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Wednesday, December 7, 2016, 12:14

History should serve as mirror for Trump in China-US ties

By Wang Hui

No American president or president-elect has spoken to a Taiwan leader since 1979. So the surprising telephone call between Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen and US President-elect Donald Trump on Friday provides further proof that the incoming US leader is determined to defy convention both domestically and in his foreign relations.

History should serve as mirror for Trump in China-US ties The three joint communiques the United States signed with China in 1972, 1978 and 1982, no matter read separately or as one, all explicitly say the US recognizes Taiwan as part of China and the People's Republic of China as the sole legal government of China.

Even though the world had got used to Trump's wild, and sometimes offensive, remarks during his presidential campaign, it would be unreasonable to tolerate his disregard of the US' commitments to the three monumental documents, which lay the political foundation for China-US ties.

With media speculation running rife about whether Trump was playing the "Taiwan card", it is necessary to remind the US president-elect and his transition team about the sensitivity of the Taiwan question. Over the years, compared with skirmishes in such areas as trade, cyber security and currency, the Taiwan question has always remained the most sensitive in bilateral ties.

That is why both Democratic and Republican US presidents in recent years have trod a prudent path when handling the US relationship with the island without provoking Beijing's most sensitive diplomatic nerve.

As an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal on Monday noted, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush all took office pledging closer relations with Taipei, with Bush even promising "whatever it takes" to defend the island. Once in office, however, they all prioritized ties with Beijing.

After the efforts from both sides in promoting bilateral interaction for nearly four decades, the entirety of China-US relations now has significance beyond the bilateral scope.

The colossal size of trade, the ever deepening people-to-people exchanges and the mutual need to cooperate on important regional and international issues all bear witness to the growing convergence of interests between the two countries.

That may well explain why Beijing dismissed the phone call as a "petty trick" while lodging diplomatic representations. Such a relatively mild response indicates Beijing's maturity in handling the complexity of China-US relations.

A doctrine in Beijing's diplomacy says one should judge people by their deeds, not just by their words. As US president-elect, Trump still has some time to learn the rudiments of China-US relations so that he does not make any missteps that may deflect the relationship from the right track.

In fact, if history is a mirror, Trump does not need to look back more than two decades to understand the tangible risks of a head-on conflict between the two countries. During that period, the two countries experienced some of the most critical crises between them in recent years.

On November 2000, Bush, the Republican presidential nominee, beat Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore to be elected as the new US president. On April 1 that year, or less than three months after Bush's inauguration, a Chinese PLA Navy J-8 fighter jet collided with a US Navy EP-3 spy plane off South China's Hainan Island, which caused the death of the Chinese pilot Wang Wei.

Prior to this, bilateral ties were strained by the Yinhe crisis in 1993, in which the US falsely accused the Chinese freighter of carrying materials for chemical weapons to Iran, and the escalation of tensions between the mainland and Taiwan in 1996.

As US president-elect, Trump needs to send positive signals so as to ensure the change of leadership in the US will not bring too much uncertainty, or even spell trouble for the US foreign policy, including China-US relations.

The author is deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily Asia Pacific.

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