Trump's Taiwan policy adds uncertainties to cross-Strait relations

Donald Trump is trying to strengthen communication with Taiwan at the official and civilian levels, a policy that could complicate the relations between the Chinese mainland and the self-ruled island, an American expert said recently.

Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia and director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, made the remarks at a recent seminar on the cross-Strait relations under the Trump presidency.

Taiwan is keen to deepen cooperation with the United States, which involves various areas including healthcare, trade and education, said Glaser.

The cooperation between the United States and Taiwan appears to have been strengthened by the Taiwan Travel Act that Trump signed in March to encourage US officials to travel to Taiwan to meet their counterparts and vice versa, said Glaser, describing the signing of the Act as a signal of a new direction in the US-Taiwan relationship.

Prior to the Taiwan Travel Act, American and Taiwanese officials already travelled back and forth, but the exchange visits were usually low profile in order not to offend China. China has reprimanded Trump's endorsement of the Taiwan Travel Act, stressing that it severely violates the one-China principle, which it sees as the political foundation of the China-US relationship.

The signing of the Taiwan Travel Act reflects US concerns over the Chinese government's policy toward Taiwan, which Beijing considers a breakaway province, said Glaser. Beijing has repeatedly said that it will not rule out use of force to reunify with Taiwan.

In spite of the broad cooperation between the United States and Taiwan in various areas especially in military and arms sales, Glaser thinks that the Trump administration would not throw caution to the wind when making its Taiwan policy, but she fears that Trump himself would do something that could lead to tensions over the cross-Strait relations.

Recently, some domestic media reports hyped up "emancipating Taiwan by force", which stirred up tensions in the Chinese mainland-Taiwan relations. And recent remarks by Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai triggered speculation about a change in China's policy toward Taiwan.

Earlier this month, during an interview with the China Global Television Network, Cui said, "No one can stop China's reunification with [Taiwan]. We are in pursuit of peaceful reunification. But if it does not work, we will adopt another way." When being asked whether the violation of the one-China principle would lead to a war, Cui responded, "Let us see what will happen."

Although Cui did not clearly explain what "another way" was, it was widely interpreted as Beijing's inclination to resort to military force. The Chinese ambassador also expressed in the interview Beijing's firm opposition to the Taiwan Travel Act and the Taiwan Relations Act signed in 1979.

With North Korea's top leader Kim Jong-un expressing the willingness to hold direct talks with Trump for denuclearization, which would ease tensions in the Korean Peninsula, Beijing is likely to put more emphasis on the Taiwan problem, Glaser predicted. But the expert said that reunification with Taiwan would not be a top priority on Beijing's political agenda in the short term, as the Chinese government is making a new Taiwan policy, which would affect the public views of the self-ruled island and would be beneficial to a reunification in a peaceful way.

When answering questions from about whether Trump will continue his predecessors' Taiwan policy, Glaser said that the US government would not oppose China's reunification with Taiwan and instead would encourage the two sides to have dialogues and exchanges in order to maintain the regional stability. But she is concerned about Trump's unpredictable personality and workstyle, which would add uncertainties to the cross-Strait relations and the US-China relations.

On Tuesday, an article published on spoke sarcastically about Trump's perplexing workstyle, revealing that when the president threatened China with an additional $100 billion tariffs, there had hardly been any White House discussion.

"There was not one single deliberative meeting in which senior officials sat down to debate the pros and cons of this historic threat. Trump did not even ask for advice from his new top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, instead presenting the tariffs as a fait accompli. Chief of Staff John Kelly knew Trump wanted more tariffs but was blindsided by the speed of the announcement. And Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short – the White House's liaison to the Capitol Hill – was totally in the dark," said the article.

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