President Donald Trump has agreed to adhere to the longstanding one-China policy, despite his previous statements.
Trump called Chinese President Xi Jinping late Thursday night to discuss the bilateral relationship. During the “lengthy conversation,” Trump “agreed, at the request of President Xi, to honor our ‘One China’ policy,” an official White House statement revealed.
Chinese media reports that Xi appreciated Trump’s decision to uphold the one-China policy, which states that there is only one China represented by the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese government perceives the “one-China” policy as a “prerequisite for the development of relations between China and the rest of the world.”
Trump rattled Beijing in early December by breaking with decades of diplomatic practice and protocol and accepting a phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
China dismissed the call as a rookie move, but one week later, Trump doubled down.
“I don’t want China dictating to me,” Trump stressed to Fox News. “Why should some other nation be able to say I can’t take a call?”
“I fully understand the ‘one China’ policy, but I don’t know why we have to be bound by a ‘one China’ policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade,” he added.
One week before he took office, he tripled down on his claims.
“Everything is under negotiation, including one China,” Trump explained to The Wall Street Journal.
Trump’s decision to disrespect what China considers a “non-negotiable” core interest infuriated Beijing. The Chinese government and Chinese media outlets repeatedly issued warnings and threats.
If Trump opens the “Pandora’s box of lethal potential” that is the Taiwan issue, “a period of fierce, damaging interactions will be unavoidable, as Beijing will have no choice but to take off the gloves,” the state-run China Daily explained.
In the end, Trump gave in to Beijing’s demands.
The phone conversation between the two leaders was “extremely cordial,” and Trump and Xi invited the other to visit their respective countries.
The decision to uphold the one China policy was reportedly approved by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who advocated preserving the policy in his written responses to the questions asked during his Senate confirmation hearing. Upholding the policy was seen as a necessary action to open the lines of communication between Trump and Xi.
Some observers suggest that Trump’s team convinced him that the one-China policy was not an effective point of leverage.
“The ‘One China’ policy is not a card on the bargaining table — it is the table itself. Taiwan is also a vital U.S. partner and thriving democracy of 23 million people. Its future is not ours to bargain away,” Paul Haenle, the director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center based in Beijing, told CNN.
Haenle argues that agreeing to the policy may open the door to positive discussions on important issues affecting the bilateral relatioship.
“I believe that the United States and China are cooperative partners, and through joint efforts we can push bilateral relations to a historic new high,” Chinese media quoted Xi as having said during Thursday nights phone call with Trump.
“It’s still likely to be an abrasive relationship,” Ashley Townshend, a research fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, told reporters.
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