US President Donald Trump’s decision to roll back his rhetoric on ‘One China’ policy is a sign that he is “learning” about his new job and no longer wants to be a “disruptor” of the Sino-US ties, China’s official media said today. Hailing Trump’s surprise commitment to Chinese President Xi Jinping during their first phone call to abide by the ‘One China’ policy which was observed by the US for decades, recognising Taiwan as part of Chinese mainland, the state-run Global Times said Trump has changed his rhetoric about China.
“Since assuming office, Trump and his team have changed their rhetoric about China. Trump has stopped openly challenging China’s core interests, and instead showed respect to Beijing,” it said in an editorial. Before assuming office, Trump had said he did not feel “bound by a one-China policy” and had broken protocol by speaking with Taiwan’s President on the phone.
China considers Taiwan to be a breakaway province to be brought back within its fold, by force if necessary, and is opposed to any official contact between foreign governments with the leaders of the self-governing island. The first phone conversation between Xi and Trump – the leaders of the world’s largest economies – come after lengthy round of negotiations during which the Chinese side reported to have insisted that Trump should show commitment to the One China policy which he had promised to renegotiate.
“The change creates an impression that Trump is learning about his role in the realm of Sino-US ties. He’s now sending a new message that he does not want to be a disruptor of the Sino-US relations,” the editorial said. “This phone call between the top leaders 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.
“Uncertainties still loom but they will be about specific interests. The Sino-US relations will continue to move forward under the complicated framework where cooperation and frictions coexist,” it said. Before assuming office, Trump gave an impression that a trade war between the two countries was around the corner. The communications between the two countries since Trump came to power were not high profile but have now proven to be effective.
“The phone call between Xi and Trump marks the beginning of a new stage of diplomatic interactions between the top leaders. There are many unresolved issues that need to be addressed. When facing difficulty, neither country should act impetuously. “They should know that even if some problems cannot be removed like a rock, when the time comes, they can be submerged under the river of history,” it said. Another official newspaper, China Daly said “should he (Trump) seek to change the state of affairs by playing the Taiwan card and undermining the longstanding One-China policy, Sino-US relations will see earthshaking reversals.
“But the phone conversation between the Chinese and US Presidents went far beyond fulfilling the routine formalities and making up for the once missing symbolism,” it said. Among the numerous topics they touched upon during the conversation over the phone, it was Taiwan that mattered the most, it said. Chinese state-run think-tanks also welcomed Trump’s affirmation of One China policy. Ruan Zongze, vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies, said that since Trump’s assurance on the One-China policy has removed a stumbling block on bilateral ties, the two sides can now start talks on a two-way cooperative mechanism.
Cheng Li, director of the John L. Thornton China Centre of the Brookings Institution, told the Daily that improving US relations with China and Russia is part of Trump’s global strategy. Li Haidong, a professor of US studies at China Foreign Affairs University, said that Trump’s clarification on the One-China policy is likely the result of evolving discussions within the Trump team on China policies and the end of the team’s internal divergence.
Since China is indispensable for resolving many global and regional issues, part of Trump’s long-term diplomatic strategy may be to “strike a balance between US treaty allies and China”, not sabotaging ties with either side, Li said. Zhong Feiteng, an expert on Asia-Pacific affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Trump’s clarification might have been partly driven by the urgency to fulfill his campaign pledges on economic policies. “Since China accounts for 30 to 40 per cent of global growth, if he breaks up with China, it will be quite difficult for him to boost public satisfaction and employment,” Zhong said.