US and China: Friends again?

Feb 11, 2017 08.36AM |

SO THE United States President has scaled down his antagonism towards China. Mr Donald Trump decided that the US should honour the One China policy acknowledging its sovereignty over Taiwan. But, according to the White House, he did it “at the request of” Chinese President Xi Jinping.

What gives? Did the Chinese have to persuade or cajole or threaten or grovel before he made the statement? Whatever transpired during the phone call between the two men, China is content to put its best face forward.

Its PR machinery has been in overdrive in the past two days painting an improved relationship between the two countries. China made much of a letter by Mr Trump, received 11 days after Chinese New Year, recording his new year wishes and how he “looks forward to working with President Xi to develop a constructive relationship that benefits both the United States and China”.

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Now, it has a phone call to add to the tally of nice Trump language. Analysts are saying that Mr Trump had no choice but to dial back on his rhetoric given Chinese sensitivities over the Taiwan issue. He had taken a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-Wen, provoking an angry response from China which views Taiwan as a renegade province. He had also committed a grave diplomatic sin by questioning the One China policy and had seemed intent to use it as a bargaining chip in US-China ties.

The Taiwan phone call was panned but the latest phone call seemed to have papered over the damage.

An editorial in a Chinese newspaper, Global Times, said the phone call “is a sign that some confusion in the relationship has been sorted out at the current stage… The Sino-US ties have, after a little shiver, returned to where they are supposed to stand.”

Has Mr Trump also taken back his words on China being a currency manipulator and his intention to put 45 per cent tariffs on Chinese imports? Was any deal done to secure the statement from the White House? And what about the South China Sea where the Chinese are going ahead with its military construction activities on disputed isles? Various conflicting noises have come from Mr Trump’s team including denying China access to the isles, which looked like an invitation to a showdown.

The US Pacific Fleet said yesterday that two military aircraft from China and the US had an “unsafe” encounter on Wednesday over the disputed Scarborough Shoal, reported Bloomberg.

A People’s Liberation Army Air Force KJ-200 surveillance plane had “an interaction characterised by US Pacific Command as ‘unsafe’ with a Navy P-3C Orion surveillance aircraft”, said a Pacific Command spokesman Robert Shuford.

Plenty of euphemisms here. Is an unsafe encounter the same as a dangerous encounter?

Hopefully, the resourceful American media will get hold of the transcript of the phone call between Mr Trump and Mr Xi, even though they have been put on notice by the White House which is cracking down on leaks.


Featured image from TMG file.

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