Thu Feb 9, 2017 11:13AM
US President Donald Trump (R) and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping
US President Donald Trump (R) and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping

US President Donald Trump has sent a letter to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in a first instance of communication since the former business tycoon, who has a history of making anti-China remarks, assumed office.

According to a statement released by the White House on Wednesday, Trump had sent Xi greetings for the beginning of the Chinese Lunar New Year of the Rooster, wishing the Asian country a prosperous year and thanking Xi for his earlier congratulatory note on the new US president’s inauguration.

“President Trump stated that he looks forward to working with President Xi to develop a constructive relationship that benefits both the United States and China,” it further said, without revealing more content from the letter.

Beijing, for its part, said on Thursday that it “highly appreciated” Trump’s letter and attached great importance to the ties with US.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang also said at a daily press briefing that Beijing “is willing to work with the United States in adhering to the principles of non-confrontation, mutual respect and mutual benefit to promote cooperation, control disputes, and on a healthy and stable foundation, promote greater development in China-US ties.”

Lu also said that Beijing and Washington had maintained “close contact” since Trump took office and that cooperation was the “only correct choice.”

Trump got off to a rocky start with China when, during his electoral campaign, he kept slamming Beijing for its economic policies, which he said were to the detriment of the US. Then, once he was elected US president, he took the controversial step of indicating he did not recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan by taking a phone call from Taiwan’s leader.

While Chinese officials had been largely silent on Trump’s criticism of their economic policies, the call with the Taiwanese leader and the then-US president-elect’s remarks on the matter prompted angry reactions from Beijing.

In light of his campaign rhetoric and the later developments, including the phone call, Trump was expected to be bringing with himself new tensions with China to the White House.

Such speculation prompted Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to warn on Tuesday that the tensions between the two powers would have no winner.

Since taking office on January 20, Trump has held telephone calls with a number of world leaders but he has held no such conversation with Xi. They had, however, talked to each other on the phone once shortly after Trump won the US presidential election.

This file photo, taken on May 5, 2016, shows vessels with China’s South Sea Fleet taking part in a drill in the Xisha Islands, or the Paracel Islands, in the South China Sea. (By AFP)

Tensions have also been running high between Beijing and Washington over the disputed South China Sea. China claims almost all of the strategic and resource-rich sea. The territory is also claimed in part by Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines, which accuse China of expansionist ambitions in the region. The US, meanwhile, takes the side of China’s rival claimants.