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World

Trump Agrees To Honor 'One China' Policy In Call With Xi Jinping

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The White House says President Trump spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping yesterday and said the U.S. will honor the so-called One China policy under which the U.S. recognizes just one China and says Taiwan is part of it. China considers Taiwan a province. There were questions about whether Trump would keep that policy. Back in December, he broke with decades of protocol by taking a phone call from the president of Taiwan. And here's what he told Fox News at that time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I don't want China dictating to me. And this was a call put into me. I didn't make the call. And it was a call - very short call saying, congratulations, sir, on the victory. It was a very nice call - short. And why should some other nation be able to say I can't take a call? I think it actually would have been very disrespectful, to be honest with you, not taking it.

SIEGEL: So how should we interpret the administration's new-found commitment to One China? We're going to put that to Dan Blumenthal. He's director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. That's a conservative Washington think tank. Welcome.

DAN BLUMENTHAL: Thank you very much, Bob.

SIEGEL: And do you see this move by the Trump administration as a reversal?

BLUMENTHAL: I don't. They never said they were going to break from the One China policy. I've always said you can have good relations with Taiwan at the highest levels and with China under the One China policy framework.

SIEGEL: Well, do you think that this report of the phone conversation between Trump and Xi signals that perhaps the Trump administration will be less hard line with China than his earlier comments might have suggested - on trade, for example?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, I think it's part of a strategic calculation. So you have to look at the entire picture. Secretary Mattis had a very good trip out to Asia meeting with South Koreans. And the Japanese Prime Minister Abe is, of course, here. Taiwan was fully informed about the telephone call with Xi before it happened. So you have to look at it from that perspective that we're going to have very strong relations - the strongest relations with our allies and friends, but we're going to have stable and cooperative relations with China also.

SIEGEL: There's a line in the official White House statement about Trump's call with President Xi. It says that Trump agreed to honor One China. This is a quote, "at the request of President Xi." What do you make of that? Is that a sign that China is dictating or demanding terms or that One China isn't a priority for the U.S.? It only came up because Xi asked for it.

BLUMENTHAL: Well, I would interpret it as every time anyone meets with a Chinese leader or a Chinese government official, the first thing they ask for before you even have tea or coffee is...

SIEGEL: (Laughter) How many Chinas are there?

BLUMENTHAL: Exactly. So I think that that's pretty standard for Xi Jinping.

SIEGEL: Think it would have played badly for Xi back home if he had had a conversation and a positive statement about the One China policy did not come out of it?

BLUMENTHAL: That's exactly right. And Xi is in a lot more trouble at home than people realize. And he's feeling the pressure at home because of a stagnant economy. And he's feeling the pressure all around him because of U.S. tight relations with the alliances.

SIEGEL: So where we stand on the One China policy now is - it's important to China, obviously, that everyone say that there's one China, and Taiwan is a part of China. The U.S. - it seems now, Donald Trump, after having raised doubts about the need to say that, now says that's true. What about Taiwan? Are they happy with the status quo?

BLUMENTHAL: The status quo is very difficult to define because China tries to change the status quo all the time. It's not happy with the fact that Taiwan has this de facto independence. And so China tries to change that. So Taiwan is relatively happy. But it'd like to see us push a little more so it gets more international space - free trade agreements, participation in international institutions, more military exchanges with us - so not completely satisfied.

SIEGEL: Stan (ph) Blumenthal director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Thanks for talking with us.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you very much, Bob.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMON TOBIN SONG, "EASY MUFFIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.