Besides the overall rivalry between the US and China, the Taiwan issue mentioned briefly in the report has received particular attention from Chinese experts.
The issue, which is perhaps the most sensitive for China, caused a stir when Trump answered a phone call from Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen shortly after coming to office in early 2017, leading some to suspect that he may overturn the One-China policy.
Although Trump later reaffirmed the One-China policy, Trump’s decision to sell arms to Taiwan in early 2017, and the US Congress passing the Defense Authorization Act (DAA) – which authorizes US Navy warships to conduct port calls in Taiwan – has not taken any heat out of the issue.
After Beijing warned that the US legislation represents “provocation against China’s sovereignty, national unity and security interests,” and will lead to “severe consequences,” Li Kexin, a senior diplomat at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, went further on December 8, 2017 to warn that the day a US warship makes a port call in Taiwan will be the day the Chinese military launches the “forceful unification” of Taiwan.
In the report, the Trump administration says that the US will maintain its strong ties with Taiwan “in accordance with our ‘One-China’ policy,” and will continue to “provide for Taiwan’s legitimate defense needs and deter coercion” under the US Taiwan Relations Act.
While the report’s rhetoric on Taiwan appears to be consistent with Washington’s traditional policy regarding the issue, the fact that the report is the first of its kind to mention the issue has triggered concern in China.
For many Chinese experts, the unpredictable style of the Trump administration makes it hard to assess the impact of the national security report on various issues of the bilateral relationship. Professor Shi Yinhong, director of the Center for American Studies at the Renmin University of China, argued that Trump has adopted an “opportunistic” principle in his foreign policy that has prevented him from launching any concrete or cohesive strategic plans.
But it may be the unpredictable nature of the Trump administration that poses the greatest threat to the stability of the bilateral relationship between China and the US.
On December 28, 2017, only 10 days after the release of the report, Trump threatened in an interview with The New York Times that he might act on his numerous threats against China if China did not cooperate with the US on the North Korea issue.
Analysts have long discussed the possibility of such a conflict between China and the US, with some believing a trade war has already started. The irony is that China-US economic cooperation has long been considered the bedrock of the bilateral relationship. The spread of disputes into the field of trade and commerce threatens to severely test this.