WASHINGTON: Here is the new Trump mantra governing American foreign policy: Everything is negotiable; no policy or commitment is sacrosanct.
Although it is an oft-stated truism that every nation acts in its own self-interest, Trumpism carries it a step forward by explicitly stating Washington will use every available leverage to advance what he views as American interests.
The first country to feel the heat of the new policy will be China. ”Everything is under negotiation including One-China (policy),” the President-elect told the Wall Street Journal in an interview that jolted through the international circuit for its larger implications.
Successive US administrations — both Republican and Democratic — have been committed to a ”One-China” policy ever since Washington stopped recognizing Taiwan’s government in 1979, following its engagement with China that has progressively gotten stronger despite periodic wrinkles. It’s almost set in stone.
Not any more, apparently.
Trump’s blunt approach of throwing it up for negotiation is certain to anger Beijing, for whom the sidelining of Taiwan is a nationalistic prestige issue. The Chinese leadership has already been rattled by the President-elect stoking the embers of confrontation by receiving a congratulatory telephone call from Taiwan’s President after his election victory in November.
Trump has a disarming explanation for the call.
”We sold them $2 billion of military equipment last year. We can sell them $2 billion of the latest and greatest military equipment but we’re not allowed to accept a phone call?” he asked about the kerfuffle over the phone call that had many Sinophiles in a twist. ”First of all it would have been very rude not to accept the phone call.”
He then launched into a familiar tirade about Beijing’s currency manipulation (keeping the Renminbi weak) to further China’s strong exports. Although he wouldn’t formally label China a currency manipulator on his first day in office, ”certainly they are manipulators,” he maintained.
”Instead of saying, ‘We’re devaluating our currency,’ they say, ‘Oh, our currency is dropping.’ It’s not dropping. They’re doing it on purpose,” he insisted, suggesting — in a conciliatory moment — that he would first talk to China before initiating any action.
The President-elect indicated that other long-held shibboleths would also be re-examined, including knee-jerk treatment of Russia as an adversary.
Amid a raging debate about the extent of his engagement with Russia and the motive behind it, Trump suggested he might do away with the sanctions against Moscow — imposed by the Obama administration in late December in response to Russia’s alleged cyber attacks — if the country is helpful in battling terrorists and reaching other goals important to Washington.
”If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things?” he asked.
Trump’s Russia outreach has caused much disquiet in the American establishment — both Democratic and Republican — which has thrived on nearly seven decades of anti-Moscow diet, relenting only occasionally. But there is a ferocious on-going debate about Trump’s vulnerabilities vis-a-vis Russia, causing the President-elect to lash out against both Republican and Democratic operatives for ganging up against him.
”Totally made up facts by sleazebag political operatives, both Democrats and Republicans – FAKE NEWS! Russia says nothing exists,” Trump tweeted on Friday, lining up the traditional Washington establishment in his sights, and shocking many pundits by appearing to side with Moscow against U.S intelligence apparatus.
Indeed, it now transpires that the initial funding of the spying operations against Trump to discover his vulnerabilities came from his Republican opponents during the party nomination scrap last year (which Trump eventually clinched defeating 16 GOP contestants) before Democrats picked up the tab. In that sense, Trump has taken on and defeated — for now — the entire Washington establishment.
But on the foreign policy front, his threat to use every possible leverage to advance his idea of US interest will be causing sleepless nights in many capitals, not just in Beijing, but from Tokyo to Teheran, not excluding New Delhi.
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