WASHINGTON — President Obama weighed in on the rising tensions between the U.S. and China and the importance of the “one-China” policy, warning that if there is an attempt to “upend” the policy there could be serious consequences.
Obama, who held what might be his last news conference at the White House Friday, responded to a question about President-elect Donald Trump’s recent remarks on “Fox News Sunday,” where Trump suggested that the U.S. might not be bound by the one-China policy that considers Taiwan as a part of China.
Trump’s remarks drew a sharp rebuke from China’s state-run Global Times newspaper, which went as far as to call the president-elect “ignorant as a child” and came as tensions have been on the rise between the U.S. and China, sparking concerns that a trade war could ignite between the two countries.
The two countries have since filed complaints at the World Trade Organization against each other on different issues and China is said to be considering imposing a penalty on a major U.S. auto manufacturer for what one official said is “monopolistic behavior.”
“Take the example of Taiwan. There has been a long-standing agreement essentially between China, the United States and to some degree Taiwan which is to not change the status quo,” Obama said. “Taiwan operates differently than mainland China does. China views Taiwan as part of China but recognizes that it has to approach Taiwan as an entity that has its own ways of doing things.”
Obama said the Taiwanese have agreed that as long as they can function with some autonomy the country will not “charge forward and declare independence.”
“That status quo, although not completely satisfactory to any of the parties involved has kept the peace and allowed the Taiwanese to be a pretty successful economy and a people who have a high degree of self-determination,” he said.
But Obama warned that any attempt to change the status quo or pull back from that tacit agreement could provoke serious consequences from China.
“But understand for China the issue of Taiwan is as important as anything on their docket. The idea of one-China is at the heart of their conception as a nation,” Obama said.
“And so if you are going to upend this understanding you have to have thought through what the consequences are because the Chinese will not treat that the way they will treat some other issues,” Obama added.
He said there could be more serious repercussions if the policy is not upheld than consequences stemming from the tense issue around the South China Seas.
“This goes to the core of how they see themselves,” he said. “And their reaction on this issue could end up being very significant. That doesn’t mean that you have to adhere to everything that has been done in the past. It does mean you have to think it through and have planned for potential reaction that they may engage in.”