Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said she does not anticipate any major policy shifts affecting the region despite her unprecedented call with United States President-elect Donald Trump that deeply rankled China, according to media reports on Tuesday.
“The phone call was a way for us to express our respect for the U.S. election, as well as congratulate President-Elect Trump on his win,” Tsai said during a meeting with a select group of American journalists at the Presidential Office Building.
“I have to stress that one phone call does not mean a policy shift” away from official protocol that says the U.S. communicates with the People’s Republic of China only through Beijing, and not directly to the island of Taiwan.
When asked for clarification, Tsai continued: “I do not foresee major policy shifts in the near future, because we all see the value of stability in the region.”
The comments echo what Tsai, Taiwan’s first woman president and a graduate of Cornell University Law School, has said before about Taiwan’s relationship to Mainland China, both in her May 20 inaugural address and on Taiwan’s 105th birthday on Oct. 10.
Tsai promised the 23 million residents of Taiwan that she would establish “a consistent, predictable and sustainable cross-straight relationship, and to maintain both Taiwan’s democracy and the status quo of peace across the Taiwan Strait.”
But others in Taiwan are more optimistic about the phone call.
“As an ordinary citizen, I’m very excited by the news,” said Yung-chiang (John) Chi, a counselor on home assignment with the Department of International Information Services.
He and many others in Taipei feel that Taiwan deserves greater global recognition for its technological innovations, support of emerging democracies, and humanitarian relief after natural disasters.
Szu-chien Hsu, a former political scientist who recently became president of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, said that although he doesn’t have inside knowledge of the phone call, he saw it as enormously symbolic.
“As the leader of Taiwan, if you have that opportunity, that’s what anyone would do,” he said. “The way she manages cross-strait relations, she is extremely cautious,” more than others would like her to be.
In a region where Chinese President Xi Jinping likes to make the first move and have the upper hand, Trump’s surprise conversation with the Taiwanese president puts Xi in the position of having to respond.
On the surface, Trump simply took a congratulatory phone call from another world leader, one of many he received as president-elect of the United States. But he did it before becoming president and without consulting the State Department about whether that was a good idea. “Now he’s waiting for Xi Jinping to react,” Hsu said.
The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2016
“I think Trump puts Xi Jinping in a very awkward position,” Hsu said. “If you make too big a deal of it, you’re hurting yourself. But there’s a risk if he doesn’t react properly.”
And from Taiwan’s perspective, as a vibrant democracy that often feels forgotten by the rest of the world, “it’s a good strategy,” Hsu said. “No one knows what he will do, but now everyone’s paying attention.”