February 10, 2017

Conceding ‘One China’ Policy?

Trump’s gesture is sure to ease growing diplomatic tensions.

In the early days after Donald Trump’s historic election victory he accepted a congratulatory phone call from Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen. This controversial gesture ignited a firestorm of speculation, much of it centered on questions of Trump’s competence to handle historically sticky foreign policy issues. Was Trump intending to “needlessly” offend China over its “One China” policy (not acknowledging Taiwan’s independence), which all previous administrations since 1979 had abided by? Indeed, the Chinese media was certainly agitated by Trump’s action, stating that he was “ignorant as a child” and warning, “‘One China’ cannot be traded.”

At the time, Trump offered no further clarification than to indicate that the issue could be used as a bargaining chip for economic and security negotiations. Trump’s rhetoric toward China maintained an aggressive tone, as was China’s stance in return. But that all changed with the phone call last night strategically timed during the Chinese new year holiday. Trump said that he “agreed at the request of President Xi” Jinping to abide by the “One China” policy. The Chinese government seemed pleased with the gesture as both Trump and Xi have accepted invitations to visit their counterpart’s respective country. So water under the bridge.

Trump, as a business man, understands wanting to keep people guessing while negotiating the best deal, and maybe some behind the scenes deal has been reached already. However, this may also be an example of Trump listening to the advice of his cabinet, especially that of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who took a markedly different position than Trump on U.S.-China relations during his confirmation hearings. Either way, this appears to be a wise move on Trump’s part in working to ease diplomatic tensions.

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