Both U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen claim it was a casual courtesy call between national politicians who have just scored upset victories in crucial elections.
But more detail appearing on their now well-known telephone conversation suggests that rival factions are still fighting the Chinese Civil War, which officially lasted between 1927 and 1950; and that we’ve just seen a propaganda coup by the “Taiwan Lobby.”
The last official contacts between Washington and the Chinese Nationalists, in their final refuge of Taiwan, were cut off in 1979—when the Carter administration formally recognized the Communist government in Beijing. But Americans continue to be sympathetic to the Chinese situation. The opposing factions therefore continue to count on specific segments of the American public to support their cause.
Both have organized groups of special pleaders—“lobbies”—to influence US government decisions, at both federal and state level.
The “Taiwan Lobby” exercises its considerable power to ensure relevant legislation favors the Kuomintang side. At the height of the Civil War, its most effective lobbyist was the persuasive Madame Chiang Kai-shek.
The “China Lobby”—now the name of the faction that pleads the Communist side—draws its strongest support from among liberal American diplomats, left-wing academics and journalists.
The foreign correspondent Edgar Snow (1905-72) was first to draw romantic portraits of Mao and his “Long March” comrades in the defiant setting of the new China they told Snow they were struggling to create.
For the “Taiwan Lobby,” US support is veritably a matter of life and death. So that Taipei has enlisted the American agents with the widest political networks to influence US agencies on its behalf.
Worth their hire
The New York Times reports the veteran US Senator Bob Dole—the presidential candidate of the Republican Party in 1996—as involved in the arrangements that produced the Trump-Tsai call.
The Times notes that Senator Dole reports, as US law requires, receiving a retainer of $25,000 monthly from the “Taiwan Economic and Cultural Representative Office” in Washington.
American agents of the Taiwan Lobby seem well worth their hire. One of them apparently managed to draft a resolution urging Washington to grant the Taiwan military continuing access to America’s most modern weapons systems.
This access is right now severely limited by an agreement between Washington and Beijing. The Taiwan Lobby’s resolution was endorsed much as it was drafted by the 2014 Republican Party convention that also set off Mr. Trump’s campaign for President.
Since Taiwan is a keystone of the “Great Wall in reverse” the Americans have built along the China Sea to contain Chinese power—and since Mr. Trump will be taking over the White House next month—we may expect the GOP resolution to receive the full attention of the US Congress.
This early, it is easy to foresee East Asia is about to enter a period of volatility. In a series of Twitter messages, Mr. Trump has indicated the parameters of US-China relations under his presidency. They are to cover security, trade, finance, and currency issues; and they are going to be tough, competitive and without any trust.
Indeed, not just East Asia, but the European Union, too, is likely to be roiled by Mr. Trump’s ascendancy. His election has confirmed the European populist parties in their anti-elite, anti-globalization, anti-immigrant policies.