It looks like China and the United States under newly elected President Donald Trump are not getting along well, with exchanges of critical remarks and warnings in the last few days. We hope they do not get much worse in the coming weeks and months, as any unrest between the two military powers would have particularly ill effects on our region with the Philippines in the center of it all.
It started when Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen called Trump to congratulate him on his election victory, along with so many other national leaders, including our own Philippine President Duterte. China immediately filed a diplomatic protest over Trump’s accepting the phone call, as it appeared to recognize Taiwan in violation of the one-China policy.
After the phone conversation, Obama administration officials called Chinese officials to say that the one-China policy remains intact. But Trump himself, in a media interview, said the US does not necessarily have to stick to its long-standing position that Taiwan is part of “one China.” “I don’t know why we have to be bound by a ‘one-China’ policy unless we make a deal with China having to do wih other things, including trade,” Trump declared.
The Chinese response to this came from the Beijing newspaper Global Times which called Trump “as ignorant of diplomacy as a child” and warned that if the US openly supports Taiwan’s independence and ramps up arms sales to the self-ruled island, China could aid “forces hostile to the US.”
Last Wednesday, Admiral Harry Harris, head of the US Pacific Command, said in an interview that the US will keep challenging China’s “assertive, aggressive behavior in the South China Sea. The US will not accept China’s control of the region, no matter how many bases it builds on artificial islands in the sea, he said. “We will cooperate where we can, but we will be ready to confront where we must.”
The Philippines has been through this confrontation over the South China Sea, going to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague which ruled in our favor. But President Duterte has chosen not to press the issue. The Philippines has rights to Scarborough Shoal and other islands in the sea, but will not push its claim for now, choosing instead the path of cooperation in areas where the two countries can agree, such as in trade and investments.
But US President-elect Trump may not share this attitude, as shown by his recent comments on the Taiwan president’s telephone call issue, and America’s military commanders appear ready for confrontation.
It just happens that the Philippines is at the center of it all – both in diplomatic and in geographic terms. For this reason and for the wider reason of regional and world peace, we truly hope that the exchange of sharp remarks will go no further and that the two powers just forget the telephone-call issue which started it all.