Trump talk with Tsai sparks row
The incident is not expected to affect US backing for one-China consensus
US president-elect Donald Trump has caused an unexpected diplomatic incident with China by taking a phone call from Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen, but the call itself is expected to have “very limited influence” and is not expected to affect the one-China policy, analysts in Washington and Beijing said over the weekend.
On Friday, after Trump took the call, the White House reaffirmed its long-standing support for the one-China policy and the three China-US joint communiques, issued between 1972 and 1982, that guide China-US relations.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi called Tsai’s call to Trump “a little trick” by Taiwan which would not change the international one-China consensus. Beijing also lodged a “solemn representation” with Wash- ington, urging it to honor its commitments.
“Trump has caused a major diplomatic incident with China,” said Jon Taylor, professor of political science and a China specialist at the University of St Thomas in Houston.
Taylor said Trump had upset a consensus in place for decades. “I sincerely hope that this does not signal the beginning of a significant shift in US-China relations.”
For damage control, Trump needs to reassure Beijing, publicly or privately, that he will not change America’s long-standing policy and that US-Taiwan relations will stay unofficial, said Zhiqun Zhu, a professor of political science and international relations at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania.
The call was the starkest example yet of how Trump has flouted diplomatic conventions since he won the Nov 8 election, experts told the Associated Press. “President-elect Trump is just shooting from the hip, trying to take phone calls of congratulatory messages from leaders around the world without consideration for the implications,” said Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, the AP reported.
The call is a result of both Trump’s lack of experience in diplomacy as well as his not having finished choosing his foreign policy team. Still, most of those he has chosen are right-wing and anti-China, said Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China.
But Jin added, “It is highly likely that Trump, after he takes office, will continue the one-China policy that the US government has been adhering to over many years.”
Friday’s phone call between Taiwan leader Tsai Ingwen and US President-elect Donald Trump, which broke nearly four decades of US diplomatic practice, came as a bolt out of the blue. Because of that, it has been given a significance it doesn’t deserve by some. It exposed nothing but the inexperience Trump and his transition team have in dealing with foreign affairs. The action was due to a lack of a proper understanding of the sensitive issues in Sino-US relations and cross-Straits ties, the significance of which Trump and his team will quickly have to recognize and cautiously and properly address after they take over the reins in January.
As the next US president, Trump will shoulder the responsibility to safeguard the interests of his country, which includes maintaining a healthy relationship with China. To do that, he cannot afford to damage the one-China policy, which serves as the political foundation for bilateral ties and has been maintained by every US administration since 1979. Given the strong economic and people-to-people exchanges between the two countries at present, there is no reason for the incoming Trump administration to break away from it.
For Tsai, the phone call, a “petty gambit” as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called it, achieves nothing substantial, only pride in making what is an illusionary “groundbreaking move”, and temporarily diverting public attention on the island away from her bad performance.
However, it does nothing to change the cold reality of her record low approval rating and the island’s economic woes.
It would be a mistake for Tsai and her party to over-interpret the significance of the call and believe it can induce a change in the US’ long-standing recognition of the one-China policy. It simply reflects the need for Trump to quickly find his feet in his new role.
Actually, after reports of the phone call emerged, Ned Price, the White House National Security Council spokesman, said on Friday evening that Washington remains firmly committed to the one-China policy, which has been the bedrock for Sino-US ties, through the years of engagement.
Tsai should know the fundamental interests of the US lies in peaceful and stable cross-Straits ties and any attempt to win US support for the “independence” push of her Democratic Progressive Party will fail. No matter how she tries to stir up tensions in cross-Straits relations, her attempts will ultimately backfire, as demonstrated by her predecessor Chen Shui-bian between 2000 and 2008.