Tai­wan pres­i­dent low-key on Trump phone call

Beijing fumes as Tsai plays down con­tact in in­ter­view, de­nies any shift in pol­icy

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY GUY TAY­LOR

TAIPEI, TAI­WAN | In her first pub­lic com­ments since a prece­dent-shat­ter­ing phone con­ver­sa­tion with Pres­i­dent-elect Trump, Pres­i­dent Tsai Ing-wen on Tues­day was not tak­ing a diplo­matic vic­tory lap, stress­ing in­stead that “one phone call does not mean a pol­icy shift” be­tween Wash­ing­ton and the is­land democ­racy that China re­gards as its ter­ri­tory.

While Fri­day’s phone call in­fu­ri­ated Beijing and in­spired an ex­er­cise in dam­age con­trol by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, the cau­tious Ms. Tsai out­lined a far more mod­est in­tent be­hind the ex­change with Mr. Trump, ap­par­ently the first di­rect talk be­tween a Tai­wanese leader and an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent or pres­i­dent-elect in four decades.

“The phone call was a way for us to ex­press our re­spect for the U.S. elec­tion as well as to con­grat­u­late Pres­i­dent-elect Trump on his win,” Ms. Tsai told a small group of Amer­i­can re­porters about the call that has made head­lines around the world since Mr. Trump tweeted about it over the week­end.

“I do not fore­see ma­jor pol­icy shifts in the near fu­ture be­cause we all see the value of sta­bil­ity in the region,” Ms. Tsai told the U.S. re­porters in Taipei on a trip spon­sored by the U.S.-backed East-West Cen­ter.

Her re­marks re­flected a cau­tious pos­ture taken by others in her ad­min­is­tra­tion while Mr. Trump and his aides have sent con­flict­ing sig­nals about what plan­ning went into the phone call, which has been widely per­ceived as a clear nod by the in­com­ing U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion to Tai­wanese sovereignty.

The call is be­lieved to have been the first in 40 years be­tween a Tai­wanese leader and a U.S. pres­i­dent-elect in the wake of the 1979 “One China” pol­icy, in which Wash­ing­ton rec­og­nized China as the sole legal govern­ment of the Chi­nese peo­ple and cut off of­fi­cial diplo­matic re­la­tions with Tai­wan.

China lodged a diplo­matic protest on Satur­day over the call, plac­ing most of the blame not on Mr. Trump but on the Tsai govern­ment for en­gag­ing in it as a “petty” move to ag­i­tate Beijing. China’s For­eign Min­istry said it had lodged “stern” protests with what it called the “rel­e­vant U.S. side,” im­ply­ing that it had raised the mat­ter di­rectly with Mr. Trump’s tran­si­tion team.

While Mr. Trump tweeted Satur­day that Ms. Tsai had ini­ti­ated the call with him, it was un­clear whether his tweet­ing about it was a risky rookie for­eign pol­icy mistake or a strate­gic move to ad­vise China to ready it­self for a more mus­cu­lar pos­ture from the in­com­ing U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion.

A spokesman for Ms. Tsai has said both sides agreed to the call be­fore it took place, ac­cord­ing to Reuters, and some in Tai­wan’s wider govern­ment and diplo­matic com­mu­nity said the call clearly in­volved close plan­ning.

Szu-chien Hsu, pres­i­dent of the Tai­wan Foun­da­tion for Democ­racy, an in­de­pen­dent or­ga­ni­za­tion with back­ing from the govern­ment, said there’s no way Mr. Trump was act­ing on im­pulse with the call.

“I’m think­ing it was be­ing pre­pared for quite a long time,” said Mr. Hsu, a for­mer po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor in Tai­wan, who cred­ited the in­com­ing U.S. pres­i­dent with us­ing the call to gen­er­ate a strate­gic ad­van­tage over Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping.

“I think Trump has put Xi Jin­ping in a very awk­ward position — a dif­fi­cult position,” Mr. Hsu said. “It’s awk­ward for Beijing. How do you re­act to that? If you make too big a deal, then you’re hurt­ing your­self. You’re hurt­ing your pos­si­ble re­la­tion­ship with Trump.”

On Twit­ter, Mr. Trump has lashed out at crit­ics who ac­cused him of act­ing ir­re­spon­si­bly to­ward the del­i­cate diplo­macy over China and Tai­wan.

“Did China ask us if it was OK to carry out a num­ber of ac­tions such as build up dis­puted is­lands in the South China Sea or take eco­nomic mea­sures hurt­ful to the United States?” Mr. Trump tweeted.

Ms. Tsai’s own rise to the Tai­wanese pres­i­dency has prompted hope dur­ing re­cent months in Wash­ing­ton for a more pro-U.S. govern­ment in Tai­wan than that of for­mer Pres­i­dent Ma Ying-jeo, a mem­ber of Tai­wan’s Chi­nese Na­tion­al­ist Party, who had spent the pre­vi­ous eight years adopt­ing a more con­cil­ia­tory pos­ture to­ward Beijing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.