SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English

John Chuan- Tiong Lim “Trump- Tsai Telephone Call”: The beginning of new rivalry between America and China

On December 2, 2016 23:00, Tsai Ing-wen, the President of Taiwan, made a telephone call to Mr. Trump, an elected candidate of American presidential election.  It made China be over sensitive and shook the world. A word “Taiwan” caught the eye of the people and became top news of international media. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China, Wang Yi and spokesman of Taiwan Affairs Office, State Council of the People’s Republic of China, replied simply “it does not affect us at all” against questions from the media and added “it was just cheap tricks played by Taiwan and it is impossible to change our structure of “One China”.


However, we can imagine how this twelve minutes “Trump-Tsai telephone call” has  surprised Chinese leadership. The Chinese Communist Government, together with their national security organization and think-tanks, has been trying to find the background of “the telephone case”. The more they investigated, the more “Zhongnanhai”, (central governmental body) was disappointed.


If this telephone call was a sudden hit Trump’s mind, it would not be a surprise, considering his character that he has always shuffled unconventional cards.  But, his team was actually preparing a list of heads of government whom Trump should call by telephone immediately after his victory declaration. According to informed sources, the name “Tsai Ing-wen, President of Taiwan” has been included in this list.

After fixing the schedule of telephone calls, Mr. Trump’s staff explained to him, and he fully understood the possibilities of a negative reaction of the world. In other words, “Trump-Tsai telephone call” this time was the result of thorough preparation by his team, not a rash decision.  Of course, it was not an one-sided “cheap trick” from the Taiwan side.


Thoroughly prepared “Trump-Tsai telephone call”


Next, the most important concern of China is the intention of Mr. Trump.  Does he, by “farcical telephone call” this time, intend to change the “One China” policy which was crafted by Henry Kissinger in the 1970s ? At this moment, personnel revisions of his cabinet is not a opened yet. Strictly speaking, his speeches and behavior before his inauguration may not be the same as the policies of the United States government thereafter. But, “Zhongnanhai” cannot be “careful but optimistic” any longer about the Chinese policies of Mr. Trump whenever they get information which they have to worry about.


After calming down from such surprise and shock, one influential organization which has taken issue to the “Trump-Tsai telephone call” has attracted attentions. This is “The Heritage Foundation” in the United States which is considered as a leader of conservative influence.  This organization was established in 1973 and developed to its present size with a budget exceeding 80 million dollars through the effort mainly by its founder, Edwin Feulner, for more than 40 years.  It is considered one of the biggest think tanks which have influential power in Washington DC. Many high governmental officials of the Republican Party went into politics from this foundation and Elaine Chao is one of them. She is selected to be transportation secretary by Trump. The Heritage Foundation has also prepared a policy white paper for Mr. Trump and many members of the Foundation participated in the election as cheering party. This foundation has maintained a very close relation with Taiwan since these several decades, and it has been considered as headquarters of pro-Taiwan activities in the United States. So, the Taiwan side also has been lobbying and maintaining interchange relations through this foundation. 


“The Heritage Foundation” who has big influential power  


It was Mr. Edwin J. Feulner who drove forward directly “Trump-Tsai Telephone Call”.

Mr. Feulner has been the President of the Foundation for a long time and has been keeping a good relationship with Taiwan. He has visited Taiwan more than twenty times and also attended inauguration ceremonies of Taiwan President many times. He has met seventeen times with successive President of Taiwan, such as Lee Teng-hui, Chen Shui-bian, Ma Ying-jeon and Tsai Ing-wen. Mr. Feulner, who graduated from the London School of Business, same as Tsai Ing-wen, joined the cheering party of Mr. Trump last August and became one of the most important brains of President Trump for his national security and foreign policy. He visited Taipei, Taiwan last October together with his staff and on October 13, he had a meeting with Tsai Ing-wen at the Office of President.


Another person in the foundation, who is in important position as a researcher and has influential power toward America-Taiwan relationship is Mr. Stephen Yates. He is head of the Republican Party of Idaho States and concurrently holds the office of advisor for Mr. Trump’s transition team . Mr. Yates has worked as Vice Presidential aide of national security for Vice President Dick Cheney. He drafted “The Taiwan Relevant Law” and “The Six Assurances”, both of which are in the General Plan of the Republican Party. In “The Six Assurances”, there are words “America does not approve Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan” which angered China. Mr. Yates has been closely connected with Taiwan. He had been a Mormon missionary in Kaohsiung, Taiwan from 1987 to 1989. He speaks fluent Mandarin, though with a Taiwan accent, and is keeping broad personal relations in politics and social life.  In this sense, no one surpasses him. Four days after the “Trump-Tsai telephone call”, Mr. Yates visited Taipei and made a courtesy visit to President Tsai Ing-wen to convey an intention of Mr. Trump.


Reaction in American politics on “Trump-Tsai telephone call” was polarized. As President Obama has expressed repeatedly “One China” policy during his time, this telephone call gave American policy against China a great shock and we can easily guess that people do not like to disrupt the cooperative relationship between America and China, two economic giants. Against the “One China policy” by the Democratic Party and American-media, not only Mr. Trump himself counterattacked in his twitter or face-book, but the personnel necessary of Trump camps and influential politicians of the Republican Party also expressed their appraisal for “Trump-Tsai telephone call”. This faction questioned the rigid way of thinking of the Whitehouse. An ex-government official of the Department of State mentioned that “Mr. Trump will not always follow the same position which the heads of Republican and Democratic parties have taken. For him, typical Washington rule is not always the best option” although people who were involved in the “Trump-Tsai telephone call” fully understand “One China policy” which America has held for a long time.


New rivalry between America and China by using the “Taiwan” card


Chinese uneasiness toward American policy about China by President Trump will not be limited to the “Trump-Tsai telephone call”. On exactly the same day when Mr. Trump received the telephone call from Tsai, Lower House passed the “National Defense Authority Act” by an overwhelming majority. This bill lifted many military restrictions between America and Taiwan which have lasted for more than twenty years and made full of future of America/Taiwan with “infinite possibility”. Actually, the Taiwan side has started their study and discussion immediately after passing this Act in the Upper and Lower House. They look forward that their Ministry of National Defense can step in the Pentagon fair and square. They also look forward to joining the Trans Pacific Joint Exercise under the American initiative. It means that they hope to actualize military cooperation among Taiwan, America and Japan.


Under the organization of Xi Jinping the “Taiwan issue” is one of the “Core issues” which cannot be easily compromise. The “Trump-Tsai telephone call” might be critical for China and Taiwan. But, it may be also a turning point. At least, I presume China has already changed from their “careful but optimistic” conception of the Trump era. Beijing will study the weak points of Trump without looking on idly and look for personal connections with him. They will try to access any personnel who has influential power to prevent President Trump from adopting a policy that would distort the “One China policy” which America has kept for forty years. 


A rivalry between America and China using the “Taiwan” card was newly opened.



SGRA Kawaraban 517 in Japanese (original)



( Assistant Professor, National Taiwan University/Assistant Researcher, Modern History Research Center, Taiwan Central Institute )



Translated by Kazuo Kawamura

English checked by Mac Maquito