Chinese President Xi Jinping steps out from behind China's flag as he takes his position for his joint news conference with President Barack Obama, Friday,...
Evan Vucci

In striking reversal, Trump tells China what it wants to hear

Updated
Less than a month after winning the presidential election, Donald Trump spoke directly with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, which not only stunned international observers, but also undermined the “One-China” policy, uprooting decades of carefully crafted, delicate diplomacy that had been honored by both parties.

When many speculated that the Republican bumbled into this by accident, the White House quickly pushed back, insisting that Trump – who likes to present himself as master negotiator and strategic genius – was executing a brilliant plan, keeping China on its toes.

“I fully understand the One-China policy,” Trump said on Dec. 11. “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.”

As of last night, the new president has dramatically changed course.
President Donald Trump told Chinese President Xi Jinping in a phone call Thursday that he intends to honor the so-called “One China” policy, after earlier suggesting it was open for negotiation in comments that rankled Beijing, the White House said.

“The two leaders discussed numerous topics and President Trump agreed, at the request of President Xi, to honor our ‘one China’ policy,” the statement said, which described the talks as “extremely cordial.”
Note the oddity of the phrasing: Trump didn’t just endorse the One China policy; he did so “at the request” of the Chinese president. In other words, Xi Jinping told Trump he wanted the White House to reiterate its support for the policy – publicly and in writing – and the U.S. president effectively responded, “Sure thing.”

It’s hard not to see this as a humiliating moment for Trump, who seriously thought he could play diplomatic hardball with Beijing, only to fail spectacularly with a gambit that was clearly not thought out well.

In fact, by some measures, there was some groveling involved. After Trump thumped his chest a bit, talking openly about his skepticism of One China, Beijing started ignoring the White House. This week, the U.S. president tried to play nice, sending his Chinese counterpart a letter, wishing him a happy Chinese New Year.

And a day later, Trump and Xi finally spoke, with the Republican president giving China what it wanted – in exchange for nothing.

He’s quite the negotiator, isn’t he?

China likes to test new Americans presidents. Trump, completely unaware just how out of his depth he is, just flunked this test, sending a signal to Beijing – and much of the world – that the American president may back down under mild diplomatic pressure. What a fiasco.


China, Diplomacy and Donald Trump

In striking reversal, Trump tells China what it wants to hear

Updated