A simple congratulatory call from the president of Taiwan to President-elect Donald Trump has ruffled Beijing’s feathers. One week prior, the Chinese were flying nuclear-capable bombers around the island country, perhaps signaling a warning to Taiwanese nationalists not to act up.
“According to a press release from the Trump transition team about the phone call, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen offered her congratulations and Trump offered the same to her for her election victory this year. They discussed the ‘close economic, political, and security ties between Taiwan and the United States,’ the Trump transition team said.”
Since 1949, Taiwan has been a particularly sensitive area for Chinese internal politics. In fact, you could call it an old wound that has never completely healed over. When Mao Zedong and the PLA won the Chinese Civil War with the help of the Soviets, the deposed government was the Republic of China (ROC) under Chiang Kai-shek, and they were forced to abandon their capital and set up a government in exile on Taiwan. Since then, there has been no armistice, no cease-fire signed between the two Chinese factions. Both governments, the PRC and the ROC, claim to be the legitimate government of China, but the Communists held the mainland, and when Nixon came around to open up relations with China, he chose to negotiate with the PRC.
Although Chiang Kai-shek lead the Nationalist Party and the Republic of China for most of the 20th century, the ROC was first lead by Sun Yat-sen, a doctor, political philosopher, and revolutionary who was born in China, but received an education from American schools in Hawaii. Sun believed in decentralizing power and developing a federal republic of smaller states similar to the US. He lead the rebellion that overturned the last Chinese emperor and the Qing Dynasty. A photo of Sun Yat-sen is featured above.
With the death of the TPP, US foreign policy in the Pacific Rim has stalled, but this contact between the President-elect and the president of Taiwan could be taken as a sign of changing relationships between the US and China.
The whole northern Pacific area is a bit of a work in progress for both China and Russia. Right on their doorstep is North Korea, a nuclear powder keg being run by a megalomaniac. Below the 38th parallel is South Korea, a bastion of Western influence and home to nearly 30,000 US troops. Further east is Japan, who are currently rearming and overhauling their military forces in response to China’s aggression in the South China Sea. Japan has also established its own balance of power, working economically with Russia as a counterbalance for Chinese expansion.
Japan’s recent rapprochement with Russia has also helped to settle the territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands. The Russians agreed to return two of the four islands to Japan, but on the territory they’ve kept, they’ve installed missile systems with a 375 mile effective range.
“The disagreement over the Pacific islands, seized by the Soviet Union in the final days of World War II, has kept the two countries from signing a peace treaty formally ending their wartime hostilities.
“Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been pushing for progress in the dispute over the islands, called the southern Kurils by Russia and the Northern Territories by Japan.
“The sparsely inhabited islands lie just north of the Japanese island of Hokkaido, in an area rich in natural resources, and they also serve as a strategic vantage point for the Russian military. Last month, Japan protested after Russia announced the deployment of new anti-ship missiles on Pacific islands to the Kurils.”
The Chinese are already very busy taking over the South China Sea, stabilizing the Yuan, and building infrastructure along with other long-term geopolitical goals. Having to deal with Taiwanese nationalism may be another issue for China to juggle, and the possibility of a currency war turning into an all-out trade war with the US could threaten China’s ability to coordinate and fund big projects that require heavy, fixed capital.