Asia Pacific / Politics

Chinese state media lambastes Trump on Taiwan, calls issue 'Pandora's box of lethal potential'

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

Chinese state-run media have lashed out at U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s recent comments on Taiwan, with one newspaper calling the issue a “Pandora’s box of lethal potential” that could upend the two powers’ relationship.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal published Friday, Trump again raised the prospect of using Taiwan as a bargaining chip in Sino-U.S. relations, saying that “everything is under negotiation, including ‘one China.'”

In an editorial Sunday, the China Daily newspaper said that Beijing had endeavored to give Trump “the benefit of the doubt twice” after his unprecedented December phone call with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and his remarks later that month that the “U.S. would not be bound by the ‘one-China’ policy.” However, the editorial said, “doing the same wrong for a third time shows intent.”

“Taiwan has been off limits in China-U.S. diplomacy thanks to the understanding that it is a Pandora’s box of lethal potential, and that opening it may upend the hard-earned, firmly held fundamentals governing the relationship,” the editorial said.

“If Trump is determined to use this gambit on taking office, a period of fierce, damaging interactions will be unavoidable, as Beijing will have no choice but to take off the gloves,” it added.

China’s Foreign Ministry has called the “one-China” policy “nonnegotiable,” but has refrained from taking the harsh line seen in state-run media, which has warned of looming conflict if the Trump team continues to press the Taiwan issue.

Washington accepted the one-China policy when it recognized Beijing diplomatically in 1979, and has kept only unofficial ties with Taiwan since then — though it has sold arms to Taipei under the Taiwan Relations Act, including some $1.83 billion worth in 2015.

The China Daily editorial said that the Foreign Ministry’s “measured response” stemmed from hopes that the “big picture of China-U.S. relations will not be derailed before Trump even enters office” — but said such an outcome appeared “unlikely.”

“It would be good if after his inauguration Trump can demonstrate more statesmanship,” the editorial said. “But Beijing should not count on his raising the stakes being a pre-inauguration bluff, and instead be prepared for him to continue backing this bet.

“It may be costly,” it added. “But it will prove a worthy price to pay to make the next U.S. president aware of the special sensitivity, and serious consequences of his Taiwan game.”

The Global Times newspaper, which is known for its hawkish stances, also weighed in Sunday, saying that any moves on Taiwan by Trump would “meet strong countermeasures.”

“The Chinese mainland will be prompted to speed up Taiwan reunification and mercilessly combat those who advocate Taiwan’s independence,” it said.

China considers Taiwan a “core interest,” and views the self-ruled island as a renegade province that must be brought back into the fold — by force, if necessary.

Experts say negotiations over the one-China policy are a nonstarter for Beijing. The issue touches a deep nerve with the Chinese leadership — and mainlanders in general — that Beijing has linked to its narrative of a “century of humiliation” by Western powers and Japan.

“The leaders of China are not in a position to renegotiate the ‘one-China’ principle with the U.S. due to the perceived importance of territorial integrity and the Chinese Civil War to their own political legitimacy,” said Jason Young, a research fellow with New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington.

“Trump may seek to use the U.S. position on Taiwan to leverage greater accommodation of U.S. interests from Beijing,” Young said. But “this is a very risky strategy because the ‘one-China’ principle is one of the bedrocks of the relationship and has provided stable U.S.-China relations and the maintenance of the status quo on Taiwan for the last four decades.”

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