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The Dangerous Folly of Provoking China

Trump added to his earlier Taiwan blunder with more ill-considered comments on China policy yesterday:

“I fully understand the One China policy, but I don’t know why we have to be bound by a One China policy [bold mine-DL] unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade,” he said.

“I mean, look,” he continued, “we’re being hurt very badly by China with devaluation; with taxing us heavy at the borders when we don’t tax them; with building a massive fortress in the middle of the South China Sea, which they shouldn’t be doing; and, frankly, with not helping us at all with North Korea.”

“I don’t want China dictating to me,” he said.

Trump admits that he doesn’t know why the U.S. should be bound by a policy that has maintained stability in the region for over forty years, so it is just possible that he doesn’t really understand the policy or at least doesn’t grasp the potential negative consequences of changing it. “One China” has always been a diplomatic fiction, but it has been a very successful and useful one that has permitted Taiwan to flourish while avoiding a war in East Asia that would not be in our interests or those of the people on Taiwan. The U.S. remains bound by it because it has served us and Taiwan quite well for decades, there is no compelling reason to alter it, and the costs of changing it could be very high.

It is a mistake to treat this issue as just one among many that can be used to pressure China in other areas. Beijing considers “one China” policy to be fundamental to Sino-American relations, and they aren’t kidding when they say they consider Taiwan as part of their country. They will respond very negatively to an attempt to change that policy to the detriment of Taiwan, and it will not make them more cooperative on any other issue if the U.S. moves away from it. If the U.S. wants Chinese cooperation on other issues, it would be foolish to antagonize them over something they consider to be non-negotiable and of vital importance. It doesn’t serve U.S. interests to provoke a major power over what it considers to be its core interests, and if this continues when Trump is president we should expect serious deterioration in U.S.-China relations.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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