Trump Wasn’t Going to Do ‘a Fucking Thing’ If China Invaded Taiwan, a New Book Says

Behind closed doors, Trump had few supportive words for its democratic ally.

Mar 9 2021, 1:29pm

Former President Donald Trump once dismissed the possibility of U.S. intervention in case Beijing invades Taiwan, according to a new book.

“Taiwan is like two feet from China,” Trump was quoted as saying to an unnamed Republican senator in 2019, according to the book by Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin. “We are eight thousand miles away. If they invade, there isn’t a fucking thing we can do about it.”

The book, “Chaos Under Heaven,” focuses on Trump’s dealings with China over his four years in the White House. It was released Tuesday and excerpted in the Daily Beast on Monday.

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The book suggests that Trump was uninterested in assuring his allies in Taiwan that the U.S. would come to its defense should it come under attack, an attitude that contrasts with how the former president is perceived in the self-ruled island.

The comment, if turned into policy, could have had far-reaching consequences for the Asian democracy. The ruling Communist Party of China claims Taiwan as part of its own territories and has threatened taking it back by force if it formally declares independence. Fears of war have grown as Beijing has become more powerful and assertive overseas. Washington’s commitment to help the island defend itself is seen as the most important deterrent, although there is also fear that any direct confrontation between the Chinese and U.S. militaries could escalate into a much broader conflict.

After Trump was elected president in 2016, his team made a series of moves that demonstrated U.S. support for Taiwan. As president-elect, Trump took a congratulatory call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, the first contact between a Taiwan leader and an incumbent or incoming U.S. president in nearly four decades.

His administration also increased arms sales to Taiwan, sent high-ranked officials to visit the island and, during its last days in office, lifted restrictions on the official interactions between Washington and Taipei. 

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But behind the scenes, Trump seemed far less interested in supporting Taiwan at the expense of angering China. Rogin’s book described confrontations between Trump and members of his administration in Taiwan policies. In many cases, Trump took China’s side.

According to the book, Trump took the call from President Tsai without being aware of its significance, and later promised Xi Jinping he would accept no more such phone calls. 

For example, Trump got furious after a deputy assistant secretary of state, Alex Wong, visited Taipei and angered Beijing. Trump screamed, “Who the fuck is Alex Wong” and asked to “get him out of there,” according to the book. It also quoted then national security adviser John Bolton as saying in 2019, “Trump once told me, I never want to hear from you about Taiwan, Hong Kong, or the Uyghurs.” 

Taiwan and Hong Kong were the most pro-Trump places in Asia ahead of the 2020 presidential election, according to a YouGov poll. Many people in Taiwan have credited Trump for the stronger U.S.-Taiwan relations. Some democracy activists in Hong Kong also hoped that Trump could advance their cause.

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Lev Nachman, a visiting scholar at National Taiwan University, said Trump’s unfriendly comments on Taiwan suggested that most of the pro-Taiwan policies came from his foreign policy team instead of the president himself. 

“There are so many examples of a disconnect between what Trump says and the perception of Trump as a harsh-on-China kind of person,” Nachman said. “It’s not that Trump was a pro-Taiwan or pro-Hong Kong president, it’s that he had people in his administration who were pro-Taiwan and pro-Hong Kong.”

Trump’s indifference came as no surprise, Nachman said, given the former president had on multiple occasions endorsed Xi Jinping’s controversial policies, before he started blaming China for the COVID-19 epidemic. 

Trump said he called Xi a “king” on his first visit to Beijing. He said Xi acted “very responsibly” in the early months of Hong Kong’s 2019 protest movement, even though authorities refused popular demands and cracked down on the protests with heavy policing. 

According to John Bolton’s 2020 memoir, Trump refused to issue a statement on the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown in 2019, saying “who cares about it?” At a G20 meeting the same year, Trump told Xi he should go ahead with building internment camps in Xinjiang, since Trump thought it was “exactly the right thing to do,” Bolton wrote. The Trump administration would later label China’s actions in the western region an act of genocide, a designation that the Biden administration has continued to use.

Nachman said the Trump administration ended up boosting its ties with Taipei, likely thanks to the foreign policy officials who supported a tough policy on China. The bipartisan commitment to Taiwan will likely continue under Joe Biden’s presidency

Follow Viola Zhou on Twitter.

Tagged:

Taiwan, Donald Trump, world politics, worldnews, world conflict

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