Pacific News Minute: President Trump and the “Taiwan Card”

Apr 10, 2018

Credit U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr

As trade tensions between the U.S. and China continue to simmer, the Trump Administration has authorized American defense contractors to help Taiwan construct a fleet of submarines. Following the announcement, Chinese officials warned the U.S. not to play the “Taiwan Card”. We have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute

That comment from Beijing sounded like a direct reference to an Op-ed that President Trump’s new National Security Advisor wrote for the Wall Street Journal back in January. If China refuses to back down in the South China Sea, John Bolton said Washington should play the “Taiwan Card.” His suggestions included placing a detachment of U.S. Marines in Taiwan, and full diplomatic recognition. 

While the transfer of submarine technology is not on the scale of Bolton’s ideas, it does strike a very sensitive spot. China vows to unify with Taiwan, by force if necessary, and a fleet of modern diesel-electric submarines would greatly complicate any invasion. Taipei has tried to buy those submarines for decades, but the Netherlands, Germany, Britain, France and the United States all declined to sell, for fear of angering China.

Last year, Taiwan finally threw up its hands and announced plans to build eight submarines itself. Now, the Trump Administration’s decision provides a major head start. Taiwan’s defense ministry called it a “breakthrough.” 

Credit Wikimedia Commons

In response, the hawkish Chinese newspaper Global Times declared that China must continue preparations for war. “A military showdown with Taiwan is becoming more probable,” the newspaper concluded, “and may take place sooner rather than later.” 

And while most Taiwanese officials welcomed the news, some worried that Trump’s “Taiwan Card” might end up being traded away, as a bargaining chip in Trump’s high stakes game with China’s President Xi Jinping.