U.S. scholars unsure of Trump Administration stance on Taiwan

Two U.S. scholars specializing in Asian affairs expressed very different views on Sunday as to whether Taiwan will be used as a bargaining chip by incoming U.S. President Donald Trump in his dealings with China and whether Washington will change its one China policy.

Walter Lohman, director of the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation, said in an e-mail response to CNA that he does not think Taiwan is becoming a bargaining chip or that the U.S. will discard its one China policy.

"This does not mean, however, that it (the United States) will not change details of how it talks about the policy and interacts with Taiwan. It should." Lohman said.

Lohman was responding to CNA when asked whether Trump's comments on his controversial call with Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen (???)in an interview with Fox News broadcast on Sunday signals that Taiwan is set to become a bargaining chip for Trump in dealing with China.

Speaking in the interview, Trump said: "I fully understand the One-China policy. But I don't know why we have to be bound by a One-China policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade."

Trump also said China was not co-operating with the U.S. on its handling of its currency, on North Korea, or on tensions in the South China Sea.

"So, I don't want China dictating to me. And this was a call put into me," Trump said in the interview.

"It was a very nice call. Short. And why should some other nation be able to say I can't take a call? I think it would have been very disrespectful, to be honest with you, not taking it," he said.

Turning to the interview, Lohman said "One thing Trump's comments on the one China policy do point out is that we are far more respectful of China's core interests than it is of ours."

Making trade-offs on one China or on Taiwan would be a mistake. "We should continue to maintain our one-China policy because it is in our national interest whatever is going on elsewhere in the relationship. The same goes for our commitment to Taiwan," Lohman said.

However, the U.S. should also insist China had better respect America's core interests, especially freedom of the seas, Lohman stressed.

Shelley Rigger, a professor of political science at Davidson College in North Carolina, said in an e-mail response to CNA that in the interview with Fox News, Trump explicitly said that Taiwan policy should be part of a quid pro quo to get China to cooperate on other issues, which is "pretty much the definition of a bargaining chip."

Asked if this policy will help preserve the interests of both the U.S. and Taiwan in the region, Rigger said U.S. Taiwan policy has been consistent for decades and while it hasn't gotten Taiwan everything some people may have wanted, it has allowed the island to remain free and prosperous, while enabling engagement and peace among the U.S., Taiwan and China.

"Any change in approach should be done with the utmost caution," she said.

"To be honest, I don't see Trump exercising that level of caution right now. The risks for Taiwan are very high," Rigger added.

Asked about the possibility of the U.S. changing its one China policy under the Trump administration or implementing the policy in a new way, Rigger said it is difficult to know.

"I think anything is possible with Trump. He has some great people advising him on Taiwan policy, but I'm not sure he's listening to them. This interview only increases my concern. The idea that he only heard about the phone call a few hours before it happens suggests that either he is not getting the information he needs, or he's getting it, but not taking it in," Rigger said.

Taiwan officials have said that Tsai called Trump on December 2 after weeks of preparation.

Rigger, the author of the book Why Taiwan Matters, is a leading expert on Taiwan and a consultant to the U.S. administration about Taiwan affairs.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel