No sooner had Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) picked up the phone to make a congratulatory call to President-elect Donald Trump, than the Chinese Foreign Ministry had started its protests. The rhetorical overdrive which followed, aimed against this democratically elected government and the 23 million people who live on this island was in the end as predictable as it was mechanical in its delivery. "We have already made solemn representations about it (the phone call) to the relevant U.S. side. It must be pointed out that there is only one China in the world. Taiwan is an inalienable part of China's territory," the statement said.

The Chinese Foreign Minister also labeled President Tsai as “petty” and suggested the 10-minute phone call was “just a small trick” made deliberately, as if to somehow offend Chinese sensitivities. Clearly rattled, Beijing also demanded that U.S. authorities ban Tsai from transiting through the country on her way to a diplomatic tour of Central America. The request was promptly rejected by Washington, which suggested that such transits were based on "long-standing U.S. practice, consistent with the unofficial nature of (U.S.) relations with Taiwan."

Whilst China’s constant bullying of Taiwan on the international arena has continued mostly unchallenged since the changing of diplomatic relations in 1979, Beijing now faces in Trump a political heavyweight who seems intent on pushing back against Chinese assertiveness in the region. Part of that includes Trump potentially seeking to explore a warming in ties with Taiwan. As he suggested in his tweets in the week following ‘The Call’, the U.S. sells billions of dollars worth of arms to Taiwan, so why shouldn’t he be able to take a phone call from its president? The president of a democratic and prosperous nation that has the 22nd highest GDP in the world and is the U.S.’ tenth biggest trading partner.

More confusing perhaps is why China sees it inappropriate for the President-elect of the United States to break protocol on the “one-China” policy and simply answer a phone call, when itself broke those norms last November with the meeting between then-Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and China President Xi Jinping (習近平) in Singapore. "We urge the relevant parties in the U.S. to abide by the commitment to the one-China policy" was the line repeated by Beijing after last week’s phone call.

Beijing doesn’t see the irony in the fact that when Xi met Ma in Singapore last year, the Chinese president was practically accepting that “one China” as a common goal was as good as dead. Meeting President Ma put an end to the seventy years of Chinese policy which has previously been unwilling to compromise or show any flexibility on China’s dealings with its periphery. Thus, if the one-China policy really is the cornerstone of bilateral relations between the U.S. and China, yet such a meeting with President Ma was possible, what grounds does Beijing have to create such uproar over a 10-minute phone call?

The answer, of course, is that China alone wants to call the shots in the region. Beijing’s increasing assertiveness has seldom been challenged in recent years, and such behavior reflects China’s standing as the regional bully, demanding others follow its obscure demands whilst unashamedly finding itself exempt from such standards. Contrary to what some media outlets have been running, Trump didn’t make the call himself, he merely accepted the call from Tsai and her team. And why shouldn’t he have? The constant bullying and forced isolation of Taiwan from the international community driven by Beijing must stop. Whilst Taiwan ought to be cautious about Trump’s words, there is room for optimism. The international community might now start to see the importance of dealing with Taiwan on its own terms, and more importantly, deferring issues about sovereignty to the 23 million people that call Taiwan home.

Editor: Edward White