By Joe Hung
U.S. President Donald Trump gave his Taiwanese counterpart Tsai Ing-wen a slap in the face on Thursday. It was a shrewd and cold snub, and one that Tsai asked for.
As president-elect, Trump accepted a phone call from Tsai on Dec. 3. She thought it a great diplomatic breakthrough, and told Reuters in an exclusive interview published a couple of hours before Thursday’s slap in the face that she might repeat the “hotline” talks with Trump. Responding, Trump said he did not want to risk his newfound “personal relationship” with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“I think he’s doing an amazing job as a leader and I wouldn’t want to do anything that comes in the way of that,” he told Reuters in a separate interview, adding: “So I would certainly want to speak to him first.”
To save face, Tsai made her spokesman Alex Huang issue a statement saying that her hypothetical request was “broached by Reuters,” not the president. Tsai’s intentions were clear in her full text of the interview, but subsequent media reports were “clearly inaccurate and likely to cause confusion.” Are the reports purposefully inaccurate? Of course not. They won’t cause any confusion, either. The whole episode has exposed Tsai’s ignorance of international relations or suggested some wise guy in her inner circle was so stupid as to recommend her to convey the most inopportune ill-considered request. Or both. As president, Tsai must know Taiwan may be used as a bargaining chip in the diplomatic game between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. Uncle Sam, in particular, is ready to use it, if and when playing it is considered to be in his interest. As a matter of fact, all U.S. presidents before Trump have done so when they thought it would benefit their country. Maybe she hasn’t read diplomatic history. But every clear-thinking person knows in diplomacy all that counts is the national interest of the country, evident or considered. Personal relationship of heads of state and/or of government doesn’t count. Tsai must have convinced herself that she had established “intimate” relations with Trump because of her last yearend’s tete-e-tete telephone call. So she wished to repeat it to show how close relations between Taiwan and the United States have become since her inauguration. Should there be wise men on Tsai’s inner circle, they would have tried to prevent her from shooting herself in the foot. Or to keep her mouth shut instead of blaming the unfriendly media for misinterpretation.