Sieren's China: Trump, the sorcerer's apprentice


From Beijing’s point of view, two weeks ago, everything was rosy when it came to Donald Trump’s announcement that would put an end to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal that was being made around China. The situation has changed since last weekend when Trump became the first US president or president-elect in decades to talk directly on the phone with a Taiwanese president. He spoke with President Tsai Ing-wen for about 10 minutes.

Few countries recognize Taiwan as an autonomous country and the United States is not one of them. This is one of the international community’s concessions to China. The state-owned Chinese daily “Global Times” condemned the call with a headline describing it as “provocation and falsehood.”

On Tuesday, the “People’s Daily” warned that relations between China and the United States would not be improved by Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan. And there’s something to that. The “Washington Post,” however, labeled the call a “brilliant move.” Trump made his case more like a businessman than a diplomat. As Taiwan is a major customer of US weapons, the two should be able to talk on the phone.

Taiwan can only lose

By taking the phone call, Trump broke a protocol that has been in place for almost 40 years. In 1979, the US recognized Beijing as the sole government of China and severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Since then, there has been no direct contact between the presidents of the United States and Taiwan. There have, however, always been good, informal relations, as is the case between Taiwan and Germany and most countries in the world.

Frank Sieren *PROVISORISCH* (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Tirl)

DW columnist Frank Sieren

Trump may have jolted the rule but he did not shake it to its core – let alone abolish it.

Nonetheless, he has triggered concern. What line will Trump take when it comes to China. Taiwan’s president has already made clear that she does not want to take any unnecessary risks and has smartly downplayed the incident by saying her call with Trump should not be seen as a US policy change. She could not make it any clearer.

The US president-elect seems like a sorcerer’s apprentice who has set off something that could get out of control. But it is certain that if the United States and China enter a dispute Taiwan can only lose.

DW’s Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for over 20 years.