Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!

Troubled Waters: Trump, Taiwan and Beijing

There was much tittering in the US-China fraternity over the casual, yet infuriating engagement US President elect Donald Trump had with Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen.  A reading of the reactions suggested meltdown, a terrifying, imminent apocalypse.  An outrageous booboo, or an typically uncharacteristic move hardly worth a mention?

There are no covering laws on this, though international relations theorists attempt, desperately, to push the illusion that there are such magical rules.  Be careful of the hidden laws; do not violate the cast iron protocols. If breached, a storm will be unleashed.  In some ways, the absence of such governing guidelines makes diplomacy tantalisingly innovative, at points, and dangerous, at others.

With the sediment of international relations suspended after Trump’s victory, the fear about the brittleness in the US-China relationship is all too clear.  This is a relationship of suspicion and wantonness, of acquisitiveness and desperation.   Political ideologues have, for several generations, held sway in both Beijing and Washington.  Suddenly, the ideological caravan has been ambushed, and currently lies in flames.

The People’s Daily did not make any bones about the call, issuing a warning that “creating troubles for the China-US relationship is creating troubles for the US itself.”  Showing a nodding acquaintance with the Trump argot, the editorial argued that niggling China in this way “would greatly reduce the chance to achieve the goal of making America great again.”

This lay in contrast to the more mild mannered reaction from Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who seemed to suggest that a degree of Taiwanese deviousness had been at play to “trick” the president-elect.  That reaction did much to stoke the domestic fires on Chinese social media.

Trump’s own response was conventionally issued through that modern organ of communication, Twitter: “Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the US doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea?  I don’t think so!”[1]

Experts seek the resurrection some fantasy status quo, despite a range of hypocritical assumptions.  (One observation is reiterated: that the president elect does not know what he is doing, or has only a limited sense of it.)  For one, Washington continues to conduct relations with China as if it were not a threat, while always treating it as one.

On the one hand, cooperation has been pursued along such policy lines as the Paris international climate accord, even if it has not been immune from the bite of competition. Economically, however, the Obama administration has been waging a cold war, attempting to push through the Trans-Pacific Partnership that would freeze China out of the Asia-Pacific zone. The fact that the TPP is essentially a dead letter should provide some comfort for Beijing’s economic minders.

The US Security establishment, through such think tanks as the RAND Corporation, continues its speculation about what conflict with China would look like, naturally insisting that it was merely thinking through the unthinkable.  Beware, of course, what you think in that regard.

The approach of Trump seems to abandon most assumptions of propriety.  Rather than resorting to sweetening tactics, as the Obama administration has done at stages, the gloves have come off early.  “My guess on Trump/neocon China strategy,” claimed Bill Hayton in a tweet, “systematically target ‘core interests’ until Beijing agrees deals on US ‘core interests’.”[2]

The Trump gesture has also terrified some allies, with some expressing the need for distancing. “There will be times when Australia,” suggests Peter Hartcher, “will need to draw a bright red line in defence of its national interests in its dealing with China.  Donald Trump’s decision to confront China over Taiwan is not one of those times.”[3]  In such individual and “dangerous” ventures, Australia should have nothing of it.

Given that circumstances that have yet to happen can only ever provide poor analogies, Hartcher reminds readers about the ideological folly of President George W. Bush. The invasion of Iraq “was a dire error.  It unleashed forces that continue to wreak bloody mayhem in the Middle East, Europe and the wider world to this day.”

There is a fundamental difference between the calamitous approach of Bush and the president elect’s telephone exchange.  The former was ideological; the latter is yet another variant of the business comes first approach to politics. It tears away the mask of diplomatic assumption, embracing boardroom punting.

Trump shows that the bible-bashing, ideologue from the GOP covered in the flag is not necessarily going to be represented in White House circles consistently.   But it also shows that the neo-conservative fever may not be far away to carry off its patient.

Wise heads in China will also realise that a revision of the book on dealing with Washington may also be in order.  Keep the red mist on Taiwan out of it; focus on the mundane matters of the cheque book.

Chat, broadcast in Twitter snippets, will be the norm.  It will be a Trump versus People’s Daily show, with background activity essentially a matter to be unearthed in future archives – if we even get that far.  The pundits and expert classes on US-China relations have been initially left behind, hoping that their bewilderingly changing field will not lead to a conflagration before it can be averted.





More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:

October 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Middle East, Not Russia, Will Prove Trump’s Downfall
Ipek S. Burnett
The Assault on The New Colossus: Trump’s Threat to Close the U.S.-Mexican Border
Mary Troy Johnston
The War on Terror is the Reign of Terror
Maximilian Werner
The Rhetoric and Reality of Death by Grizzly
David Macaray
Teamsters, Hells Angels, and Self-Determination
Jeffrey Sommers
“No People, Big Problem”: Democracy and Its Discontents In Latvia
Dean Baker
Looking for the Next Crisis: the Not Very Scary World of CLOs
Binoy Kampmark
Leaking for Change: ASIO, Jakarta, and Australia’s Jerusalem Problem
Chris Wright
The Necessity of “Lesser-Evil” Voting
Muhammad Othman
Daunting Challenge for Activists: The Cook Customer “Connection”
Don Fitz
A Debate for Auditor: What the Papers Wouldn’t Say
October 22, 2018
Henry Giroux
Neoliberalism in the Age of Pedagogical Terrorism
Melvin Goodman
Washington’s Latest Cold War Maneuver: Pulling Out of the INF
David Mattson
Basket of Deplorables Revisited: Grizzly Bears at the Mercy of Wyoming
Michelle Renee Matisons
Hurricane War Zone Further Immiserates Florida Panhandle, Panama City
Tom Gill
A Storm is Brewing in Europe: Italy and Its Public Finances Are at the Center of It
Suyapa Portillo Villeda
An Illegitimate, US-Backed Regime is Fueling the Honduran Refugee Crisis
Christopher Brauchli
The Liars’ Bench
Gary Leupp
Will Trump Split the World by Endorsing a Bold-Faced Lie?
Michael Howard
The New York Times’ Animal Cruelty Fetish
Alice Slater
Time Out for Nukes!
Geoff Dutton
Yes, Virginia, There are Conspiracies—I Think
Daniel Warner
Davos in the Desert: To Attend or Not, That is Not the Question
Priti Gulati Cox – Stan Cox
Mothers of Exiles: For Many, the Child-Separation Ordeal May Never End
Manuel E. Yepe
Pence v. China: Cold War 2.0 May Have Just Begun
Raouf Halaby
Of Pith Helmets and Sartorial Colonialism
Dan Carey
Aspirational Goals  
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage