Chinese President Xi Jinping addresses this year's World Economic Forum. Davos, Switzerland, January 17, 2017. (Jason Alden/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

United States President Donald Trump’s eventual acceptance of China’s “One China” policy earlier this month was considered a win by supporters of his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. While this would imply Trump lost out in the equation, that distinction should go to frustrated supporters of Taiwanese sovereignty alone. The decision otherwise protected a status quo between the world’s two largest powers that is often uneasy but at least provides room for growth. Ensuring the US and China can continue to work together on areas of mutual interest is thus a win for both countries.

Trump had argued shortly after taking office that he didn’t see why the US should be bound by One China, “unless we make a deal with China” on issues such as trade. In taking a step back from that position, he acknowledged, for better or worse, that acceptance of the policy was the “political foundation for China-US relations,” as Beijing’s foreign policy spokesperson Lu Kang said after Trump’s acquiescence. While the full motivations for the about-face might take some time to emerge, Trump acknowledged, quite correctly, that China has now reached a sufficient level of economic, military, and political strength that Washington must pay the entry fee for dialogue, or commit to a potentially perilous course of escalating tensions.

Signs that the new White House increasingly recognizes this can also be found in its lack of action on China’s supposed trade violations—as a campaigner, Trump had promised to label the country a currency manipulator on his first day in office, and to place a 45% retaliatory tariff on imports to the US. The failure to make good on those pledges to date stands in stark contrast to his speed in honoring pledges to begin repealing the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act and implement curbs on travel to the US from supposed Islamic terrorism hot spots. Read more