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Return To the First Island Chain

Donald Trump appears to have sent a message to Beijing: the First Island Chain will be held.  Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines will remain the Westernmost bulwark in the Pacific.  The Hill writes: "Donald Trump spoke on the phone with Taiwan President Tsai Ying-wen, a conversation that breaks decades of U.S. protocol and risks a clash with China. ... The phone call will almost certainly infuriate Beijing, which sees Taiwan as a breakaway province."

The First Island Chain, for those unfamiliar with the term, refers to a network of peninsulas and archipelagos which mirror the China coast, and whose possession blocks Beijing from direct access to the broad Pacific.  Japan considers denying the First Island chain to a foe as essential to her defense.  For many years the same string of islanders served as America's strategic frontier in the West.

Recently China has been challenging the US by a series of encroachments.  Trump's actions may signal that he will start to push back.

Readers may recall that the first foreign leader to meet with the president elect was Japanese PM Shinzo Abe.  Since then Trump's policy appears to have taken on a definite shape. The Hill continues:

The call with Taiwan is just the latest Trump discussion with a foreign leader to make headlines.

Trump's call this week with Pakistan's leader also raised eyebrows after that country's government released a readout that said the president-elect had discussed going to Pakistan — something President Obama did not do while in office.

And Trump made waves on Friday with a report that he had invited the controversial leader of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, to the White House. ...

Foreign-policy experts say the call could alter U.S.-China relations, regardless of how it was arranged.

“I would guess that President-elect Trump does not really comprehend how sensitive Beijing is about this issue,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

It’s not clear if Trump’s call was meant to signal a shift in U.S. policy toward Taiwan.

But even if it is not, it could play into pre-existing concerns the Chinese have about the president-elect’s posture toward their country.

The NYT calls it a possible affront to Beijing. It would not be surprising if China is beginning to suspect that Trump may have identified America's primary global rival as China. Russia would for the first time since 1945 be secondary.  America never wholly abandoned Taiwan.  One of the lesser known -- because low key -- installations on Taiwan was the installation of older Pave Paws Radar. But now things are out in the open.

It’s very, very valuable to Taiwan. Constructed on the top of a mountain in the country’s north, the Raytheon-built system cost approximately $1.4 billion. Purchasing the system from the United States stretches back to the Clinton administration, with lots of setbacks along the way. Taiwan was so freaked out last year when PAVE PAWS popped up on Apple Maps that it prevailed upon Apple to obscure the image of the system.

But with little international notice, Taiwan declared its PAVE PAWS operational last month. Air Force Lt. Wu Wan-chiao boasted that Taiwan would now have “more than six minutes’ warning in preparation for any surprise attacks.”

Chances are, it’s not just benefiting the Taiwanese. “I would expect the U.S. would have made a deal that the U.S. gets satellite surveillance from the Taiwan radar,” Allen Thomson, a former CIA weapons analyst, tells Danger Room. “Most of time it’s sitting there watching satellites, and that’s about it. The U.S. could certainly could use that information.”

The question must be what form will this rivalry -- if rivalry be -- take? Since we have returned in some degree to the Cold War, the obvious candidate mode is a kind of Cold War with China, with both cooperative and adversarial aspects.