Trump agrees to support 'One China' policy in Xi Jinping call

After nearly three weeks as president Trump talks to Chinese leader and, when asked, agrees to maintain status quo

Donald Trump has held his first telephone conversation with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, since entering the White House, telling the Communist party leader he will not challenge Beijing by upending longstanding US policy towards Taiwan.

In a brief statement the White House said the leaders of the world’s two largest economies had held a “lengthy” and “extremely cordial” telephone call on Thursday evening in which “numerous topics” were discussed.

“President Trump agreed, at the request of President Xi, to honor our ‘One China’ policy,” the White House said, referring to a diplomatic understanding by which Washington does not challenge China’s claim over Taiwan, a democratically ruled island that Beijing considers a breakaway province.

In a much lengthier account of the call Xinhua, China’s official news agency, said Xi had vowed to work with Trump’s administration to ensure relations could advance “in a sound and stable manner”.

“The two countries are totally capable of becoming good cooperative partners,” Xi was quoted as telling Trump.

“Trump said he was glad to talk over the phone with Xi,” Xinhua added, reporting that the two leaders had agreed to “keep close contact with each other” and to “strengthen mutually beneficial cooperation in trade and economy, investment as well as international affairs”.

“Both of them expressed their eagerness to hold a meeting at an early date,” Xinhua said.

Lu Kang, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, told reporters the two presidents were looking forward to meeting in person “at their earliest convenience”, with officials from both countries now working towards such a get-together. “China and the US need to cooperate, and can cooperate in many areas,” Lu said.

The cordial encounter follows an “unsafe” one on Wednesday in the South China Sea between a Chinese aircraft and a US Navy patrol plane. US Pacific Command spokesman Robert Shuford said on Friday the “interaction” between a Chinese KJ-200 early warning aircraft and a US Navy P-3C plane happened in international airspace but did not say what was regarded as unsafe.

Shuford said the US plane was on a routine mission and operating according to international law.

The Chinese defence ministry has not responded to a request by Associated Press for comment.

Following his shock election in November last year, Trump had infuriated and unnerved Beijing by questioning his administration’s commitment to the “One China” policy and holding an unprecedented phone conversation with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen.

His team, which includes several notorious China policy hawks, had also threatened a much harder line against Beijing on issues such as trade and the South China Sea, where Trump has accused China of building a “massive fortress”.

On Tuesday some of the world’s leading China specialists had warned that already “precarious” ties between Beijing and Washington could be plunged into a dangerous new era, partly as a result of Trump’s rise to power.

Bonnie Glaser, the director of the China power project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank in Washington, said the long-awaited conversation between the two leaders, which had taken almost three weeks to arrange, would calm fears that US-China relations were on the verge of a damaging breakdown.

“I think the entire region will heave a sigh of relief here,” she said. “One hopes that what this understanding has achieved is to enable the US and China to head off a major crisis.”

Glaser said she believed China had been holding off arranging a phone call with Trump until it was convinced he would not seek to challenge Beijing over Taiwan.

“The Chinese were unwilling to have that conversation unless and until they were sure it would resolve this problem,” she said. “There has been ongoing discussion in the Trump administration over the last several weeks about what to do on this issue … It became clear that the relationship would be frozen in the absence of Trump taking a firm position.”

The White House statement said the two presidents had “extended invitations to meet in their respective countries” and that officials from both countries would now engage in “discussions and negotiations on various issues of mutual interest”.

“President Trump and President Xi look forward to further talks with very successful outcomes,” it added.

Tensions between Washington and Beijing mounted after Trump’s election, with the incoming president angering Beijing by hinting he was considering changing foreign policy on Taiwan unless trade concessions were made. Beijing warned Taiwan was a “non-negotiable” issue after the billionaire said “everything is under negotiation”.

Paul Haenle, a veteran US diplomat who is the director of the Carnegie–Tsinghua Centre in Beijing, said he believed secretary of state Rex Tillerson had convinced Trump to pull back from his threats to ditch “One China”.

“Trump had been toying with the notion of trying to use it to get leverage with the Chinese but was convinced that it was in the US interests to abide by it … Trump was convinced, and rightly so, that the ‘One China’ policy is not something we do because it is good for Beijing. It is in America’s interests.

“It’s good news and a positive development for the relationship,” Haenle said of the call. “It will allow the US and China to get on to the more difficult issues that really need work such as trade, North Korea and the South China Sea.

“This will open the door now for the US and China to begin to develop the relationship that will allow them to tackle some of the more difficult and contentious issues.”

Shen Dingli, a professor of international relations from Shanghai’s Fudan University who had previously called on Beijing to close its embassy in Washington because of Trump’s threats, welcomed the White House’s concession to Xi.

“It is good for the two countries and the Asia-Pacific. Now we can have a predictable relationship.”

Had Trump followed through on threats to alter US policy on Taiwan he would have caused “big trouble”, he added. “Beijing must feel much relief at the message.”

Additional reporting by Wang Zhen


Tom Phillips in Beijing

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Donald Trump keeps China on hold with letter but no phone call for Xi Jinping
US president sends belated new year wishes, but failure to contact Beijing counterpart almost three weeks after inauguration is prompting questions

Tom Phillips in Beijing

09, Feb, 2017 @9:44 AM

Article image
Trump’s US investment ban aims to cement tough-on-China legacy
Move is latest chapter in deteriorating relationship with Beijing and improvement under Joe Biden is unlikely

Helen Davidson in Taipei

23, Nov, 2020 @10:52 AM

Article image
China 'seriously concerned' after Trump questions Taiwan policy
President-elect says he sees no reason why the US should continuing abiding by One China policy unless a bargain is reached with Beijing involving trade

Tom Phillips in Beijing

12, Dec, 2016 @8:22 AM

Article image
US-China honeymoon over: Washington sanctions Chinese bank and sells arms to Taiwan
Experts say relationship is cooling between presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping as US loses patience over North Korea and South China Sea

Tom Phillips in Hong Kong and Oliver Holmes in Bangkok

30, Jun, 2017 @4:33 AM

Article image
China warns Trump that Taiwan policy is 'non-negotiable'
Beijing says accord which regards Taiwan as part of China is the political basis for all Sino-US relations and of ‘high sensitivity’

Tom Phillips in Beijing

15, Jan, 2017 @5:13 AM

Article image
Xi Jinping vows to fulfil Taiwan ‘reunification’ with China by peaceful means
Taiwan reiterates it is a sovereign nation after Xi says its ‘separatism’ is biggest ‘danger to national rejuvenation’

Vincent Ni and agencies

09, Oct, 2021 @10:31 AM

Article image
China should plan to take Taiwan by force after Trump call, state media says
Global Times says Beijing should ‘punish militarily’ any moves to undermine One China policy – which US president-elect has said he might not uphold

Benjamin Haas in Hong Kong

15, Dec, 2016 @6:12 AM

Article image
Xi Jinping expected in talks to tell Joe Biden to ‘step back’ on Taiwan
War of words begins ahead of meeting, with US president warned Taiwan is China’s ‘ultimate red line’

Julian Borger in Washington and Vincent Ni, China affairs correspondent

15, Nov, 2021 @10:53 AM

Article image
Xi Jinping warns against return to Asia-Pacific tensions of cold war era
Chinese leader urges countries in region to work together amid growing pressure from US over Taiwan

Guardian staff and agencies

10, Nov, 2021 @11:02 PM

Article image
Xi Jinping holds all the cards ahead of Mar-a-Lago meeting with Trump
In stark contrast to the Chinese leader’s unchallenged authority, Donald Trump is in a far weaker position

Benjamin Haas in Hong Kong and Julian Borger in Washington

05, Apr, 2017 @11:01 AM