Donald Trump's letter to Xi Jinping not sign of shift in stance: Analysts

Ms Ivanka Trump attending a Chinese New Year reception at the Chinese Embassy in Washington last week with Chinese ambassador Cui Tiankai (far right). While Mr Trump has not spoken to President Xi since taking office, the visit by his daughter, and h
Ms Ivanka Trump attending a Chinese New Year reception at the Chinese Embassy in Washington last week with Chinese ambassador Cui Tiankai (far right). While Mr Trump has not spoken to President Xi since taking office, the visit by his daughter, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner's meeting with Mr Cui, have been perceived as positive moves.PHOTO: XINHUA

China reacts positively, but observers say it may not signal softening of hardline attitude

China has reacted positively to US President Donald Trump's letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping, saying the American President's Chinese New Year greeting was "highly appreciated".

But observers cautioned that China should not see the missive as the start of a gradual change in Mr Trump's hardline attitude towards the rising Asian superpower.

The White House said in a statement on Wednesday that Mr Trump wrote to Mr Xi to thank him for his congratulatory note on the former's inauguration on Jan 20. Mr Trump also wished the Chinese people a prosperous Year of the Rooster.

"President Trump stated that he looks forward to working with President Xi to develop a constructive relationship that benefits both the United States and China," said the statement.

Yesterday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said: "We highly appreciate President Trump's holiday greeting to President Xi Jinping and the Chinese people."

Ministry spokesman Lu Kang also noted that China and the US had maintained "close communication" since Mr Trump took office, and that cooperation was the "only correct choice".

  • Singapore and US reaffirm strong, longstanding ties

    Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan and United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have reaffirmed the longstanding and strong relationship between the two countries, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

    In a statement yesterday, MFA said Dr Balakrishnan and Mr Tillerson spoke over the phone.

    The conversation took place on Wednesday, Singapore time.

    "Secretary Tillerson knows Singapore well, and has met our leaders given his previous leadership of ExxonMobil," said the MFA statement.

    "They agreed on the enormous scope of regional business opportunities, the need for a principled collective stand against terrorism, and the importance of continued peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific," it added.

 

He added that China is willing to work with the US to further develop ties, with "mutual respect and mutual benefit".

Mr Trump's letter came nearly three weeks after his inauguration. During that time, the newly minted President spoke over the phone with the leaders of several countries, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. He also met British Prime Minister Theresa May.

This led to speculation over when Mr Trump would speak with the leader of the world's No. 2 economy, especially after he had been hostile towards China during his presidential campaign, threatening to declare it a currency manipulator and slap high tariffs on its goods.

But past US presidents did not always speak with Chinese leaders soon after taking office. For example, Mr George W. Bush took nearly half a year before he spoke with then President Jiang Zemin in July 2001.

While Mr Trump has not spoken with Mr Xi since he took office - although the two men did speak soon after the election - there have been some moves that have been perceived as positive. Mr Trump's daughter Ivanka attended a Chinese New Year reception at the Chinese Embassy in Washington last week, while his son-in-law Jared Kushner held closed-door talks with Chinese ambassador Cui Tiankai.

These moves were noted by the Global Times tabloid yesterday in an editorial that said Mr Trump's team has shown restraint towards China since his inauguration.

Meanwhile, the China Daily said in an editorial that "this show of goodwill will to some extent minimise the possibility of antagonistic rhetoric being turned into policies or actions that will set the two giants on a collision course".

However, US expert Shi Yinhong of Renmin University argued that Mr Trump's decision to write Mr Xi a letter, instead of calling him on the phone, showed an unwillingness on the US leader's part for the two sides to appear to be too close.

Meanwhile, Ms Yun Sun, a fellow at the Stimson Centre in Washington, DC, said it might be a good thing that Mr Trump was not "rushing into a conversation".

"I don't think Mr Trump has decided on his policy yet, so he doesn't want to set a tone that he needs to revoke later," she added.

• Additional reporting by Nirmal Ghosh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2017, with the headline 'Trump's letter not sign of shift in stance: Analysts'. Print Edition | Subscribe