China Times: Trumpian principle is 'no principle'

2017/02/19 16:59:48 fontsize-small fontsize-default fontsize-big
China Times: Trumpian principle is 'no principle'

U.S. President Donald Trump has been in office for nearly a month, and as we all know since his days on the campaign trail, all foreign countries have been befuddled by his style of talking and doing things.

Over the past month, his words and deeds can be summed up as showing a special feature of "American-style, high-profile pragmatism" -- a pragmatism that translates into achieving one's goals by "practically solving the problem." By American-style, we are referring to the self-confidence and high-pitched mode of behavior that are special to American culture.

Taking China's Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) as an example for comparison, Deng's "white cat, black cat" theory (it does not matter if a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice) is also pragmatism.

But Deng was cautious both domestically and internationally. At home, he proposed a more experimental way of doing things by "feeling the stones as we cross the river" and internationally, China has been taught to keep a low-profile, avoiding conflict to the best of its ability while cultivating real strength for future use.

The goal Trumpian pragmatism is trying to achieve is "America First" and no restrictions or frameworks have been set for reaching that goal. Under the predominant guideline of achieving the goal, solving the problem is the highest priority. His "fundamental principle" is "no principle."

Trump has been pushing his administrative agenda in a high-profile fashion, demonstrating his bossy personality boisterously, with seeming disregard of the reactions from others. But he is also a pragmatist, advocating loudly whatever he thinks is right and unabashedly adjusting the steps toward achieving his goal -- as long as trade-ins are worth the goal.

The world has been at a loss interpreting the Trumpian style of governance, characterized by his ever-changing statements on the same issue which are self-contradictory, and yet are made in a fully self-righteous way. Is he a smart guy adopting an unfathomable strategy or simply a fool with a big mouth? No one is sure.

Take his China policy for example. His telephone conversation with President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) hinted at recognizing Taiwan's status as an independent state. But in his talks with China's President Xi Jinping (習近平), he said he would honor "our one-China policy" -- which is the United States' one-China policy.

As Beijing was trying to hide its delight that the Americans were finally making a statement to its liking about this sensitive issue, the White House issued a press release telling the world that Trump simply made the remark at the request of the Chinese president.

So, which part of his China policy is true and which part is false? Probably neither his talks with Tsai nor those with Xi are true -- or false. He was simply showing his style of saying high-decibel words, doing things with high visibility and making adjustments whenever he sees fit. His recent dealings with Israel show exactly the same style of diplomacy.

No one can be sure whether Trump will change his style as he stays longer in the White House. What can be sure is any country that needs to deal with the U.S. must familiarize itself with his style.

When an American promise is no longer a promise and when American rules can be changed at any moment, Taiwan must learn to deal with an America led by Trump -- that is, what to do with Trump's "next step" is perhaps more important than how to interpret his "last step."

Only when Taiwan prepares itself for all scenarios can it enjoy peace and stability amidst the volatile international relations that can be swayed by a Trump-Tsai or a Trump-Xi phone conversation. (Editorial abstract -- Feb. 19, 2017)

(By S.C. Chang)
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