President-elect Donald Trump watches the the Army-Navy college football game on Dec. 10, 2016, in Maryland. Trump's recent call with Taiwan could signal a shift in U.S. relations with China, analysts say.

President-elect Donald Trump watches the the Army-Navy college football game on Dec. 10, 2016, in Maryland. Trump's recent call with Taiwan could signal a shift in U.S. relations with China, analysts say. (Felicito Rustique Jr./U.S. Navy)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to take a phone call from Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen last week was first reported by some as a sign of his shallow grasp of a complex region.

It wasn’t long, however, before others considered that the call might signal major changes to U.S. relations with China.

The call may be an attempt by Trump to use Taiwan’s unsettled status as leverage over broad economic and security concerns, according to analysts.

Chinese and American interests have clashed in recent years over various issues: Currency manipulation, import dumping, a military buildup on artificial islands in the South China Sea and computer hacking are among the most contentious.

If the U.S. thinks it can gain concessions from the Chinese by bringing up Taiwan, it will have a fight on its hands, according to Paul Buchanan, an American security analyst based in New Zealand.

Asia’s face-saving culture means retaliation for Trump’s opening to Taiwan is assured, Buchanan said.

“The Chinese have a range of measures with which they can retaliate, and rest assured, they will retaliate,” he said.

The U.S. first stated “there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China” in the 1972 Shanghai Comminque, a position it has repeated in ensuing decades. It considers the future of Taiwan to be undetermined and hasn’t recognized Taiwan as sovereign.

“I fully understand the ‘One China’ policy, but I don’t know why we have to be bound by a ‘One China’ policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade,” Trump said Sunday on Fox News.

Trump’s comments drew stern responses from China’s foreign ministry, where a spokesman said Tuesday that the policy formed the “political foundation” of bilateral ties — and that a change left “no possibility” for growing relations.

Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province that must be reunited by the mainland — with no room for compromise.

It has used lopsided trade deals and economic links as an incentive, but its 2005 anti-secession law also grants China the right to use “non-peaceful means” to bring about reunification. In the meantime, domestic Taiwan polls have shown little support for joining the mainland.

The U.S. Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, passed to coincide with recognition of Beijing’s government, allows arms sales to Taiwan and calls for the U.S. to “maintain the capacity” to resist any force or coercion that would jeopardize Taiwan’s security.

China’s Global Times, a government-linked English newspaper with a reputation for pointed editorials, wrote Monday: “The One China policy is not for selling … A hard struggle against Trump is needed to let him know that China and other world powers cannot be easily taken advantage of.”

The newspaper made several suggestions for how China might respond to unfavorable U.S. policy moves.

Billions of dollars in Chinese aircraft contracts could go to Europe’s Airbus rather than America’s Boeing, and Beijing might stop partnering with Washington on international affairs to contain forces hostile to America.

“In response to Trump’s provocations, Beijing could offer support, even military assistance to U.S. foes,” the newspaper wrote.

China could introduce a series of new Taiwan polices, and may not prioritize peaceful reunification over a military takeover, the newspaper said.

China has more options to punish Taiwan for a change in U.S. policy, said Ralph Cossa, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies Pacific Forum.

Beijing could reduce tourist trade with Taiwan, while redoubling efforts to shut the Taiwanese out of international organizations and harassing Taiwanese businessmen on the mainland.

The new U.S. administration should tread cautiously, Cossa said.

“Taiwan is a core interest of China,” Cossa said. “You are playing with fire there and have to be careful.” Twitter: @SethRobson1

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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