WASHINGTON — When the White House announced this week that President Trump had sent President Xi Jinping of China a letter wishing him a happy Chinese New Year, it did not disclose a major reason for the friendly gesture: Mr. Xi had not, at that point, gotten on the phone with Mr. Trump.
That changed on Thursday night, when the two leaders had what the White House described as a “lengthy conversation” during which Mr. Trump agreed to honor the “One China” policy the president had previously refused to commit to uphold.
Stung by an earlier, and unorthodox, telephone call between Mr. Trump and the president of Taiwan, Mr. Xi had not spoken to the American leader since Nov. 14, the week after he was elected. Administration officials had predicted a conversation would come only after Mr. Trump publicly committed to recognizing a single Chinese government in Beijing.
And so Mr. Trump, during what the White House called “a lengthy telephone conversation,” formally and officially bent to Beijing.
“The two leaders discussed numerous topics and President Trump agreed, at the request of President Xi, to honor our One China policy,” the White House said in a statement released late Thursday night. It said the discussion was “extremely cordial” and that the presidents “extended invitations to meet in their respective countries.”
A day earlier, on Wednesday, the White House took the unusual step of releasing Mr. Trump’s letter to wish Mr. Xi an happy new year. It marked the start of an effort to keep the United States-China relationship from unraveling further, several officials said, especially as Mr. Trump is about to welcome Japan’s prime minister for an extravagant three-day visit that will include a weekend of golf in Florida.
Relations between Washington and Beijing had been frozen since December, when Mr. Trump took a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen. The United States has not had diplomatic relations with Taiwan since 1979, but Mr. Trump defended the call by saying he did not know why the United States should be bound by the One China policy.
To lay the groundwork for a better relationship, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, spoke last Friday to China’s top foreign policy official, Yang Jiechi. That call produced only a vague commitment to “reinforce high-level exchanges,” suggesting that Mr. Trump’s statements on China still precluded a direct leader-to-leader exchange.
As a gesture of conciliation, Mr. Flynn and his deputy, K. T. McFarland, hand-delivered the letter to China’s ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai. Mr. Trump wrote that he wished “the Chinese people a happy Lantern Festival and prosperous Year of the Rooster.” He also said he “looks forward to working with President Xi to develop a constructive relationship that benefits both the United States and China.”Read More...
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