It takes a Trump to stand up to China

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There’s an old expression: talk is cheap.  However, President-elect Trump’s phone call with Taiwan’s President, Tsai-ing Wen, showed that a few words were enough to make Beijing stand up and take notice. Trump’s phone call with President Tsai comes on the heels of another bout of Chinese aggression aimed at Taiwan.  The Chinese military seized nine armored vehicles in Hong Kong that were en route to Singapore. This was retaliation for growing ties between the city-state and Taipei.  From turning a blind eye to currency manipulation to merely issuing press releases in the face of territorial aggression, the Obama administration has allowed China to become increasingly dominant in Asia. Donald Trump, who has been accused of everything from being an isolationist to a reckless amateur, may be the one to save that post-World War II order. 

Writing in a very different context, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger wrote that diplomacy begins at recognition, it does not end there. We have forgotten that when it comes to Taiwan.  Years ago, I joined several dozen members of Congress on a trip to New York City to meet with then-President Chen. Why did we travel to New York and not meet in Washington?  Simple. It was a matter of law. High-level Taiwanese decision-makers cannot meet with their American counterparts.  This is a contemptible way to treat a longstanding ally. 

{mosads}As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I have introduced several bills that would treat Taiwan with the respect any ally deserves.  This past September I introduced the Taiwan Travel Act.  This bipartisan piece of legislation would allow high-level Taiwanese decision-makers to meet with their counterparts in other executive departments, including the Departments of State and Defense, in Washington, D.C. This courtesy is not currently granted to one of our most critical allies.  (I have also introduced legislation that reaffirmed the Taiwan Relations Act and our commitment to Taiwan’s national defense.)

Some may fear that a harder line on China will lead to a trade war, or worse: a real war. During the 1990s, many predicted that economic interdependence would foster peace.  While that’s a happy thought, new realities have shown that unhealthy reliance can also raise the likelihood of war. University of Virginia political scientist Dale Copeland shows that under certain conditions, (namely where the expectation of future conflict is high), familiarity breeds contempt.  Realistically, a harder-line with China is likely the right prescription for keeping the peace in Asia. 

In the 1990s, the United States was forced to adopt a more assertive posture in East Asia.  In the immediate run-up to Taiwan’s first Presidential elections, China initiated the Third Taiwan Straits Crisis. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) began firing ballistic missiles into Taiwan’s waters. This was designed to intimidate the Taiwanese electorate into simply not voting at all. In response, the U.S. sent two aircraft battle groups into the region. The U.S.S. Nimitz sailed through the Taiwan Strait, forcing China to back down.

As the U.S. bolstered its military capabilities in the region and reaffirmed its commitments to other allies, from Japan to South Korea, China (paradoxically) began to improve its relations with its neighbors in Asia. Stability reigned. 

The President-elect’s phone call with President Tsai is a shot-across-the-bow that signals to Beijing that aggression in Asia will no longer be tolerated or rewarded.  The likely result will not be a spiral of costly conflict between the world’s two leading powers.  Instead, the incoming administration is paving the way for an increasingly stable architecture of peace in the world’s wealthiest region.  It may have taken a Nixon to go to China, but it’s taken a Trump to stand up to them. 

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) is the chairman of the House Small Business Committee. He is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees. 

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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