Q Your successor spoke by phone with the President of Taiwan the other day and declaredsubsequently that he wasn’t sure why the United States needed to be bound by the one-China policy. He suggested it could be used as a bargaining chip perhaps to get better terms on a trade deal or more cooperation on North Korea. There’s already evidence that tensions between the two sides have increased a bit, and just today, the Chinese have evidently seized an underwater drone in the South China Sea. Do you agree, as some do, that our China policy could use a fresh set of eyes? And what’s the big deal about having a short phone call with the President of Taiwan? Or do you worry that these types of unorthodox approaches are setting us on a collision course with perhaps our biggest geopolitical adversary?
THE PRESIDENT: That’s a great question. I’m somewhere in between. I think all of our foreign policy should be subject to fresh eyes. I think one of the -- I’ve said this before -- I am very proud of the work I’ve done. I think I’m a better President now than when I started. But if you’re here for eight years, in the bubble, you start seeing things a certain way and you benefit from -- the democracy benefits, America benefits from some new perspectives.
And I think it should be not just the prerogative but the obligation of a new President to examine everything that’s been done and see what makes sense and what doesn’t. That’s what I did when I came in, and I’m assuming any new President is going to undertake those same exercises.
And given the importance of the relationship between the United States and China, given how much is at stake in terms of the world economy, national security, our presence in the Asia Pacific, China’s increasing role in international affairs -- there’s probably no bilateral relationship that carries more significance and where there’s also the potential if that relationship breaks down or goes into a full-conflict mode, that everybody is worse off. So I think it’s fine for him to take a look at it.
What I’ve advised the President-elect is that across the board on foreign policy, you want to make sure that you’re doing it in a systematic, deliberate, intentional way. And since there’s only one President at a time, my advice to him has been that before he starts having a lot of interactions with foreign governments other than the usual courtesy calls, that he should want to have his full team in place, that he should want his team to be fully briefed on what’s gone on in the past and where the potential pitfalls may be, where the opportunities are, what we’ve learned from eight years of experience, so that as he’s then maybe taking foreign policy in a new direction, he’s got all the information to make good decisions and, by the way, that all of government is moving at the same time and singing from the same hymnal.
And with respect to China -- and let’s just take the example of Taiwan -- there has been a longstanding agreement, essentially, between China, the United States, and, to some degree, the Taiwanese, which is to not change the status quo. 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. The Taiwanese have agreed that as long as they’re able to continue to function with some degree of autonomy, that they won’t charge forward and declare independence.
And 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. 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.
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’ll treat some other issues. They won’t even treat it the way they treat issues around the South China Sea, where we’ve had a lot of tensions. This goes to the core of how they see themselves. And their reaction on this issue could end up being very significant.
That doesn’t mean that you have to adhere to everything that’s been done in the past. It does mean that you’ve got to think it through and have planned for potential reactions that they may engage in.