After months of tough talk on the campaign trail on how to handle China — and after weeks of even tougher talk from some in his administration since being elected — President Donald Trump, according to official statements, has agreed to change course and abide by the ‘One China’ policy.
“President Donald J. Trump and President Xi of China had a lengthy telephone conversation on Thursday evening. The two leaders discussed numerous topics and President Trump agreed, at the request of President Xi, to honor [their] ‘one China’ policy,” a White House statement said.
Describing the phone call as a “very cordial,” one in which the two leaders “extended best wishes to the people of each other’s country,” the statement says that going forward, “the United States and China will engage in discussions and negotiations on various issues of mutual interest.”
In a statement published by China’s Foreign Ministry, President Xi appeared appreciative of Trump’s acceptance of the ‘One China’ doctrine:
“I believe that the United States are China are cooperative partners, and through joint efforts we can push bilateral relations to historic new high.”
Suggesting there’s no reason both nations can’t grow at the same time, Xi added, “The development of China and the United States absolutely can complement each other and advance together. Both sides absolutely can become very good cooperative partners.”
Trump campaigned on nationalistic rhetoric rooted in an “America First” ideology that advocated economic protectionism. This stood in stark contrast to the ‘One China’ policy the Asian superpower requires other countries to recognize if they wish to engage it in trade and commerce.
Since entering the White House, comments made by Trump and certain members of his administration — such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who suggested the U.S. should block China’s access to artificial islands in the South China Sea — have had world leaders and analysts worrying about a possible trade war, a global currency crisis, and the potential for a military conflict between the two superpowers.
Now, with Trump seemingly succumbing to the will of the Chinese leader, many analysts are saying the new U.S. president has lost serious face.
James Zimmerman, former head of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, told the Washington Post that Trump never should’ve raised the ‘One China’ issue in the first place.
“There is certainly a way of negotiating with the Chinese, but threats concerning fundamental, core interests are counterproductive from the get-go,” he said. “The end result is that Trump just confirmed to the world that he is a paper tiger, a zhilaohu — someone that seems threatening but is wholly ineffectual and unable to stomach a challenge.”
The New York Times, noting in its article title that Trump just gave China an upper-hand, opened the piece by suggesting the new U.S. president has “handed China a victory and sullied his reputation with its leader.”
Speaking with the Times, Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing and advisor to China’s State Council, would seem to agree with this assessment.
“This will be interpreted in China as a great success,” he said, “achieved by Xi’s approach of dealing with him.”
Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University, concurs.
“The Chinese will see him as weak,” he told the Times. “He has reinforced the impression in Beijing that Trump is not serious about managing the U.S.-China relationship.”
Whatever the reputational fallout for President Trump, there’s no question the Chinese are feeling much more comfortable about future dealings between the two nations.
Stating that previous comments from the Trump administration had U.S.-China relations “tumbling and collapsing,” Ni Feng, deputy director of the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Studies, suggested to the Times that there could much clearer skies ahead:
“Now we can say that Sino-U.S. relations can proceed.”