White House Gaffe Names Xi as President of Taiwan, Not China

  • Chinese president misidentified after G-20 meeting with Trump
  • Apparent error creeps into U.S. transcript of the talks

President Donald Trump’s press secretary mislabeled Chinese President Xi Jinping as the leader of Taiwan after a much-anticipated meeting at the Group of 20 summit, adding an embarrassment to a record of fraught relations.

Trump and Xi at the G-20 summit on July 8.

Photographer: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The apparent error crept into a White House transcript of Trump’s remarks before meeting with Xi in Hamburg, Germany, which referred to the president of the Republic of China -- the official name for Taiwan.

Xi’s real title is president of the People’s Republic of China, the one-party Communist state set up after Mao Zedong’s victory in the Chinese civil war in 1949. Mao’s vanquished opponents fled to Taiwan and maintained the claim over all of China, referring to themselves as the Republic of China and keeping a United Nations seat under that name until 1971. China considers the island a province and has made recognition of the policy the foundation for diplomatic ties with the U.S. and other countries.

The misstep bearing the name of Press Secretary Sean Spicer shows the sensitivity of the issue.

One-China Policy

Before taking office, Trump publicly toyed with the idea of abandoning the One-China policy that acknowledges China and Taiwan are part of the same country, and suggested it could be a bargaining chip in trade negotiations. He tweeted about a protocol-breaking phone conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in early December and subsequently questioned the One-China policy in interviews.

Three weeks into his presidency, Trump dropped the gambit, paving the way for a phone call with Xi and kicking off a relationship between the two which led to meetings at Mar-a-Lago in April and at the G-20 on Saturday.

In a gaffe in 2006, a White House announcer introduced “the national anthem of the Republic of China” as then-President George W. Bush and former Chinese President Hu Jintao stood together during the latter’s visit to Washington.

Separately, some Singapore news outlets reported that Trump’s Instagram feed confused the leaders of Singapore and Indonesia in captioning a photo of him meeting with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. The mistake was quickly rectified, according to the reports, and the current photo on Trump’s Instagram is correct.

At a White House briefing in February, Spicer twice mispronounced Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s name as “Trunbull.” That came a week after a White House release mistakenly referred to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop as the “Australian Foreign Prime Minister.”

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