It may have been a blunder, but it wasn’t an accidentby Andrew Stuttaford / December 7, 2016 / Leave a comment
When Metternich heard the news that Talleyrand, the legendarily devious French diplomat and statesman, had died he is said to have asked “I wonder what he meant by that?” While the connection between Metternich, Talleyrand and Donald Trump is not obvious, China’s leaders may now be asking themselves a similar question about a series of tweets by America’s next president—and the phone call that set them off.
Let’s start with the phone call. On Friday, Trump’s staff announced that The Donald had had a telephone conversation with Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen, effectively, and publicly, ignoring a long-standing taboo. Officially at least, no American president (or, it is thought, president-elect) has talked to his Taiwanese counterpart since the 1970s, the decade in which the US recognized the People’s Republic as the sole legal government of a China that included Taiwan. Unsurprisingly, those in charge in Beijing were less than thrilled to hear about Trump’s chat with the head of what they see as a fugitive province. “Solemn representations” were lodged with the US.
On the other hand, Beijing initially also seemed willing to put the whole incident down to inexperience and widespread suspicions that Trump simply did not know what he was doing were reinforced by a tweet he sent the same day:
“The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!”
The caps looked defensive: the president-elect had merely taken a call from a president. Polite! Important! And the sense of defensiveness was underlined by the tweet that came next:
“Interesting how the US sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call.”
Trump was still stressing that Tsai had called him and that the call was about him (congratulations!). But the would-be dealmaker-president also took the time to point out that Taiwan is a good customer of USA, Inc. and, while he was at it, undiplomatically highlighted the extent to which America’s “one China” policy is a convenient fiction.
Over the next day or so, The Donald’s tweetflow moved onto more familiar territory: domestic politics, an attack on Saturday Night Live (“unwatchable! Totally biased, not funny and the Baldwin impersonation just can’t get any worse”), support for an errant golfer (“Great…