Comment

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - The au­thor is deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily Asia Pa­cific. jas­mine@chi­nadai­lyhk.com WANG HUI

No US pres­i­dent or pres­i­den­t­elect has spo­ken to a Tai­wan leader since 1979. So the sur­pris­ing tele­phone call be­tween Tai­wan leader Tsai Ing-wen and US Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump on Fri­day pro­vides fur­ther proof that the in­com­ing US leader is de­ter­mined to defy con­ven­tion both do­mes­ti­cally and in his for­eign re­la­tions.

The three joint com­mu­niques the United States signed with China in 1972, 1978 and 1982, no mat­ter read sep­a­rately or as one, all ex­plic­itly say the US rec­og­nizes Tai­wan as part of China and the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China as the sole le­gal gov­ern­ment of China.

Even though the world had got used to Trump’s wild, and some­times of­fen­sive, re­marks dur­ing his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, it would be un­rea­son­able to tol­er­ate his dis­re­gard of the US’ com­mit­ments to the three mon­u­men­tal doc­u­ments, which lay the political foun­da­tion for China-US ties.

With me­dia spec­u­la­tion run­ning rife about whether Trump was play­ing the “Tai­wan card”, it is nec­es­sary to re­mind the US pres­i­dent-elect and his tran­si­tion team about the sen­si­tiv­ity of the Tai­wan ques­tion. Over the years, com­pared with skir­mishes in such ar­eas as trade, cy­ber se­cu­rity and cur­rency, the Tai­wan ques­tion has al­ways re­mained the most sen­si­tive in bi­lat­eral ties.

As US pres­i­dent-elect, Trump needs to send pos­i­tive sig­nals so as to en­sure the change of lead­er­ship in the US will not bring too much uncer­tainty, or even spell trou­ble for the US for­eign pol­icy, in­clud­ing China-US re­la­tions.

That is why both Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can US pres­i­dents in re­cent years have trod a pru­dent path when han­dling the US re­la­tion­ship with the is­land with­out pro­vok­ing Bei­jing’s most sen­si­tive diplo­matic nerve.

As an opin­ion piece in The Wall Street Jour­nal on Mon­day noted, Ron­ald Rea­gan, Bill Clin­ton and Ge­orge W. Bush all took of­fice pledg­ing closer re­la­tions with Taipei, with Bush even promis­ing “what­ever it takes” to de­fend the is­land. Once in of­fice, how­ever, they all pri­or­i­tized ties with Bei­jing.

Af­ter the ef­forts from both sides in pro­mot­ing bi­lat­eral in­ter­ac­tion for nearly four decades, the en­tirety of China-US re­la­tions now has sig­nif­i­cance be­yond the bi­lat­eral scope.

The colos­sal size of trade, the ever deep­en­ing peo­ple-to-peo­ple ex­changes and the mu­tual need to co­op­er­ate on im­por­tant re­gional and in­ter­na­tional is­sues all bear wit­ness to the grow­ing con­ver­gence of in­ter­ests be­tween the two coun­tries.

That may well ex­plain why Bei­jing dis­missed the phone call as a “petty trick” while lodg­ing diplo­matic rep­re­sen­ta­tions. Such a rel­a­tively mild re­sponse in­di­cates Bei­jing’s ma­tu­rity in han­dling the com­plex­ity of China-US re­la­tions.

A doc­trine in Bei­jing’s diplo­macy says one should judge peo­ple by their deeds, not just by their words. As US pres­i­dent-elect, Trump still has some time to learn the rudi­ments of China-US re­la­tions so that he does not make any mis­steps that may de­flect the re­la­tion­ship from the right track.

In fact, if his­tory is a mir­ror, Trump does not need to look back more than two decades to un­der­stand the tan­gi­ble risks of a head-on con­flict be­tween the two coun­tries. Dur­ing that pe­riod, the two coun­tries ex­pe­ri­enced some of the most crit­i­cal crises be­tween them in re­cent years.

On Novem­ber 2000, Bush, the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, beat Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Al Gore to be elected as the new US pres­i­dent. On April 1 that year, or less than three months af­ter Bush’s inau­gu­ra­tion, a Chi­nese PLA Navy J-8 fighter jet col­lided with a US Navy EP-3 spy plane off South China’s Hainan Is­land, which caused the death of the Chi­nese pi­lot Wang Wei.

Prior to this, bi­lat­eral ties were strained by the Yinhe cri­sis in 1993, in which the US falsely ac­cused the Chi­nese freighter of car­ry­ing ma­te­ri­als for chem­i­cal weapons to Iran, and the es­ca­la­tion of ten­sions be­tween the main­land and Tai­wan in 1996.

As US pres­i­dent-elect, Trump needs to send pos­i­tive sig­nals so as to en­sure the change of lead­er­ship in the US will not bring too much uncer­tainty, or even spell trou­ble for the US for­eign pol­icy, in­clud­ing China-US re­la­tions.

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