Letters from the West

If Trump Taiwan contact continues, expect blowback, says Shambaugh, former Church staffer

David Shambaugh, a former aide to Idaho Sen. Frank Church and a noted China scholar stands in front of the Forbidden City in Beijing in 2010.
David Shambaugh, a former aide to Idaho Sen. Frank Church and a noted China scholar stands in front of the Forbidden City in Beijing in 2010.

Idaho Republican Party Chairman Steve Yates’ need to deny his involvement with President-elect Donald Trump’s phone call with the President of Taiwan comes from his long ties to the island. A top China watcher says whatever reason Trump took the call, it will affect the relationship with Chinese Communist Party.

After serving his mission there, Yates kept building his ties and business connections even before he became Vice President Dick Cheney’s national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration. The Taipei Times earlier Friday erroneously reported Yates was in Taiwan and was going to help set up the call.

But Yates told Idaho Statesman political reporter Bill Dentzer he was not displeased the phone call happened.

Insiders have suggested that Yates and Michael Pillsbury could be top advisers on China policy in a Trump administration. Pillsbury, author of the book “The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower,” is a longtime China hardliner.

Yates told me in November he wasn’t looking for job and that he had come to Idaho to get out of Washington.

Whether Trump accepted President Tsai Ing-wen’s call knowing the implications or not, David Shambaugh, a George Washington University China scholar and the author of “China Goes Global” who worked for Idaho Sen. Frank Church, said it sends a message.

“It is unprecedented that a president-elect or president would speak with the president of Taiwan, although President Reagan did invite the (pseudo-ambassador) of Taiwan to his inauguration, which highly irritated the PRC government,” Shambaugh said.

But Shambaugh, whose 2015 Wall Street Journal article “The Coming Chinese Crackup” caused a stir among China watchers, said that while the phone call is a huge breach of diplomatic protocol dating back to 1979, “it is by no means a casus belli,” Latin for a provocation for war.

“If, however, Trump were to have such contact with Taiwan’s government officials post-inauguration, that would be a serious violation of the One China Policy stretching back seven administrations and Beijing would be correct to criticize and push back,” Shambaugh said. “Learning how to handle the extremely delicate and sensitive relationship America has with Taiwan will be important for Trump — there are time-honored ways of maintaining America’s robust relationship with Taiwan without unnecessarily provoking Beijing.”

Shambaugh, who was an interpreter for President Reagan when he visited Beijing, said Reagan adjusted to the traditional protocols.

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker