Who Called Whom?

One of the more interesting aspects of the now infamous Taiwan-Trump phone conversation of Friday, is that nobody admits to initiating the call.

When criticism of the call broke out Friday, Trump quickly claimed that Taiwan called him:

Trump offered no apologies, nor did his transition team make any comments. Instead, he defended the discussion amid reams of criticism for having broken U.S. protocol by saying Tsai initiated it.

“The President of taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!” Trump tweeted.

However, Taiwanese officials say otherwise.

Except, a spokesman for the Taiwan government quickly contradicted the U.S. president-elect, saying the call had been arranged in advance: “Of course both sides agreed ahead of time before making contact.”

See also:

If he meant to imply that the incoming call was a surprise, then he either was lying or had been misled; Taiwan’s press had already published news of a “scheduled” call hours earlier. The Taipei Times reported, “Trump reportedly agreed to the call, which was arranged by his Taiwan-friendly campaign staff after his aides briefed him on issues regarding Taiwan and the situation in the Taiwan Strait, sources said.”

Josh Marshall:

Today we learn that the guy who arranged for Trump’s call with the President of Taiwan was none other than Stephen Yates. He’s currently in Taipei and working for the Trump transition team. Yates has a post at The Heritage Foundation while also running his own international consultancy – a typical arrangement for high level foreign policy hands of both parties when their party is out of power.

[Late Update: After I wrote this post but I think before I pushed the ‘publish button’, Yates has now denied reports that he arranged the call, while saying he thinks he was a great idea. I would suggest keeping an open mind about whether the original reports or the denial are more credible. If it wasn’t this Yates, it was likely another.]

For starters this leaves little doubt that this call was intentional – at least in the sense that Trump’s advisors put it together with a full understanding of the diplomatic implications. Just how much Trump understood this or understood the full ramifications of taking this call isn’t entirely clear. The fact that Trump’s twitter freak out pushed the point that the Taiwanese President had called him, not vice versa, suggests an element of defensiveness and incomplete understanding of the situation.

In other words, it’s possible Trump is being manipulated by advisors with their own agenda. Of course, it’s also possible that most of the people advising Trump are dumb as a box of rocks, also.

Back to Evan Osnos at The New Yorker:

In the hours that followed, it became clear that Trump may have been manipulated into doing something he doesn’t understand. Michael Crowley, of Politico, noted that the former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, who favors a tilt away from Beijing, visited Trump Tower on Friday for undisclosed reasons. Bolton has argued for “playing the Taiwan card” to pressure Beijing. In a January op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, he wrote,

The new U.S. administration could start with receiving Taiwanese diplomats officially at the State Department; upgrading the status of U.S. representation in Taipei from a private “institute” to an official diplomatic mission; inviting Taiwan’s president to travel officially to America; allowing the most senior U.S. officials to visit Taiwan to transact government business; and ultimately restoring full diplomatic recognition.

Further complicating matters, according to the blog Shanghaiist, Trump and his family are currently trying to win a lucrative contract with a Taiwanese city: “A representative from the Trump Organization paid a visit to Taoyuan in September, expressing interest in the city’s Aerotropolis, a large-scale urban development project aimed at capitalizing on Taoyuan’s status as a transport hub for East Asia, Taiwan News reports.” Did Trump break nearly four decades of diplomatic practice to sweeten his family’s business prospects with Taiwan? His supporters, of course, say no. But the President-elect has taken no steps that would defuse that perception.

It’s going to be a long four years, folks. News analysts are saying that China appears to be taking a low-key approach, possibly concluding that Trump must be an idiot. But apparently they had been willing to give him lots of benefits of lots of doubts, thinking he was someone they could work with, and now he’s blown that impression out of the water.

“This is a wake-up call for Beijing — we should buckle up for a pretty rocky six months or year in the China-U.S. relationship,” Wang Dong, an associate professor at the School of International Studies at Peking University, said Saturday. “There was a sort of delusion based on overly optimistic ideas about Trump. That should stop.”

If they’re going to cause an international incident, though, I’d rather they do it now while President Obama is still running things. Perhaps even Trump can learn that actions have consequences. Otherwise it’s going to be one blunder after another until somebody finally has had enough.

18 thoughts on “Who Called Whom?

  1. What’s scary is how easy Trump is manipulated by those he has admiration for. Saying “good things” about him is as good as putting strings on a puppet. Putin is instructive here, having already shown the world that nothing is more dangerous than a powerful idiot.

    And since its pretty obvious now that Trump sees the Presidency as one huge business opportunity, aides smarter than Trump with an ideological ax to grind while find endless opportunities of their own to manipulate the foreign policy ignorant Trump to their own ends.

    Hence, if its true that Trump’s family is angling for business on Taiwan, I can imagine someone on his team blew smoke up his you-know-what while whispering in his ear about Taiwan. Maybe Bolton, since the first thing the righties do when they take power is to focus on demonizing China. Bush the W tried that too, taking their eye off what was really important, with disastrous results.

    And I don’t know what Bolton thinks we can “pressure” China into doing, when they have quite a few formidable cards to play, economically and militarily. Ratcheting tensions up for no other reason than a false sense of superiority and read meat for an always rabid base is not worth the blowback. Which is why sane foreign policy hands from both sides of the aisle know and have said publicly Bolton has no business in a policy making role.

  2. And when somebody has finally had enough? What then? And if that someone is a nuclear equipped nation and decides it is worth a war? AND Cheeto Jesus is our commander in chief? Any day now people are gonna be building bunkers in the yard….again.

  3. Oy!
    Our new t-RUMPiàn normal:

    Neither hand knows what the other is doing – but both middle fingers point directly at us Libtards!!!

  4. A few thoughts. It’s my read of the One-China Policy that Taiwan was to be allowed to stay independent as long as the US doesn’t recognize them officially. Operative word: “was”. This is bizarro-world but over 30 years ago we ‘bought’ sovereignty for Taiwan by officially denying their independence. What did China get? American corporations invested billions in infrastructure so they could export American manufacturing and kill unions. The marriage between ruthless communism that suppresses workers rights and Wall Street has been a happy one for decades. (Ignoring Tiemaman Square.)

    SO Trump decided without any diplomatic groundwork the policy is over.. He might be right that China is so invested in the US that they won’t mess with us economically or militarily. But is the deal is off for Taiwan? China may think the deal is off. Taiwan is only 140 miles from China. They can test Trump, playing mind games by building up across the Straight. So is Trump going to engage in a direct naval war with China, a country with ICBMs? For Taiwan?

    I’m not an expert on Chinese political psychology. “The Art of War” was written in the 5th century BC. “Art of the Deal” doesn’t measure up. I’m not at all sure that the GOP will back Trump since he went off on a unilateral tear. (Congress was not consulted in abandoning the One China policy.) Wall Street wasn’t consulted either and they are a lot more important players than Congress. How many Trump backers want to spill American blood when Trump was semi-isolationist when he ran. This may not be a good time to invest in Taiwan.

  5. csm: “the first thing the righties do when they take power is to focus on demonizing China”

    So everyone knows that much of the working class and small business owners already can’t stand the china, so it could be playing to that constituent very well, right?

    It’s a very common attitude. A lot of small town small business owners in manufacturing or any business using tools or machinery really (which is most), and skilled laborers and people who work in factories or even low skill labor, over decades, has voiced a beef with Chinese imports, from being dissatisfied with the quality of Chinese goods used in work processes, to that it took jobs away from Americans, and the lack of quality affordable goods. Common complaint I’ve heard especially in recent years, is the fact that we have 2 choices for products anymore – real cheap junk, or too expensive. The mid grade goods disappeared even faster than the middle class has, and people have noticed.
    Add to it that at the time Tiananmen Square happened, Generation X was the same age Millennials are now. Many expected something very different to unfold than the history that is now the reality. And now that generation is in their 40s & 50s, having felt the brunt of the long-term unemployment and the disappearing jobs, the lack of rising wages and living standards that were expected back then. And on top of that to look at China and the unexpected status quo all these years, after such an incident of horror and hope. Meanwhile watching the US intervene in all these other countries on the premise of freedom & democracy spreading. Kind of counter-intuitive disappointment and disillusion.
    Is it any wonder what appears to be demonizing China, is a compelling narrative to some considering all that?

  6. WMP – Demonizing somebody is a tactic of fascist governments. The Jews have been a safe target for a loooong time, or any immigrant group. Trump has tried to demonize Mexico, Muslims and China. The problem is, he doesn’t have the money to build a wall, nor is Congress likely to appropriate. Trump is waiting for a check from Mexico, right? So ‘build the wall’ has faded. Trump got pushback from Congress over registering Muslims, which the courts would strike down before the ink was dry from his signature. So he wants to demonize some group to get his base going. The question is who. China looks safe but there’s a problem. Wall Street may not want that boat rocked – they have a lot of money invested there, though there’s been some global diversification. I think we are going to see Trump searching for a sacrificial lamb – his followers want blood.

  7. Anybody who thinks that this is a carefully considered move by Trump is way over-thinking it. He’s obviously a “Fire-Aim-Ready” kinda guy.

    Far more likely that one (or more) of his many sycophants arranged it (as explored above); but even then, it could lie anywhere on the spectrum from “random boneheaded idea” to “nefarious plot to destroy the world”. Most likely, it’s somewhere in the middle – between “corrupt business deal” and “hey, if I arrange this for Trump, he’ll like me & I’ll get more money/power/whatever”.

    We need good journalism to follow up on crap like this, but there aren’t enough real journalists in the world to chase down every weird story like this which pops up.

    We’re in for a wild ride. Please keep your seat belts fastened at all times.

  8. So: the point here is, President Trump talked to Taiwan without bothering to learn what US security, and other, interests could be damaged by it. And the Republicans won’t point out how blazingly stupid and dangerous this is because then they’d have to admit they nominated and helped elect a complete incompetent.

    They did the same thing with George W, giving him a mulligan on 9/11 of all things; they’ll do it with Trump to… if we let them.

  9. LHW – The GOP is not publicly criticizing the call. The puppet master of the government of which both party organizations are wholly owned subsidiaries, are getting an earful from their Chinese counterparts who have been soothing the feathers of their political bosses. My guess is that we will see government leaks about Trump misdeeds before the WH janitorial staff can polish the gold-plated toilets. They have to discredit Trump before they can impeach him – and I have no doubt the decision has already been made.

  10. It’s no big deal..Just Trump letting the Chinese know that there’s a new kid in town. He needs a subtle way to let the Chinese know they are going to be the focus of the two minutes of hate. Everybody needs an enemy to fixate on.. I mean without the devil Jesus would be irrelevant.And without the Commies,illegal aliens, or other foreign threats nationalism and nativism just don’t reach their full potential in their ability to manipulate.
    When Isis just isn’t enough and you’re not going to get good mileage from running down Mexicans… There’s alway the Chinese.
    I agree with elkern..buckle up!

  11. I have what may be a stupid question: What is the difference between Hillary conducting State Department business on a private server and Trump conducting Presidential business on an unsecured cell phone?

    I love your description of the people advising Trump–“dumb as a box of rocks.” However, right now, I think I will get into a fight on a much more important issue than America’s bad taste in Presidential material. I am presently defending the National College Football rankings and the placement of the University of Washington at No. 4. I fully expected the east coast bias to click in and keep us out of the playoffs. Now, we at least have the opportunity to put up or shut up (which I wish Trump would do).

  12. Bonnie, it’s about the same difference as between eating your spinach with a spoon, and driving drunk. One is odd and not extremely common (but most people don’t take the SecState job while having a useful, secure, private server already up and running, intending to use it only for unclassified information) and considered incorrect. The other is flagrantly dangerous and insanely stupid.

    (Yes, I know, Hillary Clinton, like a huge number of government officials, accidentally sent some classified information via e-mail, with no intention of violating the law, unlike, e.g., Petraeus, who shared it deliberately and knowingly.)

    But the use of an unsecured cell phone is nothing compared to speaking with Taiwan’s leadership, (even on a perfectly secured line) without having first done one’s homework on the various issues concerning the US relationship to Taiwan. When you’re going to be the President, and in charge of foreign relations, you need to know what is going on well enough to avoid endangering US, or Taiwanese, security or other vital interests.

  13. Again the Trump brand is aggression. He has spent 70 years pushing others around and never enduring any consequences. He is playing his usual game, unfortunately , what if China decides to use the treasuries they hold against us? What if this gets military?
    No one on the Toady team that is following him around has any idea and neither does he know what they are doing.

  14. Doug: Don’t shoot the messenger.
    I wasn’t offering an opinion on whether it’s right, whatever the Donald is up to (if he even knows).
    I was simply relating what I know about the feelings of quite a few people (of varied political leanings), if anyone’s interested at all.
    Even our Democrat PA Governor Tom Wolf mentioned China today. I don’t think Gov Wolf is planning any fascist scapegoating campaign. He’s doing what politicians are expected to do, addressing the topics that his constituents probably flood him with letters about. He also mentioned the legalization of medical marijuana, authorization for Uber/Lyft, funding for addiction treatment, and the opening of an ethane cracker plant this year.
    There are many topics for people to disagree upon, or even find sinister, and I wouldn’t criticize that. But that’s a separate matter. I was just sharing about viewpoints I’ve heard.

  15. Doug – pretty sure that “fire-aim-ready” is public domain, so you’re welcome to it!

    AJ – love the phrase “Toady Team”, so I’m borrowing that one! Might amend it to “Trump Toads”, or like that.

  16. Elkern, “Ready, fire, aim” was in Iron Man, as well – Stane says to Stark, “no more ready fire aim, okay?” (paraphrased). Fire ready aim *is* more Trumplike, though. And much like the GOP response mechanism. Whatever Trump hits, they decree that was the target all along.

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