China-US relations

US President Donald Trump removes air of uncertainty

The American leader’s communication with President Xi Jinping in which he promised to respect the one-China policy and expressed hope for a constructive relationship is a wise and necessary move

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 February, 2017, 12:38am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 February, 2017, 12:38am

Donald Trump took his time in getting around to communicating with President Xi Jinping, but the wait was worthwhile. With a phone call and letter, he has removed much of the uncertainty his months of rhetoric and bluster had brought to Sino-US ties. In place of threats like a diplomatic tilt towards Taiwan, the United States president promised to respect the one-China policy and expressed hope for a constructive relationship that is beneficial to both sides. It is a wise and necessary approach that will help the world’s two most important economic powers to further prosper and thrive.

Trump’s lack of contact with Xi since taking office on January 20 had seemed like a snub; before his letter arrived earlier this week, he had met or spoken by phone with 18 national leaders. There had been no let-up in the anti-China rhetoric that was a central part of his campaign for the presidency, with his social media posts and remarks from political appointees and advisers giving the impression of turbulent relations ahead. His taking a phone call from independence-leaning Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen in December had especially irked Beijing; his action broke four decades of protocol and subsequent comments from the American billionaire-turned-politician pointed to the island being used as a bargaining chip in negotiations over trade.

Trump reaffirms commitment to one-China policy in Xi call

Tough talks are still likely; a persistent theme of Trump’s rhetoric is that China has taken jobs and opportunities from the US through unfair trade practices and currency manipulation. But negotiations would not be possible if Trump had turned his back on a fundamental principle underpinning relations. Now that he has affirmed the long-established policy and with Xi, broached the idea of a meeting, there can be greater certainty. A basis has been set to allow the nations to start work on resolving the myriad challenges to relations. There is much to do, with trade, the US alliances with Japan and South Korea, climate change, North Korea’s nuclear proliferation and open access to the South China Sea high on the agenda.

Trump’s call came ahead of his welcoming to the White House of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who will be feted with grand dinners and a golf game during his visit. Comparisons when he meets Xi will be unavoidable. But his reaching out to the Chinese president shows he is willing to listen to advice and learn lessons. He has nothing to gain from confrontation; cooperation and dialogue will bring benefits for both sides.