The US presidency is not a business, bargaining is not an option
For Beijing, the one-China policy is not negotiable, and president-elect Donald Trump would be going against decades of precedent
Donald Trump the businessman is used to wheeling and dealing. But when he takes the American presidency on January 20, the ways of business can no longer apply. His comment in an interview at the weekend that the US was not bound by the one-China policy and instead could use it as a bargaining chip on matters like trade reveals a lack of understanding about the world’s most important economic relationship. Ties have developed through consensus, and to disregard that foundation would set a dangerous course.
Beijing made that plain yesterday, saying that ties would be jeopardised if the approach was ignored. But Trump, defending his recent phone conversation with Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen, said in an interview he would not tolerate China telling him whom he could talk to. He repeated accusations, including that China is a currency manipulator, puts up trade barriers and does not do enough to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Although he said he understood the idea of a single China that included Taiwan, he contended that there was no reason why that idea should remain untouched. But there is every reason; for Beijing, the one-China principle is not negotiable.
Protocol was ignored by Trump when he took Tsai’s call, which had been planned for weeks. American presidents and presidents-elect have assiduously avoided contact with Taiwanese leaders since 1979, when Washington opened diplomatic relations with Beijing and broke off formal ties with Taipei. Successive administrations have been only too aware that Taiwan is a sovereignty issue and the bedrock of Sino-US ties.
Disillusionment with the political establishment helped Trump, a Washington outsider, win office. He has made much of his business experience, claiming his knowledge of budgets, debt, job creation and deal-making stands him in good stead for the presidency. But there are big differences between being a CEO and a president. Foreign policy requires diplomacy and finesse. Taiwan cannot be bought or sold; bargaining is not an option.