Why it matters if U.S. diplomacy with China falls apart

AP

President-elect Donald Trump continued to needle at China Sunday by openly questioning the so-called "one China policy" on Fox News, while defending his decision to abruptly end a decades-long diplomatic precedent by accepting a phone call from the president of Taiwan.

China then issued a stern rebuke to Trump's comments early Monday through its foreign minister, who said in a daily news briefing reported by Reuters that diplomatic cooperation would be "out of the question" if Trump tried to use the United States' recognition of Taiwan as a bargaining chip in other negotiations.

The negotiations Trump referred to pertained to trade — an area in which presidential power is relatively unchecked by Congress.

"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 with other things, including trade," the president-elect said Sunday, adding, "I don't want China dictating to me."

That provocative language prompted a Monday editorial in China's state-run newspaper describing the president-elect's diplomacy as "ignorant as a child."

"Upholding the 'one China' principle is the political basis for developing China-U.S. ties," China's foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in the Monday briefing. "If this basis is interfered with or damaged then the healthy development of China-U.S. relations and bilateral cooperation in important areas is out of the question."

On Dec. 8, China flew a long-range nuclear bomber outside of the nation for the first time since the Taiwan phone call — reportedly a symbolic show of strength.

Since the 1970s, the U.S. has not openly acknowledged Taiwan, a result of the one China policy, which holds that Taiwan and China are one country and that China's capital holds the only true seat of government.

Now that Trump's remarks seem to suggest a break from that tradition — and Beijing is responding with displeasure — critics of Trump's aggressive foreign policy are speaking out about the danger of ignoring China's threats.

Trump's defenders argue that the United States doesn't need China as a trade partner as much as China needs America. Economists and analysts generally disagree with the wisdom of this flippancy.

That dynamic was captured in the below tweet from Politico's Dan Diamond.

While there's certainly a good case for a foreign policy that's more forcefully protective of Taiwan, China's current tense relationship with Japan, for example, has been worsened by diplomatic disputes — showing that China takes provocation seriously.

Specifically, ever since Japan bought some disputed islands from a private owner in 2012, China has slowly upped its military presence in the South China Sea.

That aggression comes despite the fact that Japanese-owned companies directly employ some 10 million Chinese people.

Indeed, the threat of trade war with China is a real risk to Americans, experts warn. Economists recently told U.S. News and World Report that sparking a trade war with the country could lead to shortages in "practically every industry that we have." China is the largest exporter to the United States — but also the third largest importer of U.S. goods.

And it's not just a potential trade war at stake: Policy analysts warn that military conflict could be on the table if aggression between China and the U.S. escalates further.

A representative from the Trump transition team did not immediately respond to request for comment.