Trump talk with Tsai sparks row

The in­ci­dent is not ex­pected to af­fect US back­ing for one-China con­sen­sus

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By CHEN WEIHUA in Wash­ing­ton and ZHAO HUANXIN in Bei­jing Wang Qingyun con­trib­uted to this story. Con­tact the writ­ers at zhao­huanxin@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

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