Phone call is 'good and bad news' for Taiwan

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen had phoned Mr Donald Trump on Dec 2 to congratulate him on his election, the first such contact between the two sides' leaders since Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen had phoned Mr Donald Trump on Dec 2 to congratulate him on his election, the first such contact between the two sides' leaders since Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.PHOTO: REUTERS

Taiwan's reaction to the phone call between United States President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping was muted, compared with the publicity over its own president's ground-breaking chat with Mr Trump two months ago.

Ms Tsai Ing-wen had phoned Mr Trump on Dec 2 to congratulate him on his election, the first such contact between the two sides' leaders since Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

Mr Trump incensed Beijing further last month when he said everything was up for negotiation in US-China ties, including Washington's "one China" policy.

Ms Tsai's spokesman Alex Huang yesterday sought to play down the significance of the Trump-Xi call. It is in Taiwan's interest to maintain good relations with both the US and China, he said in a statement. He suggested that Taiwan had been informed of the Trump-Xi call in advance.

"Taiwan and the US had kept in close contact on it (Trump-Xi call), and were able to maintain a 'zero surprises' approach."

Mr Trump's pledge to Mr Xi to honour the "one China" policy could have both negative and positive repercussions for the self- ruled island, local media quoted Taiwanese analysts as saying.

Professor Wang Kaochen of Tamkang University said Taiwan could be punished by China if Mr Trump abandoned the policy and roiled the trilateral relationship.

Chinese Culture University political science professor Edward Chen, however, predicted Taiwan would find it even more difficult to buy weapons like the F16 C/D fighter jets from the US.

A free trade agreement the island is negotiating with the US is also likely to be blocked by China, he told the semi-official Central News Agency.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2017, with the headline 'Phone call is 'good and bad news' for Taiwan'. Print Edition | Subscribe