There were plenty of signs along the campaign trail that Trump wanted to rattle China’s feathers. According to the New York Times, he promised to “persuade Beijing to change its policies by applying pressure, including designating China a currency manipulator; enforcing existing trade laws more vigorously; and, if necessary, imposing a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports.” Maybe since the majority of Americans didn’t expect him to win, no one took him seriously. But now he is President-Elect, and in the last few weeks, he has made it abundantly clear that he is going to play chicken, both political and economic, with China. The scariest part is that neither side will flinch.
The first exchange: the phone call with Taiwan’s president.
On December 2, the President-Elect made the unprecedented step of speaking, as a newly elected head of state, with the President of Taiwan. Why unprecedented? Because we formally severed all diplomatic relations with the country in 1979. Perhaps they sensationalized the title a bit, but Time covered this as “Donald Trump Lays Down the Gauntlet to China.”
China filed a formal complaint with our government, and responded through its state-run media, issuing two diplomatic spankings in which they called his newly-forming cabinet a “pig team” and chastised him as a “diplomatic rookie.”
Speaking to “Fox News Sunday,” Trump upped the stakes, boasting “I fully understand the ‘one China’ policy, but I don’t know why we have to be bound by a ‘one China’ policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade.”
What Trump does not understand about China.
[Taiwan] is still at the mercy of a host of powerful centrifugal forces that at any moment could threaten to spin the nation apart: 56 ethnic minorities and religions from Buddhist Tibetans and Mongols to Muslim Uyghurs, each with its own region, demands and desires. Taiwan is just one such region. But if Taiwan can successfully defy Beijing and break away, what chance is there for the communists to hold the rest in check? In short a “one China” policy is a life or death matter for the rulers of Beijing.
Donald Trump appears to be holding a carefully nuanced and balanced “one China” policy that has been respected by eight American presidents hostage to “other things.”
In other words, China is willing to go to economic and political war over the “one China” policy. We would do the same to protect our constitution. Does our President-Elect understand that? Does he even care? Hard to say, because he won’t even hold a press conference so a reporter can ask. For now, we can only assume that he doesn’t care, because it doesn’t fit into his worldview that the U.S. has full license to bully anyone around at will.
Trump and China double down over a Navy drone.
Around noon on Dec 16, the news broke that the Chinese navy had seized an unclassified Navy drone examining at ocean temperature and salinity in international waters. While the Pentagon worked quickly and quietly to secure its return, Trump stuck his nose into the situation, calling China’s actions “unpresidented” (a few hours later he fixed the type-o). Then after China agreed to return it, he sensationalized it even more by tweeting they should keep it.
Seems small, but the Chinese government again used its state-run media to deliver another spanking, calling him “unprofessional” and chiding that he “still seems to be immersed in the past, when he was the host of an entertainment show.”
But the more important part was the clear message from the government. “China has so far practiced restraint at Trump’s provocations as he’s yet to enter the White House, but this attitude won’t last too long after he officially becomes the U.S. president, were he still to treat China in the manner he tweeted today.”
Proof that Trump has decided to play chicken with China.
In a story that received little coverage, Trump announced last Wednesday that he had chosen Peter Navarro to head our new National Foreign Trade Council. To give you a feel for the man, in 2012 Navarro released a documentary called “Death by China,” in which “an animation of a Chinese knife stabs a map of the United States and causes blood to run freely,” according to the New York Times.
The Guardian describes Navarro as “a prominent China hawk who has called Beijing ‘the planet’s most efficient assassin’ and a ‘totally totalitarian’ state.” Forbes goes further, saying that “Navarro is not at all just a ‘trade hawk’ about China. He is a ‘hawk’ about China across the board, in all the theaters of struggle, including the military. Navarro is, about China, in a word, a war hawk.” It means, they say, “both metaphorically, and literally, there are coming wars with China that we do not need.”
On the campaign trail, and under the influence of Navarro, Trump insisted that we are the victims of an economic trade war that China has been waging on us for years. It is, he said, “the greatest theft in the history of the world.” The quote the phrase, them’s fighting words.
China isn’t taking this lying down. Again speaking through its state media, the Chinese government described the appointment of Navarro as “no laughing matter.” China laughed off Navarro and Trump’s “apocalyptic language” before the election, but “now, however, there is real cause for concern… [Beijing] must discard any illusions and make full preparations for any offensive move by the Trump government.”
Did you ever see Footloose? Remember the scene when they play chicken with tractors?
Who do you think is China and Trump in this case?
China has the largest standing army on Earth, with over 2.3 million active-duty troops. They have between 200 and 300 nuclear warheads. They are the only country holding a leash on North Korea. They hold $1.3 trillion of our debt. Last year they were our largest trading partner, accounting for $600 billion in goods alone. And they are not going to let their country fall apart because of a bombastic upstart like Trump.
As for Trump, just consider this quote from his interview with Washington Post reporter Steven Ginsberg at the Trump National Golf Club one year ago: “I’m a deal guy. I’ve been winning all of my life. Like this property. I bought it six, seven years ago. I bought it for a steal. Eight hundred acres on the Potomac River. I bought it for nothing. I could sell it for anything. I’m not selling, but I could sell it for anything. My whole life is about winning. I always win. I win at golf. I’m a club champion many times at different clubs. I win at golf. I can sink the three-footer on the 18th hole when others can’t. My whole life is about winning. I don’t lose often. I almost never lose.”
Now the $64,000 question. Who is going to flinch first? Or will we end up at war?