(Repeats Feb 11 story with no changes in text)
By Ben Blanchard
BEIJING Feb 11 Combining public bluster with
behind-the-scenes diplomacy, China wrested a concession from the
United States as the two presidents spoke for the first time
this week, but Beijing may not be able to derive much comfort
from the win on U.S. policy toward Taiwan.
Several areas of disagreement between the superpowers,
including currency, trade, the South China Sea and North Korea,
were not mentioned in public statements on Thursday's telephone
conversation between Presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump. In
getting Trump to change course on the "one China" policy,
Beijing may have overplayed its hand.
Trump had upset Beijing before he took office by taking a
call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, then casting doubt on
the "one China" policy, under which Washington acknowledges the
Chinese position that there is only one China and Taiwan is part
Trump changed tack and agreed to honour the "one China"
policy during the call, prompting jubilation in China. Beijing
had been working on diplomatic ways to engage Trump's team and
largely blaming Taiwan for stirring things up.
Laying the foundation for that call had been the low-key
engagement of China's former ambassador to Washington and top
diplomat, the urbane and fluent English-speaking Yang Jiechi,
with Trump's national security adviser Michael Flynn.
"China was pragmatic and patient. It made every effort to
smooth out the relationship, and it paid off," said Jia Qingguo,
dean of the School of International Studies at Peking
University, who has advised the government on foreign policy.
But China also made very clear Taiwan was not up for
negotiation, unleashing state media to threaten war and
punishment for U.S. firms if that bottom line was breached.
China has long described self-ruled Taiwan, claimed by
Beijing as its sacred territory, as the most sensitive issue in
Its military had become alarmed after the Trump-Tsai call
and was considering strong measures to prevent the island from
moving toward independence, sources with ties to senior military
officers told Reuters in December.
A source familiar with China's thinking on relations with
the United States, speaking to Reuters last month, said China
had actually not been too bothered with Trump's Taiwan comments
before he took office as he was not president then and was only
expressing his personal view.
"If he continues with this once he becomes president then
there's no saying what we'll do," the source said.
TSAI'S CHILLED HEART
Despite the U.S. concession, military tensions remain.
On Saturday, the overseas edition of the ruling Communist
Party's People's Daily placed a picture on its front page of
Chinese warships about to embark on a new round of drills in the
South China Sea, right next to an upbeat commentary about the
The paper's WeChat account took a harsher line, saying that
with Trump getting back with the programme on "one China",
Taiwan had better watch out.
"The heart of that Madame Tsai on the other side of the
Taiwan Strait must at this moment be chilled to the core," it
One senior Western diplomat said China had been redoubling
its efforts to win over the Vatican, one of a handful of
countries to retain official ties with Taiwan.
Taiwan says it hopes for continued U.S. support, and one
ruling Democratic Progressive Party official told Reuters that
the "one China" policy had not affected previous U.S. arms sales
to Taiwan, even as U.S. presidents' commitment to the island
have waxed and waned.
Xi has put great personal political capital into seeking a
solution over Taiwan, an issue that has festered since 1949 when
defeated Nationalist forces fled to the island after losing the
civil war to the Communists. China has never renounced the use
of force to bring Taiwan under its control.
But in its relations with Washington, the risk for Beijing
remains that its diplomatic win over "one China" will be short
lived, as Trump will not want to be seen as having caved in.
"What he's shown the Chinese is he's willing to touch the
'third rail' of U.S.-China relations," said Dean Cheng, China
expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington.
"Beijing can't predict what he'll do next - and he's only
been in office three weeks. What is he going to do on trade and
other economic issues?"
U.S. officials said the affirmation of the "one China"
policy was an effort to get the relationship back on track and
But Trump's change of tack may be seen by Beijing as a
climbdown, said Tom Rafferty, the China Regional Manager for the
Economist Intelligence Unit.
"Mr Trump is erratic and will not appreciate the suggestion
that he has been weak."
(Additional reporting by Michael Martina, and J.R. Wu in Taipei
and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by Raju