Wed, Apr 12, 2017 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Taipei must affect US-China ties

From the US’ statement following the talks between US President Donald Trump and Chinese President XI Jinping (習近平), it seems that Taiwan was not brought up and Trump said nothing damaging to the nation’s interests.

This was a weight off the minds of many in Taiwan who were concerned about Trump’s cross-strait policy.

However, that was just the first hurdle and things could change. There will be more such tests.

At the meeting in Florida, Trump, a political neophyte, and Xi, who has more than four years of experience as China’s leader under his belt, were essentially taking the measure of each other.

Trump’s team was insufficiently prepared and was keen to avoid any major decisions being made. There were no major substantive results from the meeting; the only real agreement was the establishment of a new high-level dialogue mechanism to replace the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

The mechanism enabled high-level representatives to meet annually to discuss important global strategic and economic issues, with the location alternating between Washington and Beijing. The new format is to consist of four consultation mechanisms concerning security and diplomacy; economics and trade; law enforcement and cybersecurity; and societal and people-to-people exchanges.

The meeting was about both sides aiming to come out looking good for their domestic audiences. It was an orchestrated performance.

In terms of establishing a relationship, the two men can be said to have been successful. Xi, not long after Trump took office and a few months before a key Chinese Communist Party congress, visited the US, was entertained at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and got his host to pull back on some of the negative comments and attitudes he had displayed toward China prior to taking office. That saved a lot of face for Xi, who found himself with a sure footing.

Trump, despite not getting immediate concessions from China on trade, North Korea or the South China Sea, did score points by ordering a missile attack on Syria during a banquet. He informed Xi of the situation and in a post-meeting joint statement made it appear as if the action was endorsed by the Chinese side, putting Xi in an uncomfortable position.

However, Chinese media outlets were quick to criticize the US bombing of Syria, demonstrating that Beijing was extremely displeased.

The US statement might not have mentioned Taiwan, but Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) did broach the subject of Taiwan and Tibet at a news conference, as the Chinese always do.

Perhaps the different approaches can be accounted for by the fact that side party mentioned Taiwan, or perhaps the Chinese raised it, but Washington did not budge, or did not care much and stayed silent.

It is extremely likely that Washington and Beijing had already addressed the issue on Feb. 9, when Trump spoke to Xi by telephone.

Regardless, Beijing was content to have brought Trump back to the position of the US’ “one China” policy, and Trump was happy to allow Xi to think that he had returned to that stance without having to concede anything, in the process perhaps hanging on to a number of bargaining chips.

So, who emerged the winner and who was the loser? It is too early to say.

Taiwan could take a passive approach and hope that its own interests are not compromised every time there is a high-level meeting between US and Chinese officials, but this would be a case of not seeing the forest for the trees.

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