Xi welcomes Trump's move to back 'one China'

US President Donald Trump (right) called China President Xi Jinping yesterday morning (Feb 10).
US President Donald Trump (right) called China President Xi Jinping yesterday morning (Feb 10).PHOTO: REUTERS

US President clears the air in call to Chinese counterpart and paves way for healthier ties

China has welcomed US President Donald Trump's reaffirmation of the "one China" policy in his phone conversation with President Xi Jinping - a move that is likely to put bilateral relations on an even keel.

Mr Xi told Mr Trump that he appreciated the latter's "emphasis on the American government's commitment to the 'one China' policy, and pointed out that the 'one China' principle is the political foundation of US-China relations", a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement said.

Mr Trump called Mr Xi yesterday morning, during which he "agreed, at the request of President Xi, to honour our 'one China' policy", a White House statement said.

The "one China" policy acknowledges Beijing's position that there is only one China and that both the mainland and Taiwan belong to it. It has been the cornerstone of bilateral ties since Washington and Beijing established diplomatic relations in 1979.

However, Mr Trump broke with tradition in December to speak directly with Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen and later questioned the "one China" policy.

He told the Wall Street Journal last month that "everything is under negotiation, including 'one China' ". His stance angered Beijing, which made clear that this was non-negotiable.

Mr Trump has backed down from this position because of the risks involved, observers said.

"Trump's effort to use the 'one China' policy as a bargaining chip threatened to undermine the bilateral relationship. The Chinese firmly conveyed that this was non- negotiable. Trump apparently was convinced that the risks were too great," said Ms Bonnie Glaser, a specialist in Chinese foreign and security policy at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think-tank.

Indeed, Professor Zha Daojiong of Peking University's School of International Studies said there would have been no phone call without Mr Trump's reaffirmation of the "one China" policy.

It would have been tantamount to China acquiescing to Mr Trump's questioning of the policy.

Chinese tabloid Global Times, in an editorial yesterday, said the phone call "is a sign that some confusion in the relationship has been sorted out at the current stage".

"The Sino-US ties have, after a little shiver, returned to where they are supposed to stand," it said, adding that neither country should try to break the other's bottom line and that both sides should resolve their differences through dialogue.

Mr Xi also told Mr Trump that China was ready to work with the United States to strengthen communication, expand cooperation and boost the development of China-US ties.

As Ms Glaser put it: "Now officials from the two countries can begin to discuss other issues. A crisis has been averted, to the relief of most of the world."

• Additional reporting by Nirmal Ghosh

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2017, with the headline 'Xi welcomes Trump's move to back 'one China''. Print Edition | Subscribe