Sino-US relations

Trump reaffirms commitment to one-China policy in Xi call

White House describes conversation between two leaders as ‘lengthy’ and ‘extremely cordial’

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 February, 2017, 12:12am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 February, 2017, 2:52am

In his first phone call with ­President Xi Jinping since taking office last month, US ­President Donald Trump on Friday reaffirmed Washington’s decades-old one-China policy.

The White House described the call as “lengthy” and “extremely cordial” and said Trump reaffirmed the policy at Xi’s request. “The two leaders discussed numerous topics and President Trump agreed, at the request of President Xi, to honour our one-China policy,” it said.

China Central Television said Trump told Xi he fully respected the importance of the one- China policy and his administration would adhere to the policy – the basis of Sino-US relations since the 1970s – which recognises that Taiwan is part of China.

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Xi was quoted by state television as saying he appreciated Trump’s reiteration of the one- China policy and hoped to work with his US counterpart to promote the steady development of bilateral ties.

Later on Friday, Trump described the phone call with Xi as “very warm,” while he reassured Japan that improved US-Chinese ties were not a threat to Tokyo.

“We had a very, very good talk last night, and discussed a lot of subjects. It was a long talk,” Trump told a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

He said he and Xi were “in the process of getting along very well, and I think it will be very much of a benefit to Japan.”

The White House said the two leaders extended invitations to meet in their respective countries, while CCTV said they also agreed to stay in close communication.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the call was “an arrangement that had been previously agreed”, but declined to say who initiated the conversation.

“The one-China principle is the political foundation of Sino-US relations. To adhere to the one-China policy ... is a responsibility that the US government should fulfil,” Lu told a regular press briefing yesterday.

In Taiwan, Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang Chung-yen said Taipei and Washington “have been in close contact and communication” regarding the Xi-Trump phone call, and that keeping positive ties with the US and mainland China was in Taiwan’s interest.

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Yesterday’s call marked another twist in Sino-US relations, which entered into a period of greater uncertainty after Trump was sworn in as US president in late January. The relationship had been strained since Trump’s election victory in November due to his repeated questioning of the one-China policy and his phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in early December, the first conversation between a US president or president-elect and a Taiwanese leader since Washington and Beijing established diplomatic relations in 1979.

Pundits said the call came just days after media reports that new US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had said Washington should continue to uphold its one-China policy and support a peaceful and agreeable cross-strait outcome.

Analysts said the call, which took place on the eve of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s official visit to the White House, was also aimed at minimising possible fallout from Abe’s second face-to-face meeting with Trump.

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Ma Zhengang, a former Chinese ambassador to Britain and former president of the China Institute of International Studies, said the call showed Trump had realised the enormous stakes over the one-China policy in Sino-US relations.

“I don’t think he intends to sabotage bilateral ties, which would inevitably hurt US national interests,” Ma said.

He said Trump’s reaffirmation of the one-China policy had dealt a blow to the independence­-leaning Tsai in Taiwan and would help stabilise Sino-US ties.

Steve Tsang, director of the London-based SOAS China Institute, said the call was a step in the right direction, but said its significance should not be exaggerated.

“The language used allows Trump to say that he did Xi a favour and for Xi to claim he got Trump to back down,” he said. “But what has Beijing gained? Trump merely returned to the position where the US would have been and should have been in this stage of a new administration.”

Tsang said there were “much bigger issues at stake for both sides, such as trade and economic reciprocity”.

“If Trump keeps his campaign promise over tariffs on China, that would make the one-China dispute look like a storm in a tea cup,” Tsang said.

Additional reporting by Catherine Wong and Agence France Presse