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Tsai Ing-wen

Donald Trump right to question one-China policy, says ex-US national security adviser

Stephen Yates, who met with Taiwan’s president last month, says incoming US government should rethink its policy towards the island, which Beijing says is a breakaway Chinese province

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 January, 2017, 11:42am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 January, 2017, 11:35pm

A former US national security adviser, who met Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen last month, has defended Donald Trump’s controversial comments on cross-strait relations and described the one China policy as “an anomaly” for over four decades.

Stephen Yates, a former deputy national security adviser to ex-US vice-president Dick Cheney, said it was right that the US should not accept restrictions on contact with Taiwan imposed by China and that American policy towards the island needed a “recalibration”.

Yates also denied media reports that his high-profile meeting with Tsai of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party was made on behalf of the incoming US president.

He did, however, have contact with the Trump transition team before making the trip, he said.

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Since Trump’s surprise election triumph in November, he has sparred with China, making often provocative comments on issues including trade and Taiwan.

Trump took a call from Tsai in December congratulating him on his election victory, days before Yates met the Taiwanese leader.

Trump also made remarks indicating that the US should not be bound by the one-China policy, which stipulates that Taiwan is part of China. The comments were widely seen as a departure from the decades-long American diplomatic policy on cross-strait relations.

Yates said the controversy stirred up by Trump’s phone call with Tsai highlighted some of the problems in current US policy towards Taiwan.

“This was a phone call and it was a congratulatory phone call and it was not a policy phone call,” Yates said.

“It’s an indication of how pathetic US-China policy has been that a simple phone call was perceived as a tectonic event,” he said.

“It’s a pathetic game changer. So this [veto on US official contact with Taiwan] has been an anomaly for 40-plus years and from my own personal experiences this has no basis in real US policy. This was an absolute bogus concession made by lower-level flunkies and higher level people never corrected it,” he added.

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Yates challenged China’s right to dictate to the US its contacts with another jurisdiction, which Beijing has asserted since the establishment of diplomatic relations with Washington in 1979.

“When you talk about territorial claims, you want to preserve the status quo, but the status quo is you [China] have no jurisdiction over Taiwan. Why should anyone in the world listen to what you say about who can talk to Taiwan, who can visit them, who can trade with them, what international bodies they can be part of?” he said.

“By preserving the status quo, Beijing wants the world to continue to isolate the only free and democratic part of the world that countries don’t have diplomatic relations with. It is un-American and unrealistic,” he said.

Yates described Trump as a staunch advocate of the United States’ national interests and admitted he was portrayed by mainland Chinese officials and state media as a hawk on China.

“I’ve said this to Chinese leaders and representatives for years that if you are serious about unification the first step in that direction is acknowledgement of the reality that you have no jurisdiction over this other place [Taiwan] and only then can you begin a serious conversation about how would you unify with a place that you have no jurisdiction over.

“The more you perpetuate something that millions and millions of people grown up in Taiwan know is not true, and millions of Americans know is not true, the less serious you look like someone who seeks unification,” he added.

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Yates stressed Trump’s tough remarks on China were not necessarily aimed at changing US policy.

“I think he’s trying to pull things back to what we know and what we want to deal with. We know he’s going to focus very intently on the economic relationship.

“If China wants to raise other issues, everything can be up for discussion as long as we are dealing with these issues that are more important for American national interests,” he said.

Yates said he had known Tsai personally since Lee Teng-hui was in power as president of Taiwan in the 1990s when he worked with the Heritage Foundation think tank in the US.

Over the years, he has frequently visited the island and met leading Taiwanese politicians in both his official and personal capacities, including accompanying incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus on a visit to Taiwan in 2015.

“Technically the content of the conversation with Tsai was off the record because it was a private meeting and I am a private citizen. I was having a conversation with her as someone who has known her for 20-plus years and one of the very short list of people who have expertise on Taiwan and also of some sort on the White House,” he said.

“I had a three-hour long conversation with Tsai at her residence. The meeting was very nice, but I wasn’t having a conversation on behalf of Trump’s transition team,” he said.

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Yates confirmed that he made contact with some of the president-elect’s advisers before the Taiwan trip.

“Mostly I told them that I would be on the trip. That it would be perceived by people that I was representing them and I didn’t want to falsely convey that I was representing them when I had no official position in the transition and I had accepted no official position in the incoming administration because right now they’re still working on confirming the cabinet,” he said.