Donald Trump

Trump targets China in Twitter storm over Taiwan phone call

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 December, 2016, 9:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 December, 2016, 12:11pm

US President-elect Donald Trump railed against China on Sunday, only hours after his transition team denied that his call with Taiwan’s president signalled a new US policy toward Pacific power.

“Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the US doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea?” he tweeted . “I don’t think so!”

Earlier on Sunday the vice-president-elect, Mike Pence, had tried to downplay the possibility that Trump could threaten a diplomatic rift with Beijing through his actions last week. Trump’s 10-minute phone conversation on Friday with Tsai Ing-wen – thought to be the first time a US president or president-elect has spoken to a Taiwanese leader since 1979 – and subsequent reference to Tsai as “president” threatened such a breach , and implied he might be making up policy on the hoof.

Watch: Trump talks by phone with Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen

In damage-control mode, Pence sought to dismiss the row as “a tempest in a teapot”, contrasting it with Barack Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba.

“He received a courtesy call from the democratically elected president of Taiwan,” Pence told ABC’s This Week. “They reached out to offer congratulations as leaders around the world have and he took the call, accepted her congratulations and good wishes and it was precisely that.”

Later, in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Pence again used the term “the president of Taiwan”, suggesting it was no slip of the tongue.

China views Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification and any US move implying support for independence – including use of the word “president” – is likely to offend Beijing.

Chinese state media said Trump’s “inexperience” led him to accept the phone call but warned that any breach of the “One China” stance would “destroy” relations with America.

Watch: China labels Trump call “petty action” by Taiwan

Asked by ABC host George Stephanopoulos if he understood China’s objections, Pence replied: “Yes, of course.” But he quickly shifted gear to claim that the American people find Trump’s “energy” refreshing.

The Indiana governor was asked directly if there were implications for the “One China” policy. “We’ll deal with policy after 20 January,” he said, referring to the day of Trump’s inauguration.

On NBC, Pence suggested the controversy had been overplayed. “The waters here seem like a little bit of a tempest in a teapot,” he said.

“I mean, it’s striking to me that President Obama would reach out to a murdering dictator in Cuba and be hailed as a hero. And President-elect Donald Trump takes a courtesy call from the democratically elected president of Taiwan and it becomes something of a thing in the media.”

Other Trump surrogates sought to neutralise the issue. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, senior aide Kellyanne Conway said her boss was “well aware” of Washington’s “one China” policy.

“I know China has a perspective on it,” she said. “The White House and state department probably have a perspective on it. Certainly Taiwan has a perspective on it.

“The president-elect’s perspective is he accepted a congratulatory call. When he’s sworn in as commander-in-chief, he’ll make clear the fullness of his plans. But people shouldn’t read too much into it.”

Since his stunning victory over Hillary Clinton on 8 November, Trump has accepted congratulatory calls from dozens of world leaders including the prime ministers or presidents of Israel, Singapore, Japan and China, Conway said.

Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington on Sunday afternoon, Secretary of State John Kerry said it would be “valuable” to Trump if he took advice from state officials before such calls. Speaking to reporters at Trump Tower, however, Conway said the president-elect was “not really a talking points kind of guy”.