President Donald Trump has 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 at a time when Beijing appears to be helping with 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 US 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 neighbour 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 US 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 China.
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 honour 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 defusing tensions with North Korea, which has become his biggest national security challenge since taking office in January, 100 days ago on Saturday.