At a two-day conference last weekend on military reform with the country’s most powerful 230 military leaders, including members of the Central Military Commission, China’s President Xi Jinping discussed US-China relations, including the controversial call that had just concluded between President-elect Donald Trump and Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen.
* Beijing believes the call between Tsai and Trump was arranged in advance and was a deliberate test of China’s patience and bottom line on Taiwan. However, making a point in noting that Trump has yet to assume office, and is “inexperienced” as a politician, Xi instructed Foreign Minister Wang Yi to adopt solemn protests and a “mild” reaction – for now.
* Going forward, Beijing will send a black and white message to the White House that there is no middle ground for the US in establishing a formal relationship with Taiwan, meaning any effort to establish formal relations with Taiwan would mean a cessation of relations with Beijing.
* And Beijing is on alert that Trump may want to take a more aggressive posture toward US-China relations overall, noting his tendency to take risks, his appointment of a military official nicknamed “Mad Dog” to the civilian Defense Secretary post, and what is perceived to be an aggressive and pro-Japan US Pacific Command. Despite the current calm in South and East China Sea tensions between the US and China, Xi did not rule out the possibility the Trump Administration could challenge China’s “core interests,” especially in Taiwan and the South and East China Seas.
* Chinese officials warn that if the Trump Administration were to conduct high-level military exchanges with Taiwan beginning next year, Beijing will immediately suspend military exchanges with the US. And if US warships are ordered “frequently” to sail within 12 nautical miles of China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea or challenge the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) activities in the Daioyu (or Senkaku, in Japanese) islands, Chinese ships will bump the USA warships.
* They note that while former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger delivered a direct message from President-elect Trump on his trip to Beijing seeking strong relationship with Beijing, and especially to continue the China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED), that will not be possible if the US were to challenge China’s “core interests.”
* Over the next two months, Beijing will be on the look-out for two signs from the Trump Administration: The first is whether senior US officials meet with Tsai Ing-wen when she visits New York on her way to Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador in mid-January (not yet formally confirmed). The second is whether the White House invites Taiwanese officials to Trump’s inaugural ceremony. If so, China has threatened it will seek to suspend diplomatic relations with the US.