Hey, all you Trumpsters – got buyer’s regret, yet? If his lies, backpedaling on campaign promises, ties to foreign governments, appointments of corrupt, unqualified, self-serving billionaires and racists to key positions in his administration, don’t get you, how about sending your kids off to die in yet another foreign war? Or worse, a war that could very well reach US shores? Because that is what he is risking right now, through his complete ignorance of history, foreign policy and the subtleties of diplomacy and geo-politics.

At the center of the danger is the “One China” policy that has preserved the delicately nuanced relationship between the US and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for decades. A true statesman would understand this policy – but to a capitalist like Trump, it’s all business.

This week, the President-elect announced that he would simply use that policy as a bargaining chip in order to get concessions from China. He told the Washington Post:

“I don’t know why we have to be bound by a One China policy unless we make a deal with China…we’re being hurt very badly by China with devaluation; with taxing us heavy at the borders when we don’t tax them; with building a massive fortress in the middle of the South China Sea, which they shouldn’t be doing; and, frankly, with not helping us at all with North Korea.”

So what is this “One China Policy,” why is it important, and why would discarding it risk all-out war?

The term goes back more than 60 years. In the wake of the thirteen-year-long Chinese Civil War, which brought Mao Tse-Tung and the communists to power, the Nationalists under General Chiang Kai-shek retreated to the island of Taiwan where they established the Republic of China (ROC). That government has never been recognized by Beijing, which claims that it is still part of “One China.”

Since that time, Taiwan has stopped short of actually declaring its independence from the PRC and maintains economic ties with the mainland. However, a “Cold War” between the ROC and the PRC continues to exist as the two nations continue to battle for diplomatic recognition on the diplomatic front.

To this day, most countries in the world – including the U.S. – have granted formal diplomatic recognition to the PRC, but maintain informal relations with Taiwan. Part of this is because Beijing requires any nation with which it has diplomatic ties to adhere to the “One China” policy, recognizing the PRC as the “sole legal government of China…and [that] Taiwan is an inalienable part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China.”

Under President Richard Nixon – the first U.S. president to meet with Mao Tse-Tung – the US issued a formal statement:

“Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States does not challenge that position.”

It is an ambiguous position from a diplomatic standpoint. Officially, the US does not consider Taiwan to be a sovereign state, which keeps to folks in Beijing happy – yet, neither does it recognize Beijing’s claim on the island. Legally and formally, the US position on the ROC is that it is “undetermined.”

Washington maintains a diplomatic relationship with a government that in its eyes does not officially exist. Nonetheless, this position has maintained peace in the region.

Trump, who is completely ignorant of the issues, has already referred to Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen as ROC president – which, in Beijing’s view, is tantamount to formal diplomatic recognition of a state that officially does not exist. It is similar to Chinese President Xi Jinping extending full diplomatic recognition to Puerto Rico as a sovereign nation.

Those in Washington who are experienced in the art and science of statecraft understand full well the delicacy of the situation in the South China Sea. Trump is either totally ignorant of it, or he doesn’t care. Either way, if he were to follow through on his plans to use America’s “One China” policy as a bargaining ploy, the results could be disastrous.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.