficial embassy.  Trump advisers are right in considering whether it is time to reevaluate  U.S.-relations with Taiwan and the AIT.  These advisers include China expert Peter Navarro, who contributed to the Center for Security Policy’s recent book on the growing threat from China, Warning Order: China Prepares for Conflict, and Why We Must Do the Same.

Instead of piling on Donald Trump for taking a phone call from the leader of a U.S. ally, Trump critics should be focusing on how the lack of global leadership by Barack Obama created a power vacuum in the Asia-Pacific region that emboldened China to engage in belligerent actions to seize control of almost the entire South China Sea.  This action is endangering the economies and security of America’s friend and allies in the region and also threatens freedom of navigation in a crucial sea area.

We need a new approach to China that deals with Beijing based on strength and principle.  Donald Trump’s phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen could be the beginning of such an approach.

Fred Fleitz

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