Trump backs One China policy in ‘cordial’ call with Xi

Trump backs One China policy in ‘cordial’ call with Xi
February 10 16:57 2017

US President Donald Trump has agreed to honour the so-called “One China” policy in a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the White House said.

The One China policy is the diplomatic acknowledgement that there is only one Chinese government.

Mr Trump had placed the long-standing policy in doubt when he spoke with Taiwan’s president in December.

China sees Taiwan as a breakaway province to be reunified with the mainland.

The move was a major break from traditional protocol and provoked an official complaint from China.

The telephone conversation was the first between the two since Mr Trump took office on 20 January, though the new US president has called several other national leaders.

Who said what?

The White House said a wide range of issues were discussed during the call, which it characterised as “extremely cordial”. The two leaders had invited each other to visit, it said.

A statement from Beijing said China appreciated Mr Trump’s acknowledgement of the One China policy, calling the two nations “co-operative partners” who could “push bilateral relations to a historic new high”.

Taiwan, meanwhile, said it would continue “close contact” with the US, pointing out that maintaining good ties with Washington and Beijing was key to regional stability.

What was at stake?

Mr Trump has caused concern in Beijing with his stance on trade and the South China Sea, but it was his decision to accept a call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen that triggered most alarm.

Though the US is Taiwan’s main military ally, no US president or president-elect had spoken directly to a Taiwanese leader for decades.

Under the One China policy, the US recognises and has formal ties with China rather than Taiwan.

Mr Trump had indicated that policy could change, suggesting the US should not abide by One China unless it secured concessions from Beijing on trade.

Comments by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on China’s military build-up in the South China Sea further chilled ties. He suggested that the US should block access to artificial islands China is building in disputed waters.

Chinese officials have reacted relatively calmly to remarks from the new administration, though they lodged an official protest over the Taiwan phone call.

But the Taiwan issue is very sensitive, something state media made clear when it accused Mr Trump of “playing with fire”.

How did the call happen?

The telephone call followed a letter sent by Mr Trump to Mr Xi on Thursday – the president’s first direct approach to the Chinese leader. In it, Mr Trump said he looked forward to “constructive relations”.

The New York Times reports that it was hand-delivered to China’s ambassador by National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who had also spoken to China’s top foreign policy official last week.

There were other signs that the White House was seeking to stabilise ties, such as Ivanka Trump attending a Lunar New Year celebration at the Chinese Embassy in Washington.

At a press briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang declined to answer whether Mr Trump’s acknowledgement of the One China policy had been a condition of the call.

A win for Beijing? – by Carrie Gracie, BBC China editor

The content of the phone call between Mr Trump and Mr Xi will be celebrated in Beijing as signalling a return to the traditional framework of the US-China relationship.

Three weeks into the new American administration, after a score of phone calls between Mr Trump and other world leaders, China’s absence from the list was becoming ever more conspicuous.

Two months ago it looked as though Mr Trump might be willing to reshape the relationship between the world’s two biggest economies. Not only did he warn that he would consider 45% tariffs against China and brand Beijing a currency manipulator; from Beijing’s point of view, far more shocking was his willingness to take a phone call from the president of Taiwan and his suggestion that the status of Taiwan might become a bargaining chip in negotiation for some other American objective.

But many Chinese citizens see Taiwan as the last piece in China’s territorial jigsaw. Any further move towards independence and international recognition for the island would have represented a dangerous humiliation for Mr Xi.

With the presidential phone call, Beijing can draw a line under such fears. Three weeks in, it has won a clear and unequivocal commitment from the Trump administration to honour the One China policy. And after all the threats and promises Mr Trump made about China on the campaign trail, it is not clear what, if anything, the Trump administration has won in return.