Shock Trump-Tsai phone call not reversal of US' 'one China' policy: Taiwan analysts

A handout picture released by the Office of the President Taiwan on Dec 3, 2016, shows Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen having a phone conversation with US President-elect Donald Trump late evening in Taipei, Taiwan, Dec 2, 2016.
A handout picture released by the Office of the President Taiwan on Dec 3, 2016, shows Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen having a phone conversation with US President-elect Donald Trump late evening in Taipei, Taiwan, Dec 2, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

TAIPEI - The shock phone call between Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and US President-elect Donald Trump should not be seen as a reversal of the US' adherence to the "one China" policy, say Taiwan analysts and observers.

"It is just a 10 minute call with both leaders making general conversation without any substantive discussion. Its just a friendly gesture by Mr Trump which will not make much of a difference in his policy position," said Tamkang University political analyst Edward Chen.

Dr Chen said he did not expect China to immediately respond. Beijing would "wait and see how things develop", he said.

"What will matter more is what Mr Trump will do when he is in office - whether he increases arms sales or sells more sophisticated equipment and weapons or whether he changes his stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership."

Dr Philip Yang, former deputy secretary-general of Taiwan's National Security Council, said Mr Trump was sending a message to Beijing that US-China relations would be "different from the past", but the move does not mean the President-elect is reversing current US-China ties or policy.

"He is using Taiwan as leverage to signal to China that they will need to sit down and talk," said Dr Yang, the president of Association of International Relations.

 

"He is showing more flexibility and trying to please the right-wing Republicans who are pushing for more support for Taiwan but it does not mean he is reversing current US-China ties or policy.

"It is not in his interest which is mainly economic and trade issues. I don't think he will cross the line."

Taiwan’s policy making body on China, the Mainland Affairs Council, said China should look at the call “calmly”.

“We call on China to face the new situation in the Asia-Pacific region and work with us towards developing a benign cross-strait relationship and create a new way that will benefit the development of peace, prosperity and stability for the region,” MAC said in a statement. 

The call has shocked many in the diplomatic circle, saying that it breaks with the diplomatic practice as US cut formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979 and recognises Beijing as the government of "One China", while keeping friendly non-official ties with Taipei.

China regards self-ruling Taiwan as part of its own territory awaiting reunification under Beijing's rule, and any US move that would imply support for independence might cause a fallout

It is not clear who initiated the call on Friday night, although Mr Trump tweeted a message saying that Ms Tsai called him. 

In response to media queries, Taiwan's Presidential Office said both sides agreed to the call ahead of time and that Taipei would initiate the call.

The Presidential Office said in a statement Ms Tsai congratulated Mr Trump for successfully winning the elections and "admired how he was able to emerge victorious from the intensely competitive race".

"She wished President-Elect Trump well and believes that he will display outstanding governance when in office," said the statement.

The office also issued a photograph of Ms Tsai during the call. The president was pictured with national security council secretary-general Joseph Wu and foreign minister David Lee by her side.

The statement added that both leaders exchanged views on the regional situation in Asia. On the future of Taiwan- US ties, Ms Tsai was quoted as saying she hopes to strengthen bilateral interaction and contacts, and establish closer cooperation.

"The president also hopes that the US side will continue to support Taiwan in the international issues more participation and contribution opportunities," said the statement.

When asked how the call would impact cross-strait relations, Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang said it is in the interest of Taiwan to maintain a good Taiwan-US relationship because it is as important as cross-strait relations. "A good cross-strait and Taiwan-US relationship is also crucial to regional peace and stability. This is the goal that the government must strive for. There is no conflict with each other."

Dr Lo Chih-cheng, a legislator of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), hailed the call as a breakthrough in Taiwan-US ties and said it underscores the strong friendship between both sides.

While Dr Lo expects the call to provoke China, he said it is too early to say how cross-strait ties will worsen.

"It is just one event, It may open up more possibilities to Taiwan in the global community, probably more interactions but too early to say how or what because it is just one call with no policy discussions."

The opposition Kuomintang, which ruled Taiwan for eight years before ceding power to Ms Tsai's DPP in May, said it welcomes the phone call and is grateful that the US continues to support Taiwan. 

But it added in a statement: "Our national security agencies should appropriately analyse whether this teleconference, the highest level interaction between the countries since 1979, was simply a courtesy call or represents a change in US policy". 

"The KMT also calls on President Tsai to report to the people of Taiwan on the direction of its United States trade and military cooperation policies subsequent to the teleconference with President-elect Trump and the inauguration of a new US administration," said the statement. 

Mr Eric Huang, KMT's Director of International Affairs,  said he hopes that the DPP will implement foreign policies that consider regional and cross-straits political relations, and have our country’s benefit as the primary strategic consideration, rather than engage in events that merely offer foreign policy public relations value.

"The KMT hopes our government continues the “no surprises” foreign policy implemented under the recent eight-year KMT government, as it forms the basis of a foreign policy that benefits the people of both countries."