Trump backs 'One China' policy in call with Xi

Saturday, February 11, 2017
By Gregory Feifer, AFP

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump reaffirmed Washington's 'One China' policy on Thursday in his first conversation with Xi Jinping, an apparent effort to ease tensions after angering Beijing by questioning a major plank of Sino-U.S. relations.

During a phone call with China's leader, the U.S. president agreed to “honor” a position that effectively acknowledges Taiwan is not separate from China.

“President Trump agreed, at the request of President Xi, to honor our 'One China' policy,” the White House said in a statement, adding that the two leaders had “extended invitations to meet in their respective countries.”

The White House called the phone discussion — which came on the eve of Trump's slated meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — “extremely cordial,” saying the leaders “look forward to further talks with very successful outcomes.”

Xi, a nationalist who took the helm of the Communist Party-ruled country in 2012, welcomed Trump's gesture.

“Xi Jinping appreciates Trump's emphasis on the American government's commitment to the One China policy and pointed out that the One China principle is the political foundation of U.S.-China relations,” according to a Chinese foreign ministry's statement.

Trump's insurgent campaign for the White House included frequently lashing out at China, which he accused of currency manipulation and stealing American jobs.

He raised eyebrows in the wake of his election victory with a protocol-busting telephone conversation with Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen.

He later threw doubt on the “One China” policy, suggesting that it was up for negotiation and could form part of talks on trade, drawing rebukes from official Chinese media.

'Backed Down'

Ashley Townshend, an expert in U.S.-China relations at the University of Sydney said Trump's apparent capitulation was an indication of the moderating influence of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

“Everyone will be surprised at the speed with which Trump has backed down on this issue, everyone is asking why he has moderated his position so dramatically,” he said.

The change was unlikely to be conciliatory, he added, but could be read as a sign of pragmatism in the new administration's approach to its powerful adversary.

“There was a real risk prior to this clarification that the two sides would be unable to even find a way to speak,” he said.

“There are many advisors in Trump's inner circle and in the administration more generally who are deeply suspicious of China.

“I suspect Trump will continue to be tough on China across many aspects of the bilateral relationship. This removes an obstacle to relations, but it doesn't advance them in any meaningful way.”

Taiwan has been ruled separately since the two sides split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

Despite having its own government, military and independent foreign policy, Beijing has refused to recognise the island, viewing it as a troublesome province that will one day be reunited with the mainland — by force,

if necessary.

Washington cut formal ties with Taipei in 1979, when it recognized the Communist mainland rulers in Beijing.

However, the U.S. remains Taiwan's most powerful unofficial ally and its main supplier of arms.

Trump's suggestion that he could restore relations with Taipei — which Beijing views as a non-starter — had threatened to chill ties with the Asian giant.

'Come to his senses'

Beijing had been prepared to give Trump-the-candidate a pass, said Wu Xinbo, Director of the Center for American Studies at China's Fudan University.

“When Trump tweeted a few things about the “One China” policy previously, it was prior to his inauguration, so we can consider those his personal opinion,” said Wu.

“Now that he is in office, he represents the government's views, and as such, he must emphasize the continuity of policies such as the Taiwan issue and the One China issue.”

Taiwan Maintains 'Zero Accident” Policy

Taipei continues to maintain close contact with Washington to avoid any “accidents,” President Tsai Ing-wen's spokesman said Friday in response to U.S. President Donald Trump's promise to honor the one-China policy in a phone conversation with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

Taiwan understood that the U.S. government gives high priority to peace and stability in East Asia, including friendly ties with Taiwan, Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang said in a statement.

 Huang said Taiwan was keen to strengthen ties and cooperation with the United States to help maintain regional peace and stability.

 “Taiwan and the U.S. maintain close contact and communication (over Trump's phone call with Xi), and have maintained a good 'zero accident' approach,” Huang said.

 The White House earlier confirmed in a press release that Trump had a lengthy phone conversation with Xi, and that the U.S. president had agreed — at his Chinese counterpart's request — to honor the one-China policy.

Speculation Aplenty

Speculation over Trump's cross-strait policy has been fueled by his unfriendly remarks towards China and his breaking decades-old diplomatic protocol by taking a phone call from Tsai before his inauguration.

The Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said it had been Taiwan's standing policy to maintain cross-strait peace and the sustainable development of democracy in the country, which is beneficial to regional interests.

Taipei hoped Washington could build on the years of friendliness between the two sides to continue honoring its promises made in Taiwan Relations Act and its Six Assurances, the MAC said.

 Legislator Lin Wei-chou, a deputy whip of the Kuomintang legislative caucus, said Trump's latest pledge to honor the one-China policy showed that the U.S. president probably used Taiwan as a “bargaining chip” when talking to Tsai on the phone previously.

Lin said Taiwan must not be complacent and must closely watch Washington's implementation of the Taiwan Relations Act and Six Assurances.

But Legislator Tsai Shih-ying from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party said any analysis of the relations between Taipei, Beijing and Washington must take into account the United States' standing diplomatic


The DPP legislator said Trump's promise to Xi is an iteration of the existing relations between Beijing and Washington.

He said Washington had been honoring the one-China policy since it switched diplomatic ties to Beijing from Taipei, and the relations between the three sides would not see any changes despite the Trump-Xi phone call.

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