Trump talks by phone with Taiwanese president, risking major row with Beijing
Move could poison US-China relations as Trump takes over in January
US President-elect Donald Trump has spoken with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen overnight in a move certain to anger Beijing.
The call was the first such contact with Taipei by a U.S. president-elect or president since President Jimmy Carter severed formal diplomatic tie with Taipei and adopted a one-China policy in 1979.
In a telephone conversation, Tsai discussed with Trump issues including economy and defence, according to Taiwan’s Presidential Office.
“During the discussion, they noted the close economic, political, and security ties between Taiwan and the United States,” the office said in a statement on Saturday.
The Trump transition team also acknowledged the conversation between the two by issuing a press release overnight, saying Trump spoke with “President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, who offered her congratulations.” It said Trump also congratulated Tsai on becoming “president of Taiwan earlier this year.”
The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2016
Washington has pursued “one China” policy since 1979, when it shifted diplomatic recognition of China from the government in Taipei to the communist government on the mainland. Under that policy, the U.S. recognizes Beijing as representing China but retains unofficial ties with Taiwan.
President Tsai on becoming President of Taiwan earlier this year,” the statement said.
Trump tweeted later: “The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!”
About an hour later, Trump groused about the reaction to the call. “Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call,” he tweeted.
Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2016
Tsai’s office said that the conversation, which took place at 11 pm Friday Taipei time lasted more than 10 minutes and that the island’s leader called for US “support of Taiwan’s bid for more international participation and contributions to global agenda.”
It said the two also exchanged views on the latest situations in Asia. “President Tsai hopes the two sides can further strengthen ties and interactions as well as closer cooperation in the future,” the office said.
Accompanying Tsai in the conversation included Joseph Wu, secretary-general of Taiwan’s National Security Council, Foreign Minister David Lee, and presidential spokesman Alex Huang, the office noted.
The White House learned of the conversation after it had taken place, said a senior Obama administration official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive diplomatic relations involved.
The highly unusual conversation between a US president-elect and a Taiwanese leader is tipped to enrage Beijing, which has seen Taiwan as a renegade province and warned its allies against official and public contacts with leaders of the island.
The phone call took place just hours after Chinese President Xi Jinping met former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Xi told Kissinger the Chinese side “are watching very closely” the situation in the US during the transition period of Washington.
Some mainland-based analysts had expected Kissinger’s visit may offer Beijing more clues about the direction of ties with Washington under Trump’s forthcoming administration.
Friday’s call is the starkest example yet of how Trump has flouted diplomatic conventions since he won the Nov. 8 election. He has apparently undertaken calls with foreign leaders without guidance customarily lent by the State Department, which oversees U.S. diplomacy.
Tsai was democratically elected in January and took office in May. The traditional independence-leaning policies of her party have strained relations with Beijing.
Beijing also openly voiced objection to the decades of military training of Singaporean troops in Taiwan following an undeclared trans-shipment of Singaporean armoured personnel carriers was seized in Hong Kong last month.
Over the decades, the status of Taiwan has been one of the most sensitive issues in U.S.-China relations. Beijing regards Taiwan as part of its territory to be retaken by force, if necessary, if it seeks independence. It would regard any recognition of a Taiwanese leader as a head of state as unacceptable.
Taiwan split from the Chinese mainland amid civil war in 1949. The U.S. policy acknowledges the Chinese view over sovereignty, but considers Taiwan’s status as unsettled.
Although the U.S. does not have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, it has close unofficial ties. Taiwan’s government has a representative office in Washington and other U.S. cities. The U.S. also has legal commitments to help Taiwan maintain the ability to defend itself.
Taiwan is separated from mainland China by the 110-mile-wide Taiwan Strait. The island counts the U.S. as its most important security partner and source of arms, but it is increasingly outgunned by the mainland.
White House says ‘no change’ on one China policy
Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said Trump’s conversation does not signal any change to long-standing U.S. policy on “cross-strait” issues.
“We remain firmly committed to our ‘one China’ policy,” Price said. “Our fundamental interest is in peaceful and stable cross-strait relations.”
The NSC stressed that every president has benefited from the “expertise and counsel” of the State
Department on matters like this, which suggested that the White House was frustrated by Trump’s conversation with the Taiwanese leader.
Still, the White House said Obama remains committed to a smooth transition to the new administration.
Douglas Paal, who served as head of the American Institute in Taiwan during the George W. Bush administration, said that to his knowledge the call was unprecedented. He said he expected Beijing to issue a verbal warning that there’s no space to change the rules over Taiwan relations.
The American Chamber of Commerce in China said on Saturday the incoming U.S. administration is still formulating positions but needs to get up to speed quickly on historical tensions, after Trump spoke to Tsai.
“The president-elect has yet to take office and is still formulating positions on a wide range of issues, so we don’t place much emphasis on any particular action or comment during this process,” it said in a statement about the Trump-Tsai call.
“The chamber has long supported maintaining stability in the region, and we expect the new administration to respect the status quo. American business operating in Asia needs certainty and stability, and the new administration needs to get up to speed quickly on the historical tensions and complex dynamics of the region.”