Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was meeting President Xi Jinping during a China tour on December 2, when President-elect Donald Trump had a 12-minute "courtesy" phone call with Taiwan's leader Tsai Ing-wen, in which the duo discussed the political, economic and security ties between the self-ruled island and the US. The phone call was the first known contact between a US president or president-elect and the leader of Taiwan since 1979 when the US established diplomatic relations with China. The move has stirred tensions in the cross-Straits relations and is seen as a severe provocation to the stability of the China-US relationship.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi criticized the phone call as Taiwan's "little trick", which could not change the fact that there is only one China in the world. Chinese scholars also suggested that China should downplay the phone call and keep an eye on Trump's China policy. However, the Taiwanese authorities made public the script of the phone call, embarrassing Beijing and forcing the island's opposition party Kuomintang to connive the break from tradition. After the phone call, the Obama administration reiterated its long-held commitment to the "One China" policy, while euphemistically criticizing Trump and his team for impairing the US interest by challenging Beijing in terms of ties with Taiwan. The American mainstream media also voiced concerns that it might ruin the foundation of the US-China relationship that has been maintained for four decades.
There are four factors behind the phone call.
First, during the US presidential campaign, Tsai gave support to Hillary Clinton. After Trump's win, Tsai was worried that Taiwan's interest would be impaired. So, Tsai made the phone call with the help of Reince Priebus, the next White House chief of staff who was introduced to her by Stephen Yates, former national security advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney.
Second, Trump wanted to use the phone call to show his policy toward Taiwan, which is different from that adopted by the current US government. It also reassured Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) because Trump had shown no interest in defending America's Pacific allies during his campaign.
Third, the phone call reflects Trump's ignorance about the complexity and sensitivity of the US-China relations and brings uncertainties about the bilateral relations under the new presidency.
Fourth, it also indicates that Beijing and Trump's team lack communication after his win in the presidential election. Besides President Xi's congratulation on Trump's electoral win via telephone, there has been no official contact between the two sides, leaving the opportunity to the Tsai administration.
Beijing's calm reaction to Taiwan's "little trick" reflects the country's confidence and strategic determination as a great power. But Beijing should learn a lesson from it because the phone call could be a result of a plot made by Trump's team and the Tsai administration. In order to avoid such risks, Beijing should establish a direct communication mechanism with Trump's team as soon as possible.
Wan Xiaohong is a politics professor at South China Normal University.
(Opinions expressed in the article don't represent those of the Sino-US.com.)