The Cold War casts a long shadow, and in Asia it never really ended. India and the Philippines have localized maoist rebels. There are still two Koreas. As many tend to forget, there are still two Chinas as well. Thanks to President Trump’s recent chat over the phone with the president of Taiwan, America's geographically illiterate are learning that.
Chinese history is long and complicated so I will spare you most of it; the short version is that China's colossal civil war in the first half of pthe 20th century ended without Total Celestial Victory. Communists took over the mainland and ejected the nationalists/republicans to the island of Taiwan. Both sides still exist, in the People's Republic of China (Chynah) and Republic of China (Taiwan), respectively. The problem, naturally, is that both countries claim to be China and want the world to recognize their side as the one trve China. The PRC goes as far as to claim it in fact governs Taiwan.
In the immediate aftermath of the second world war, most of the world considered Taiwan to be the de jure China. But then and now, to hold "Taiwan" to be China and the PRC to be not-China is an ideological choice, one that requires rejecting the reality of a communist victory. The Republic of China was and is a rump state, and in the 1970s after the Sino-Soviet split and republican China losing its UN seat to communist China, President Nixon recognized the People's Republic of China as China. Thus American objections to the legitimacy of communist China were settled.
This left the Republic of China in limbo as Taiwan, since no superpower recognized it as China. And why would anyone if not for ideological reasons? Look at a map and tell me which country you think is the actual China. Moreover, Taiwan has no ability to press its claims against China. China on the other hand... does. So Taiwan remains closer to the Pacific countries (including the meddling United States) than it does to mainland China. It’s a geopolitical necessity given that China would annex it if allowed to. And many of those countries fear domination by China, which logically places them in the Taiwanese camp.
President Trump's actions broke a longstanding precedent of the American and Taiwanese heads of state not communicating directly with one another. To do so amounts to diplomatic recognition: I agree that you are the leader of the government you say you are the leader of, and that your government represents the territory it says it does.
Well, in theory. In practice, President Trump is hardly signaling that he supports Bonnie Prince Taipei's claims to the Celestial Kingdom. Rather, I see it as him trolling the country he made an object of vitriol during the campaign season, Chynah. Bigly. Because what better way to mess with a bunch of hivepeople than to tell them that their sacred consensus is wrong?
America First means looking at things from the perspective of what the interests of the United States are. Does it particularly matter if China thinks other countries should not directly communicate with the government of Taiwan because it hurts their prestige? How dare they presuppose they have the authority to decide who we as a country communicate with. Are we a Chinese tributary? The decision to directly communicate with Taiwan is as much a way to snub the communist Chinese as it is to signal an independent foreign policy. If President Trump wants to treat Taiwan as a sovereign state and its government as existent, which it has been de facto for decades, then China's problem is less other countries recognizing Taiwan and more that Taiwan is recognizable as a distinct state from China.
But again, I don’t think President Trump's action is meant to recognize Taiwan's pretense to sovereignty over all of China. He's going by instinct or by advice, and imperative is just to do as one pleases. It’s a big f--k you to a rejected node of authority. Like the entire campaign was. It also means the apoplectic, anti-Trump press now has to defend communist, "job-stealing," currency-manipulating China. I don’t think the populists will like that very much.
Is it 4-D chess? (((Alinskyite))) tactics? A decades-long rivalry with the business class of Eastasia?
Maybe it's just President Trump.
Also published at Atlantic Centurion.