With Trump In China, Taiwan Worries About Becoming A 'Bargaining Chip'

The fear is some kind of trade involving U.S. support for Taiwan and Chinese ties with North Korea could be under discussion.

With Trump In China, Taiwan Worries About Becoming A 'Bargaining Chip'

Donald Trump and Xi Jinping did not mention Taiwan in their public statement after meeting on Thursday.

TAIPEI, Taiwan:  President Donald Trump's visit to Beijing is being watched closely around the world - but few countries have more reason to scrutinize it than Taiwan.

The American leader is staying in China for two nights as one part of lengthy tour of Asia. Though Taiwan was not expected be a major focus of talks with China's president, some worried that the issue may come up during discussions of North Korea's weapons program or trade.

"There were rumors that when China and the U.S. talk about the North Korea issue they would use Taiwan as a bargaining chip," mainland affairs minister Katherine Chang told a visiting group of U.S. journalists on Monday, adding that the Taiwanese government was "cautiously optimistic" this would not happen.

The fear is some kind of trade involving U.S. support for Taiwan and Chinese ties with North Korea could be under discussion.

Trump and Xi did not mention Taiwan in their public statement after meeting on Thursday. The pair also did not take questions from reporters. When a Taiwanese reporter attempted to ask Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about the issue after a press briefing, he did not respond.

China's Foreign Ministry later, however, released a statement that said Xi had reiterated the importance of Taiwan to Beijing during his meeting with Trump. "The Taiwan issue is the most important and sensitive core issue in the Sino-U. S. relations and it is also the political foundation for the Sino-U.S. Relations," he said, according to the statement.

Xi also asked the United States to continue to abide by the one-China policy, which rules out diplomatic recognition for Taiwan.

The statement will cause concern in Taiwan, where many had hoped that the issue would not come up. "It'd be better if Taiwan was not mentioned at all," said Szu-chien Hsu, the chairman of the government-funded Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, ahead of Trump's arrival in Beijing.

Taipei has long worried about Beijing raising the one-China issue during its meetings with the United States, according to Bonnie Glaser, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Under the Trump administration there were more concerns due to the "unpredictable president who in the past has said some extreme things about Taiwan," she said.

Shortly after Trump's election last year, there had been hopes for stronger U.S.-Taiwan ties. On the campaign trail Trump had frequently been critical of China and a number of close advisers held sympathetic views of Taiwan's concerns. In early December, the then-president elect received an unprecedented congratulatory phone-call from Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen.

The call seemed to signal a change. The United States does not diplomatically recognize Taiwan though it enjoys a strong informal relationship with the country and is bound to protect it by law.

At first Trump defended his call and suggested that his administration's position on the one-China policy would depend on whether he could "make a deal" with China on trade and other issues. Later, though, the U.S. president said he would not speak to the Taiwanese president again without checking with China first.

Now in Taiwan, many are worried about Trump's plans. Analysts are paying close attention to his interactions with veteran foreign policy expert Henry Kissinger, with some suggesting that Kissinger is advocating that Trump make a major agreement on U.S.-China relations with Beijing.

Hsu, of the Taiwan Foundation, said that this was "just a rumor," but added that there were real concerns that what lies behind Trump's decision-making. "He is known for his transactional style of policymaking."

The Trump administration has repeatedly stated that it views Chinese economic and diplomatic pressure as vital for convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. During a news conference in South Korea on Tuesday, the president had suggested that Xi had been "very helpful" on the North Korea issue and that China was "trying very hard to solve the problem."

Other factors add further uncertainty to the relationship. Trump has made clear repeatedly that trade imbalances are key points of tension with foreign allies: The United States has logged an average trade deficit of $5.4 billion with Taiwan over the past five years.

One way to address that would be for Taiwan to boost its defense spending, which is considered low by U.S. officials. It currently stands at around 2 percent of gross domestic product and lags far behind that of China, its primary geopolitical rival. "Taiwan must do better," Jim Moriarty, chairman of the American Institute of Taiwan, said of the country's defense spending during an event last month at Brookings.

Still, longserving diplomats have stressed that any significant change in U.S. policy on Taiwan is unlikely, noting an arms sale of $1.42 billion agreed upon this summer. At the same time, Taipei is pursuing a number of policies that seem designed to curry favor with the Trump administration, including modest defense spending increases, a proposed bilateral trade agreement and a ban on all trade with North Korea.

Foreign Minister David Lee told reporters this week that Taiwan had also been attempting to use its close relationship to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to influence Trump's policy.

But Trump is not the only wild card. Speaking at a Foreign Ministry luncheon on Tuesday, Alexander Huang, chairman of Taiwan's Council on Strategic and Wargaming Studies, said that whether Taiwan ends up a bargaining chip will also come down to Xi, who is in a powerful position after China's recent party congress.

"Many have debated here in Taiwan whether President Trump will trade Taiwan in exchange for China's position in North Korea," Huang said. "But my hunch is that even if President Trump makes such an offer, President Xi would say no: 'Taiwan is not in your hands. It's in mine.'"

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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