The Financial Times reports that Donald Trump spoke on the phone today with Tsai Ying-wen, the president of Taiwan. This is a very big deal:
The telephone call, confirmed by three people, is believed to be the first between a US president or president-elect and a leader of Taiwan since diplomatic relations between the two were cut in 1979.
Although it is not clear if the Trump transition team intended the conversation to signal a broader change in US policy towards Taiwan, the call is likely to infuriate Beijing which regards the island as a renegade province. “The Chinese leadership will see this as a highly provocative action, of historic proportions,” said Evan Medeiros, former Asia director at the White House national security council.
Of course, maybe Trump was just calling to ask for a business favor:
The mayor of Taoyuan confirmed rumors on Wednesday that US president-elect Donald Trump was considering constructing a series of luxury hotels and resorts in the northwest Taiwanese city. A representative from the Trump Organization paid a visit to Taoyuan in September….Other reports indicate that Eric Trump, the president-elect’s second son and executive vice president of the Trump Organization, will be coming to Taoyuan later this year to discuss the potential business opportunity.
Who knows? But foreign policy wonks are blowing a gasket over this, and the question of the hour is: Did Trump set off this diplomatic shitstorm accidentally or deliberately? I have to believe it was deliberate. Even Trump’s team isn’t so pig-ignorant that they’re unaware of our policy toward China and Taiwan.
But if that’s the case, it means that Trump is dead set on pursuing a hostile policy against China from the get-go. Perhaps, thanks to his decades of steely negotiating victories, he believes the Chinese will eventually back down once they realize they can’t mess with him. Perhaps. Welcome to Trumpland.
UPDATE: It’s worth noting that Trump has an odd kind of advantage here. For a little while longer, anyway, he can do this kind of stuff just to see what happens—and then, if it blows up, he can pretend he wasn’t up to speed what with all the staffing work etc. etc. Then he calls someone in China and declares that everything is fine, China is a fantastic place, he has nothing but the highest respect for them, blah blah blah.
Will this work? I suppose it might. But not for much longer.