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perspective

Trump must learn history lesson for China-US ties


No American president or president-elect has conversed with a Taiwanese leader since 1979. As such, the surprising telephone call between Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen and US president-elect last Friday provides further proof that Donald Trump is determined to defy convention – both domestically and in his foreign relations.

History should serve as mirror for Trump in US-China ties. The three joint communiques that the US signed with China (1972, 1978 and 1982) explicitly affirm US recognition that Taiwan is part of China and that the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government of China.
Although the world got used to Trump’s wild and sometimes offensive remarks during his presidential campaign, we cannot tolerate his disregard of US commitments enshrined in the three monumental documents, which lay the political foundation for China-US ties.
With global media now speculating whether Trump is playing the “Taiwan card”, it is necessary to remind the US president-elect and his transition team of the sensitivity surrounding the Taiwan question. Over the years there have been US-China skirmishes in areas such as trade, cybersecurity and currency levels, but the Taiwan question has always remained the most sensitive of bilateral ties.
Hence, both Democratic and Republican US presidents in recent years have trodden a prudent path on this issue, never provoking Beijing’s most sensitive diplomatic nerve.
As an article in Monday’s Wall Street Journal noted, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W Bush all took office pledging closer relations with Taipei, with Bush even promising “whatever it takes” to defend the island. Once in office, however, they all prioritised ties with Beijing.
After efforts from both sides in promoting bilateral interaction for nearly four decades, the entirety of China-US relations now has significance beyond the bilateral scope.
The colossal size of trade, the ever-deepening people-to-people exchanges and the mutual need to cooperate on important regional and international issues all bear witness to the growing convergence of interests between the two countries.
That may well explain why Beijing dismissed last Friday’s phone call as a “petty trick” while lodging diplomatic representations. Such a relatively mild response indicates China’s maturity in handling its complex relations with the US.
A doctrine of Chinese diplomacy says one should judge people by their deeds and not just by their words. As president-elect, Trump still has time left to learn the rudiments of China-US relations, so that he does not take any missteps that may lead the relationship away from the right track.
Using history as a mirror, Trump need look back only two decades to understand the risks of a head-on conflict between the two countries. 
On April 1, 2000, less than three months after George W Bush became president, a Chinese Navy fighter-jet collided with a US Navy spy plane off South China’s Hainan Island, causing the death of Chinese pilot Wang Wei.
Prior to this, bilateral ties were strained by the Yinhe crisis in 1993, in which the US falsely accused a Chinese freighter of carrying materials for chemical weapons to Iran, and the escalation of tensions between the mainland and Taiwan in 1996.
As president-elect, Trump needs to learn these history lessons and send positive signals to ensure the transition of American leadership does not bring with it uncertainty or even trouble for US foreign policy, including the crucial China-US relations.

Published : December 08, 2016

By : Wang Hui China Daily  Asia News Network