Taiwan – in the eyes of the foreign policy and diplomatic community – is a grenade with a pin in it. That pin, in their view, is the One China Policy. Not to be confused with the One China Principle. And don’t confuse the Republic of China – ROC to the in-crowd – with the People’s Republic of China. Or RPC. No prizes for guessing right on which one is Taiwan, and which one is China.

So to keep the pin firmly in place – and to continue selling billions and billions and billions and billions of raw materials to China; Australia, for example, does not recognize the ROC. Yes it gets a little hot in Alice Sprins in January, but all that wide open territory is just asking for prosperous Chinese citizens, tired of spending their billions and trillions of yuan in their overcrowded homeland, to come on down under. In huge numbers. Say like in Vancouver. And Australia – who actually control their borders with a points-based immigration system – want to avoid that. So they make sure they do not, ever, ever, make the communist leadership of the PRC mad.

America, one hopes, has a little more leverage to play with, and are not quite as ostrich-like in dealing with the communist giant of East Asia. But the One China Policy has been the sacred status quo in diplomatic circles for close to 40 years now. And while military support does flow to Taiwan – that would be the ROC – as a rule the One China policy and One China principle are firmly held to.

Until a brief phone call between Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, and President-Elect Trump. Suddenly, with all the discretion of a provocative tweet, Trump has put the One China Policy under a shade of doubt. How dare he? Reunification is a given! And by reunification we mean, Beijing taking over control of Taiwan. The debate in the foreign policy and diplomatic communities is merely how to get there. Not whether China should ever get to Taipei.

China and Taiwan have endured a relationship surprisingly similar to North and South Korea. Each claims to be the sole ruler of China – although lately Taiwan has mostly ceded that claim and merely claimed the right to be the ruler of itself. The division is a reflection of the post-revolution status in 1949 in China, where Chiang Kai-shek’s defeated forces and supporters retreated to Taiwan. In large numbers, overwhelming the native Taiwanese.

In other words, there are divisions within Taiwan as well. And these divisions are what are bringing some of the recent tensions to the surface, as a growing independence movement in Taiwan is calling to break all links with China. But all this history and balkanization of local Taiwanese politics and how it affects relations across the Strait of Formosa ignores a simple fact: Taiwan is a democracy. China is a communist dictatorship. Trump reminded the world of that. Diplomats may raise their eyebrows in horror. But Trump merely stated the obvious. Whether this is the opening move in a shift in American strategy – and it seems that more than a little planning did go into that phone call – remains to be seen.

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