US-China relations, carefully developed over decades, have been turned upside down after one phone call by Donald Trump. He has confirmed his reputation as an unpredictable partner, writes Philipp Bilsky.
Beijing's reaction was predictable: The Chinese foreign ministry lodged a formal protest and asserted its "one China" principle. But sharp criticism has quickly come from other quarters. The American Chamber of Commerce in China has urged the new administration to accept the "status quo." The White House has also rushed to emphasize that its long-standing policy towards China will not change.
So what happened? Donald Trump is the first newly elected US President for decades to hold a telephone call with a president of Taiwan: in this case, President Tsai Ing-wen. Taiwan split from mainland China in 1949, after the Communists won the civil war. But according to Beijing, Taiwan has always remained a part of China. In 1979, the US government cut diplomatic ties to Taiwan and has followed Beijing's "one China" principle ever since. A telephone call, such as the one which has just been held, has been unthinkable for decades.
Was Trump aware of the consequences?
Was Donald Trump aware of what such a phone call would mean from a historical, as well as diplomatic, point of view? A close associate of Trump has explained on CNN that the future US president was completely aware of the implications of his conversation. In light of the consequences of this incident, as well as other similar diplomatically surprising statements recently made by Trump, some serious misgivings about his abilities are bound to arise. One thing is clear: the White House was not informed in advance.
There was a great deal of speculation before Trump's election as to what his presidency could mean for US-Chinese relations. From a Chinese perspective, he seemed on many issues to be a more appealing partner than Hillary Clinton, for example on the topic of conflict in the South China Sea, or regarding the issue of human rights. But at the same time, it has been extremely difficult to gauge what Trump will be like due to his contradictory statements.
With the unannounced fracture of US-China relations, Trump has spectacularly earned his reputation as "Mr. Unpredictable." Considering the political explosiveness of the countless existing conflicts between China and the US, this is not a good sign of things to come.
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