President Donald Trump reaffirmed Washington’s ‘One China’ policy on Thursday in his first conversation with Xi Jinping, an apparent effort to ease tensions after angering Beijing by questioning a major plank of Sino-US relations.
During a phone call with China’s leader, the US president agreed to “honour” a position that effectively acknowledges Taiwan is not separate from China.
“President Trump agreed, at the request of President Xi, to honour our ‘One China’ policy,” the White House said in a statement, adding that the two leaders had “extended invitations to meet in their respective countries.”
The White House called the phone discussion — which came on the eve of Trump’s slated meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — “extremely cordial,” saying the leaders “look forward to further talks with very successful outcomes.”
Xi, a nationalist who took the helm of the Communist Party-ruled country in 2012, welcomed Trump’s gesture.
“Xi Jinping appreciates Trump’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,” according to a Chinese foreign ministry’s statement.
Trump’s insurgent campaign for the White House included frequently lashing out at China, which he accused of currency manipulation and stealing American jobs.
He raised eyebrows in the wake of his election victory with a protocol-busting telephone conversation with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen.
He later threw doubt on the “One China” policy, suggesting that it was up for negotiation and could form part of talks on trade, drawing rebukes from official Chinese media.
Taiwan has been ruled separately since the two sides split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.
Despite having its own government, military and independent foreign policy, Beijing has refused to recognise the island, viewing it as a troublesome province that will one day be reunited with the mainland — by force, if necessary.
Washington cut formal ties with Taipei in 1979, when it recognised the Communist mainland rulers in Beijing.
However, the US remains Taiwan’s most powerful unofficial ally and its main supplier of arms.
Trump’s suggestion that he could restore relations with Taipei — which Beijing views as a non-starter — had threatened to chill ties with the Asian giant.
Beijing had been prepared to give Trump-the-candidate a pass, said Wu Xinbo, Director of the Center for American Studies at China’s Fudan University.