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Story highlights

Taiwanese lawmaker says he's delighted by President-elect Trump's call

But some more conflicted on consequences of historic conversation

(CNN) —  

When asked what he thinks about Donald Trump, Taiwanese politician Freddy Lim responded with a laugh.

“I am not a fan,” he said, particularly when it comes to the incoming US President’s comments on women and ethnic minorities. It’s not that surprising, given that Lim, lead singer in a popular heavy metal band, is one of Taiwan’s most progressive legislators.

Yet when Trump accepted an official call from Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, Lim was delighted. He hopes the call is just the beginning.

“I would definitely love to see that he would retain his outspokenness, especially if he can use it to make a breakthrough in terms of traditional restrictions on Taiwan-US relations,” he said.

Note of caution

Taiwanese legislator and former musician Freddy Lim.
Taiwanese legislator and former musician Freddy Lim.
PHOTO: CNN/Pamela Boykoff

Many in Taipei welcomed the call between Trump and Tsai, the first publicly reported direct contact between a United States President or President-elect and Taiwan’s leader in 40 years.

With the positivity though there is also a heavy dose of pragmatism, part of life on an island stuck in a political quagmire like no other.

Lo Chih-cheng, a legislator and member of the DPP, Tsai’s party, said that Trump has shown “a very friendly attitude towards Taiwan, but how we can translate into policies is still unknown.”

As a small player stuck between giants, he believes Taiwan needs to proceed carefully.

Lo Chih-Cheng, a legislator and member of the DPP, the party of President Tsai Ing-Wen.
Lo Chih-Cheng, a legislator and member of the DPP, the party of President Tsai Ing-Wen.
PHOTO: CNN/Pamela Boykoff

White House: Trump Taiwan call could ‘undermine’ progress

The Communist government in Beijing views Taiwan as a “renegade province,” since Chinese nationalists fled there and established a government after losing the civil war in 1949.

Both governments – officially the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) – claim to be the legitimate ruler of all of China, but the ROC effectively controls only Taiwan and a few other small islands.

Over the decades Taiwan has turned into a vibrant democracy with freedom of the press and speech, unlike China, which is tightening its grip on dissent.

While the US is a strong ally of Taiwan – selling it billions of dollars worth of weapons to help with defense – it has no official diplomatic relations with the island.

This is part of the “one China” policy, a carefully managed and strategic arrangement designed not to anger Beijing.

Taipei divided on Trump

Ordinary Taiwanese were optimistic about the call. Housewife Yang Lo-hsia told CNN she believes Trump’s call could lead to a closer relationship with the US and hopefully in turn a stronger commitment to the protection of Taiwan.

“It’s like a beam of new hope,” she said.

IT worker Howard Wu welcomed the call because he doesn’t like China, calling the country “too powerful and too aggressive.”

Taiwanese housewife Yang Lo-hsia, who said Trump
Taiwanese housewife Yang Lo-hsia, who said Trump's call to Taiwan's president was a "beam of new hope."
PHOTO: CNN/Pamela Boykoff

On the campus of National Taiwan University, some students were cautiously optimistic about the call while others were unaware it had even happened. Several expressed concern the US was trying use Taiwan for its own political goals.

“I think Donald Trump simply used Taiwan as stake for negotiation with China,” said psychology student Peng Yu-Chuan. She does believe building a stronger relationship with the United States would be helpful though, because “with all this suppression from China now the international space for Taiwan is getting smaller and smaller.”

Hsu Tzu-Yao, a material sciences major, did not see the call as important to his life in Taiwan. “I think the key is to preserve your sovereignty and your own set of values,” he said.

Taiwanese psychology student Peng Yu-Chuan, who said Trump simply "used" Taiwan to negotiate with China.
Taiwanese psychology student Peng Yu-Chuan, who said Trump simply "used" Taiwan to negotiate with China.
PHOTO: CNN/Pamela Boykoff

Changing Taiwanese Identity

Attitudes towards China are changing in Taiwan. Polls show that over the last two decades, many in Taiwan have come to identify themselves as Taiwanese, instead of Chinese or both Taiwanese and Chinese.

In 2016, just 3.6% of those surveyed identified as solely Chinese compared to 25.5% in 1992, according to the Election Study Center at NCCU.

“I really don’t think that we belong to the same country,” said graduate student Liao Heng-yi, adding that she is very proud of Taiwan’s freedom of speech.

Trump and China on collision course

Lim, the politician, co-founded a youth-driven party that now holds five seats in the legislature. He said he believes Taiwan’s young people see a future not focused on China and that it’s time for Taiwan to move on from the past and work towards “normalizing things, both internationally and domestically.”

He hoped the Trump call was just the beginning.

For DPP legislator Lo, it’s a chance to think of the relationship in a new way.

“US policy towards Taiwan is a function of US policy towards China. I don’t think that’s fair, you know, we have to take Taiwan seriously for its own sake,” he said.

Journalist Sam Shih contributed to this report.