By returning to the status quo, President Trump may temporarily have assuaged apprehensions in Beijing and reduced tensions in the Taiwan Strait.
U.S. President Donald Trump had a “lengthy” telephone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday night and agreed to honor the “one China” policy, according to a press statement by the White House.
“President Donald J. Trump and President Xi Jinping of China had a lengthy telephone conversation on Thursday evening,” the press release stated. “The two leaders discussed numerous topics and President Trump agreed, at the request of President Xi, to honor our ‘one China’ policy.”
The statement went on to add that “Representatives of the United States and China will engage in discussions and negotiations on various issues of mutual interest. The phone call between President Trump and President Xi was extremely cordial, and both leaders extended best wishes to the people of each other’s countries. They also extended invitations to meet in their respective countries.”
“President Trump and President Xi look forward to further talks with very successful outcomes,” it said.
The two leaders discussed numerous topics and President Trump agreed, at the request of President Xi, to honor our ‘one China’ policy.
Relations between China and the U.S. appeared to get off on the wrong foot after president-elect Trump held a 10-minute telephone conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Dec. 2, the first such conversation between a Taiwanese president and an elected American president since the U.S. severed official diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan) in 1979. Weeks later, Trump again “angered” Beijing by telling an interview that the U.S.’ “one China” policy was negotiable, comments that suggested the possibility of both closer engagement with Taiwan and apprehensions that Taiwan’s status, and U.S. assistance to the democratic island-nation, could also be used as a bargaining chip during negotiations between Washington and Beijing.
President Trump’s assurances to President Xi follow a statement by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier this month that that the Three U.S.-China Joint Communiqués, the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and the Six Assurances constitute the foundations of U.S. policy toward China and Taiwan. Tillerson added that the U.S. should continue to uphold its “one China policy,” in which the U.S. acknowledges Beijing’s position that there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of China.
While vague, the White House statement’s reference to President Trump’s agreeing to honor our — that is, the U.S.’ — “one China” policy should be sufficient to please Beijing while reassuring Taipei that Washington has no intention to revise its official position, such as adopting the more definitive language contained in Beijing’s “one China” principle. Although Mr. Trump’s apparent (and not entirely unexpected) shift toward continuity may disappoint the more impatient segment of Taiwan’s green camp who were hoping for a break with the longstanding status quo, his decision to do so should dispel fears in Beijing and remove some of the incentives it had for punishing Taiwan. By doing so, President Trump may therefore have removed some of the variables that could have contributed to instability in the Taiwan Strait at a time when Washington is still fleshing out its policies for the wider Asia Pacific.