Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Trump is right on China

China is a totalitarian dictatorship. The Chinese Communist Party continues to maintain an iron grip on power in spite of a degree of economic liberalisation over the past 40 years. The regime made it clear that it was not willing to countenance any challenge to its political hegemony in 1989 by unleashing its military might against its own defenceless citizens in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. If there was any doubt about the Communist Party's continued intentions in this regard, it has been dispelled by the more recent repression of the independence movement in the western Xinjiang province, the blocking of two separatist candidates from taking their seats in the Hong Kong legislature, and the continued imprisonment without trial of anyone who speaks out against the government such as the world-renown artist Ai Wei Wei. Most recently the Chinese government has begun to assert its military might outside its borders, particularly in the South China Sea where it has taken control of, and built military bases on, a number of small islands and atolls that are much more legitimately the territory of Japan, Vietnam, Phillipines and Indonesia.

In 1971 the United Nations switched from recognising the Nationalist China regime in Taipei to the Communist regime in Beijing. This was a expedient solution to the dilemma that faced the international community - the largest national population on Earth was represented by a government that had lost a civil war and now only governed a fraction of the original nation. Other countries that were similarly divided, such as Korea and Germany, split into separate nations both of which were recognised by the international community, but the Communist regime in Beijing has been completely intransigent on the question of separate recognition for Taiwan, and its 'One China' policy continues to prevail in international affairs.

Taiwan today is a relatively free, democratic and liberal state with one of the highest standards of living in the region. It is peaceful and non-aggressive but has a powerful military to deter invasion by the Communist forces just 100 miles away. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party supports independence from mainland China but all parties in Taiwan measure their language on the issue for fear of provoking the enormous dragon across the strait.

The international community has tiptoed around China's sensitivities for decades, tolerating the Communist Party's crimes against its own people and its belligerent foreign policy with barely a diplomatic frown. The United States in particular has courted China since Richard Nixon broke the isolation with his historic visit in 1972 and under Barack Obama there has been scarcely a peep from Washington about China's increasingly aggressive expansion into the South China Sea.

Donald Trump is still a month from his presidential inauguration and yet he is signalling a very different policy towards China. It started with his acceptance of a congratulatory telephone call from Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen, which prompted a chilly reaction from Beijing. Trump was not phased by the critical response and in an interview he stated that his acceptance of the One China policy is linked to China's positions on its currency (which he claims China has deliberately kept undervalued), the South China Sea expansion and its continued support for North Korea.

History has taught us that appeasement of tyrants is ultimately more dangerous than standing up to them. Ronald Reagan took a much more aggressive stance towards the Soviet Union than his predecessors and history ultimately judged his actions to be right. China is in many ways a more challenging adversary than the Soviet empire was in the late 1980s, and Trump has not exactly demonstrated the composure and judgement that Reagan, for all his faults, showed as president. Trump is playing a bold hand and whether he has the nous to force China into compromise on the issues he has identified, or he precipitates a trade war or worse, is yet to be seen. But he is right to draw a line between support for the One China policy and the issues he has raised. It is past time for the international community to grow a spine in its dealings with China.

1 comment:

Mark Hubbard said...

I've never understood why West bows to China. That country needs the West/US's trade every bit as much as the other way around: they're not going to open that sort of trade war.

Trump has many problems (mainly with his economics - or grasp thereof) but his clarity on the evil of Castro, and welcoming the thriving democracy of Taiwan, to hell with Chinese sentiment, is welcome (and hopeful).