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Trump draws rebuke after saying U.S. is not bound by One China policy (w/video)

President-elect Donald Trump at a rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., Dec. 9, 2016. [Doug Mills | The New York Times]
President-elect Donald Trump at a rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., Dec. 9, 2016. [Doug Mills | The New York Times]
Published Dec. 12, 2016

BEIJING — President-elect Donald Trump is talking about Taiwan again — and nobody, it seems, is pleased about his comments on the nearly four-decade-old basis of U.S.-Chinese relations.

In an interview broadcast Sunday, Trump said the U.S. would not necessarily be bound by the One China policy, the diplomatic understanding that underpins ties between Washington and Beijing, unless it could "make a deal," potentially on U.S.-China trade.

The remark elicited an angry response from Beijing, with the Foreign Ministry expressing "serious concern" and a Party-controlled newspaper calling the president-elect "as ignorant as a child." By appearing to treat Taiwan as just a bargaining chip for trade deals, he may also have irked Taipei, experts said.

The comment came not two weeks after the president-elect made headlines by taking a phone call from Taiwan's leader, Tsai Ing-wen, a surprise move that was interpreted by some as a high-stakes slip-up and others as an overdue show of support for a democratic friend.

Trump's latest foray into East Asian affairs came when he was asked by Fox News about the planning for Dec. 2 call. He said he learned about the call "an hour or two" before it took place, but understood the stakes.

"I fully understand the One-China policy, but I don't know why we have to be bound by a 'One China' policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade," he said.

"I mean, look," he continued, "we're being hurt very badly by China with devaluation; with taxing us heavy at the borders when we don't tax them; with building a massive fortress in the middle of the South China Sea, which they shouldn't be doing; and, frankly, with not helping us at all with North Korea."

"I don't want China dictating to me," he said.

Since winning the U.S. presidential race, Trump's public comments and tweets on East Asian politics have put the region on edge and thrown the future of U.S-China and U.S.-Taiwan relations into question.

When Trump took a call from Tsai Ing-Wen, he broke with decades of diplomatic practice — indeed, it was first such call since President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979. The move was roundly rejected by China, which launched an official complaint in Washington.

A Monday editorial in the the Global Times, a newspaper known for its strident nationalism, suggested Trump ought to read some books on U.S.-China ties. It also warned that if the U.S. abandoned the One China policy, Beijing would have no reason to "put peace above using force to take back Taiwan."

"China needs to launch a resolute struggle with him," the editorial said. "Only after he's hit some obstacles and truly understands that China and the rest of the world are not to be bullied will he gain some perception."

"Many people might be surprised at how the new U.S. leader is truly a 'businessman' through-and-through," the paper said. "But in the field of diplomacy, he is as ignorant as a child."

Su Hao, director of the Center for Asia-Pacific Studies at China Foreign Affairs University, in Beijing, said the comment was a "careless and irresponsible" act that could "shake the foundation of the bilateral relationship."

The question of Taiwan, he said, is not open for negotiation. "International politics is not business. Not everything is on the table for trade."

Taiwan might actually agree — but for different reasons.

The call between Trump and Tsai was hailed by many in Taipei as a breakthrough — a sign that the thriving democracy might finally get the U.S. backing it believes it deserves.

They did not see the call as a slip-up or a diplomatic gaffe, but as the product of a Republican-led recalibration of U.S. foreign policy that has been years in the making.

Bill Stanton, a career diplomat who served as de facto U.S. ambassador to Taiwan from 2009 to 2012 and now heads the Center for Asia Policy at Taiwan's National Tsing Hua University, said Trump's comment on Sunday seemed to throw that idea into question by treating Taiwan's status as just an element of trade negotiations.

"Either he doesn't know what he is talking about, or he is endangering the status that Taiwan has always had in U.S. policy," he said.

"Having done a good thing, from my point of view, Trump as undone it."

Wu Jieh-min, an associate research fellow at Taipei's Academia Sinica, said the U.S. should not use Taiwan as a means to an end.

"Trump's call with President Tsai may signal a possible readjustment of the U.S. policy toward Taiwan and China respectively," he said.

"But from the perspective of the Taiwanese people, the legitimate principle should be that Taiwan should not be used as something for trade between the great powers."

The Washington Post's Luna Lin contributed from Beijing.


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