President Trump's handling of the "One China Policy" is the best illustration to date of why the Framers crafted the Emoluments Clause into the U.S. Constitution. It illustrates clearly how financial benefits from foreign countries can be used to shape U.S. Policy. The Emoluments Clause prohibits the President from accepting any item of value from a foreign government without Congressional approval. It is precisely what President Trump has done regarding the One China Policy that the framers set out to prevent.
For years there has been controversy as to whether Taiwan, a little island off mainland China is part of China. The Chinese government views Taiwan as part of China while the Taiwanese consider themselves an independent sovereign state. Countries that treat Taiwan as an independent sovereign state inevitably get in trouble with the Chinese government. The U.S. officially endorsed the One China Policy in 1972 following talks between President Richard Nixon and Chairman Mao Tse-tung. Every U.S. administration ever since has honored the One China Policy. Enter President Donald J. Trump.
Shortly after his inauguration as the 45th President of the United States on Jan 20, 2017 President Trump declared that unlike previous administrations, his wouldn't necessarily abide by the One China Policy. The argument by President Trump, a plausible one, was that China has long taken advantage of the U.S. in trade agreements and that it was time for the U.S. to strengthen it's bargaining position. That means as far as his administration was concerned everything with China was up for renegotiation including the the One China Policy. As expected this created a lot of tension between Beijing and Washington. Foreign policy experts differ on whether such a tough stance on China benefits the U.S. and yours truly is not qualified to evaluate such merits and demerits. However what President Trump left out of his "feud" with China, which is the subject of this blog piece, is that privately since 2006 he has unsuccessfully sought to trademark his brand in China.
It appears that President Trump's tough stance on China wasn't necessarily aimed at improving the U.S. bargaining position with China but rather advancing his private business interests. Specifically, the President was fully aware that attacking the One China Policy, a highly emotional issue for the Chinese, would force them to finally grant his trademark licence. On February 9, 2016 following a phone conversation with the Chinese President, the White House announced that President Trump would now abide by the One China Policy as have previous Presidents. This abrupt change in course threw off even his most ardent fans. Shortly thereafter the Chinese reciprocated, granting the elusive trademark license. This is a classic case of an Emoluments Clause violation which the media is yet to pounce on. Specifically the President received a gift(trademark) from a foreign government in return for a favorable policy. To use a colloquial phrase President Trump just SHOOK DOWN the Chinese for a Trademark License