Tsai says call with Trump does not reflect US policy change
Single conversation doesn’t mean shift in Washington’s position on cross-strait ties, Taiwan’s leaders says
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen sought yesterday to downplay the impact of an unusual talk between her and US president-elect Donald Trump last week, saying it should not be seen as a policy shift by the United States.
Her comments, made at a meeting with US journalists in Taipei, came after Washington said senior National Security Council officials twice spoke with officials in Beijing over the weekend to reassure them of the US commitment to the long-standing one-China policy.
“I do not foresee major policy shifts in the near future because we all see the value of stability in the region,” Tsai was quoted by The Washington Post as saying.
Friday’s phone conversation between Tsai and Trump broke four decades of diplomatic protocol in place since Washington switched formal recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.
Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province. It has repeatedly warned other countries against making formal contact with the island’s leaders.
“The phone call was a way for us to express our respect for the US election as well as congratulate president-elect Trump on his win,” Tsai was quoted as saying.
Taiwan’s presidential office quoted her as saying in the meeting that Taiwan had close relations with the US, and that the diplomatic initiatives of the island were aimed at promoting regional stability. She said the mainland and Taiwan should use dialogue to resolve their problems.
Some US commentators have seen the call as something that could spark a confrontation with Beijing. Others though, especially US Republicans, have welcomed it as a sign that Trump will not be bullied by Beijing, and said Washington should offer more support for Taiwan’s democracy.
Stephen Yates, a former deputy national security adviser to then US vice-president Dick Cheney during George W. Bush’s administration, said that given the long-term friendship between the people of Taiwan and the Republican Party, the call was an important step in a direction many members of the party had long advocated.
“As important as it is, it remains a small step,” Yates told reporters in Taipei. “We should not over-analyse or overreact to the fact that your current and our future leader spoke by phone.”
Yates, who arrived in Taiwan yesterday for a short trip at the invitation of the Taipei-based think tank Prospect Foundation, said it would not be reasonable to “anticipate major changes in US policy at this point”.
Asked if there would be any arrangement for a possible meeting between Tsai and Trump during a planned transit stay in New York by the island’s leader, Yates said he was not aware of any such arrangements, and that he had “no affiliation with the president-elect’s transition team”.
Tsai is expected to visit three diplomatic allies in Central America next month in a trip the island’s media said might enable her to meet Trump’s team.
A source close to Taiwan’s foreign ministry said the visit was still being planned and that Tsai was expected to visit Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador in the second week of January.
Meanwhile, the White House said National Security Council officials spoke with officials in Beijing twice at the weekend to reassure them of the US commitment to its one-China policy.
“The Chinese government in Beijing places an enormous priority on this situation and it’s a sensitive matter. And some of the progress that we have made in our relationship with China could be undermined by this issue flaring up,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Monday.
Wu Xinbo, director of the Centre for American Studies at Fudan University, said Beijing would not rely on the reassurance from Obama administration officials on the one China policy. A direct communication channel with Trump’s team would need to be established.
“Trump is bound to boost US relations with Taiwan after he takes office because the Republican Party has had a close relationship with Taiwan,” Wu said.
The new US leader’s unorthodox style might pose uncertainties in communication between the two countries.
“As far as I know, our ambassador in the US has been in touch with his team,” Wu said. “But such kind of communication is in the early stage and [the two sides] have not established a regular communication channel.”
Wu said China would need to push ahead with opening a line of communication with Trump’s national security adviser and secretary of state once he officially took on January 20.
“His style is very different, you can’t even expect him to sit in the White House all day… This will be one of the challenges that all world leaders face [in communicating with Trump],” he said.
Additional reporting by Catherine Wong