The United States has apologized for mistakenly identifying Chinese President Xi Jinping as the leader of Taiwan in a statement, China’s Foreign Ministry said Monday.
The gaffe was the latest in a series of mistakes on the global stage by the White House and by President Donald Trump himself. But the Xi slip-up was on a far more sensitive subject than previous blunders.
In the statement issued Saturday by the White House, Xi was identified not by his correct title — president of the People’s Republic of China — but rather as president of the Republic of China, the official name for Taiwan.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing asked Washington for an explanation of the mistake, and the U.S. said it was a technical error. Washington apologized and corrected the statement, a transcript of a daily news briefing quoted Geng as saying.
The mistake was in the statement’s introduction, not the actual text, and was corrected by Monday to read “President Xi of China.” Still, it was likely to have ruffled feathers in Beijing since China claims self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory, to be brought back into the fold by force if necessary.
The issue is all the more sensitive considering it was not the first time the Trump White House had delved into the subject of Taiwan.
In early December, Trump, as president-elect, first stoked controversy over the country by taking a congratulatory phone call from its president, Tsai Ing-wen. The call was the first contact between a leader of Taiwan and an incumbent or incoming U.S. president in nearly 40 years. Trump later cast doubt on Washington’s long-standing policy of acknowledging Beijing’s “One China” policy, which asserts that Taiwan is a part of China.
That call, and the ensuing ambiguity on the issue by Trump — which generated concern that he was using the issue as a bargaining chip — angered Beijing because it fears contacts between Taiwan and leaders of other countries confers a degree of sovereignty on the island.
Trump agreed to honor the “One China” policy in February and then hosted Xi at his Florida resort in April.
But Xi was not the only victim of a Trump faux pas over the weekend as Group of 20 leaders gathered for their summit in Hamburg, Germany.
Even Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with whom Trump has forged a relatively close bond, was not spared.
In a tweet after a dinner and trilateral talks Thursday with the South Korean and Japanese leaders, Trump referred to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as “President Shinzo Abe of Japan.” That tweet was later deleted.
Trump has come under fire for failing to fill thousands of slots in his administration, with his White House staff, in particular, being faulted for poor organizational skills.
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