Exclusive: Trump spurns Taiwan
president's suggestion of another phone call
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[April 28, 2017]
By Jeff Mason, Stephen J. Adler and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President
Donald Trump on Thursday spurned the Taiwanese president’s suggestion
that the two leaders hold another phone call, saying he did not want to
create problems for Chinese President Xi Jinping when Beijing appears to
be helping efforts to rein in North Korea.
In a White House interview, Trump brushed aside the idea after Taiwanese
President Tsai Ing-wen told Reuters on Thursday she would not rule out
talking directly again to the U.S. president, an act certain to incense
China. The status of self-ruled Taiwan is possibly the most sensitive
issue between Washington and Beijing.
“Look, my problem is I have established a very good personal
relationship with President Xi. I really feel that he is doing
everything in his power to help us with a big situation,” Trump told
Reuters, referring to signs that China may be working to head off any
new missile or nuclear test by Pyongyang, Beijing’s neighbor and ally.
“So I wouldn’t want to be causing difficulty right now for him,” Trump
added. “I think he’s doing an amazing job as a leader and I wouldn’t
want to do anything that comes in the way of that. So I would certainly
want to speak to him first.”
As president-elect in early December, Trump took a congratulatory phone
call from Tsai. It was the first contact between a leader of Taiwan and
an incumbent or incoming U.S. president in nearly four decades, and
Trump cast doubt on Washington's longstanding policy of acknowledging
Beijing's "one China" policy, which asserts that Taiwan is a part of
The call angered Beijing because it fears contacts between Taiwan and
leaders of other countries would confer sovereignty on the island.
Democratic Taiwan, self-ruled since 1949, has no interest in being ruled
by autocratic China.
Trump agreed to honor the "one China" policy in February and then hosted
Xi at his Florida resort earlier this month.
Trump’s dismissal of Tsai's suggestion underscored the importance he is
placing on enlisting China's help in defusing tension with North Korea,
which has become his biggest national security challenge since taking
office in January, 100 days ago come Saturday.
On Friday, in response to Trump's remarks, Taiwan's presidential office
said it had no plans "at this stage" to hold a call, and that it
understood the United States had priorities in handling regional
In a statement, Tsai's spokesman, Alex Huang, said the government would
not "overly limit" itself, but would pursue the island's best interest.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang urged Taiwan
to pay attention to the United States' reaction.
"We consistently oppose countries which have diplomatic relations with
China having any form of official exchanges with Taiwan," Geng told a
daily news briefing on Friday.
"This position is very clear and very firm."
[to top of second column]
President Donald Trump speaks during an interview with Reuters in
the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., April 27,
2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Tsai told Reuters on Thursday Taiwan's ties with the United States
have been improving. She said Taiwan may need to buy from its sole
arms supplier the F-35 fighter jet, the most advanced stealth
warplane in the U.S. arsenal.
“We have the opportunity to communicate more directly with the U.S.
government," Tsai said. “We don't exclude the opportunity to call
President Trump himself, but it depends on the needs of the
situation and the U.S. government's consideration of regional
Tsai said, “We don't rule out any items that would be meaningful to
our defense and our defense strategy and the F-35 is one such item.”
But when told Taiwan’s president had said the island might want to
buy F-35 aircraft, Trump said: “Oh, I haven’t been informed. I’d
have to think about that. I’d have to speak to my people about that.
They (the Taiwanese government) do buy a lot of equipment from us.”
China's Defence Ministry said on Thursday it was resolutely opposed
to any country selling arms to Taiwan.
U.S. officials told Reuters last month that the Trump administration
was crafting a big arms package for Taiwan that could include
advanced rocket systems and anti-ship missiles to defend against
China, a deal sure to anger Beijing.
But one of the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said
at the time the administration was not considering selling the F-35
The package is expected to be significantly larger than one that was
shelved at the end of the Obama administration – valued at around $1
billion – but completion of a new deal could take months and
possibly into next year, the official said.
The Global Times, an influential Chinese Communist Party-backed
tabloid, called Tsai's government "a naughty child" in an editorial
on Friday and said it would "strongly counter" any move to sell
Taiwan advanced fighter jets.
“Each time the Tsai Ing-wen authorities step out of line they will
pay the price, like a naughty child in class getting a stern
reprimand for shouting out or smashing the glass at school,” it
(Additional reporting by Jean Yoon and J.R. Wu in Taipei; Ben
Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Howard
Goller and Clarence Fernandez)
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