One-China tensions ease but ‘Trump could still use Taiwan chip’
Beijing remains wary of Washington despite US president’s assurances that his administration will stick to the one-China policy, observers say
Beijing may have heaved a sigh of relief as US President Donald Trump agreed last week to honour the one-China policy but analysts said uncertainties remained as Trump would probably keep using Taiwan as a bargaining chip in dealing with Beijing.
Tensions could also rise again if Beijing, increasingly wary of Taiwan’s independence-leaning administration, sought to further squeeze Taiwan’s international space.
Trump’s ice-breaking phone call with President Xi Jinping on Friday was the first between the two leaders since Trump was sworn into office in late January, and to some extent ended a period of great uncertainty in Sino-US ties.
During the call, Trump assured Xi that the US would continue to abide by the one-China policy, which recognises that Taiwan is part of China.
Trump had toyed with using the long-standing policy as a bargaining chip in exchange for concessions from Beijing on trade and currency. In response, Beijing insisted that the one-China policy was the “political basis” for Sino-US relations.
Wu Xinbo, director of the Centre for American Studies at Fudan University, said Trump was likely to continue using Taiwan as a bargaining chip.
“While we can now be assured that Trump agreed to maintain the framework of the one-China policy … there will still be struggles and disagreements over more concrete issues,” Wu said, adding that the US was likely to continue arms sales and high-level exchanges with Taiwan.
Trump angered Beijing in December when he broke with decades-old protocol and took a phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. Beijing sees self-ruled Taiwan as its breakaway province and opposes any official communication between Taiwan and the United States.
Bonnie Glaser, from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said there was unlikely to be another similar public phone call between Trump and Tsai.
“[But] military and security cooperation between the US and Taiwan will continue unchanged, and may be strengthened,” she said.
Tom Rafferty, a Beijing-based analyst with The Economist Intelligence Unit, said Trump would not appreciate the suggestion that he had been weak.
“This might test his commitment to cordiality, particularly as we are doubtful that China will offer significant concessions to the US on issues such as trade, the South China Sea or North Korea,” Rafferty said.
He said there were emerging signs that Beijing, which has become more concerned about Taiwan’s government, might seek to tighten the definition of the one-China policy in its favour. One sign was the seizure of Singapore’s military vehicles in Hong Kong on their way back from military drills in Taiwan.
Jia Qingguo, dean of Peking University’s School of International Studies, said Beijing remained concerned about the “political meaning” of the US selling weapons to Taiwan. “Now that the mainland is much stronger militarily than Taiwan, the US’ arm sales to Taiwan are not significant in terms of defence, but in their political meaning,” Jia said.
Jia said also Beijing would no longer tolerate a direct phone call between Trump and Tsai now that Trump had taken office.