Friday Trump talked via phone to the president of Taiwan – this is a break in our diplomatic tradition as we have not had any relationship with Taiwan since 1979. Taiwan’s status has been a sensitive matter in the United States’ relationship with China. The U.S. has maintained a “one China” policy since establishing diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979, meaning that the United States has not recognized Taiwan as its own country, but rather as a part of China.
It is perhaps unprecedented for a U.S. president and certainly a president-elect to speak directly with a”one China” policy leader of Taiwan. China said it lodged a stern complaint with the U.S. and reiterated its commitment to seeking “reunification” with the self-governed democratic island, which it considers a renegade province.
Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said in a statement on Saturday: “It must be pointed out that there is only one China in the world and Taiwan is an inseparable part of Chinese territory. The government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legitimate government representing China.”
CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTER
In initial comments apparently meant to downplay the implication of the call, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Saturday that the contact between Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and Trump was “just a small trick by Taiwan” that he believed would not change U.S. policy toward China, according to Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV.
“The one-China policy is the cornerstone of the healthy development of China-U.S. relations and we hope this political foundation will not be interfered with or damaged.” Wang was quoted as saying.
Taiwan’s official Central News Agency said Edwin Feulner, former president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, was a “crucial figure” in setting up communication channels between the sides, leading to the call. Feulner could not immediately be reached to comment on the report, which cited anonymous sources.
MET IN OCTOBER
Feulner had met with Tsai in October when he led a delegation from the think tank on a trip to Taiwan, according to a release at the time from Taiwan’s presidential office. That release says Tsai called Feulner a “longtime friend to Taiwan” and conveyed her gratitude to his foundation for its support.
After the phone conversation, Trump tweeted that Tsai “CALLED ME.” (Of course, this could be one of the many falsehoods that Trump has trouble with). He also complained 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.”
The call also has drawn attention to Taiwanese media reports that the Trump Organization is interested in investing in the Taiwanese city of Taoyuan, near Taipei. The city’s mayor, Cheng Wen-tsan, said in a statement on the city government’s website last month that a representative of the Trump Organization had visited the city and expressed interest in investing in hotels near the airport. The statement said the visit was too brief for both sides to get into details.
The Trump Organization has denied it has any projects planned in Taiwan.
The Taiwanese presidential office said Trump and Tsai discussed issues affecting Asia and the future of U.S. relations with Taiwan. “The (Taiwanese) president is looking forward to strengthening bilateral interactions and contacts as well as setting up closer cooperative relations,” the statement said.
Tsai also told Trump that she hoped the U.S. would support Taiwan in its participation in international affairs, the office said, in an apparent reference to China’s efforts to isolate Taiwan from global institutions such as the United Nations.
The call is the starkest example yet of how Trump has ignored 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.
“President-elect Trump is just shooting from the hip, trying to take phone calls of congratulatory messages from leaders around the world without consideration for the implications,” said Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
PHONE CALL WITH CHINA
Last month, Trump had a call with Chinese President Xi Jinping during which Trump’s office described him as saying he believed the two would have “one of the strongest relationships for both countries.”
Despite China’s muted response Saturday, concern about Trump’s policy toward China is growing, said Shi Yinhong of Renmin University in Beijing, one of China’s best-known international relations scholars.
That the conversation took place at all is “highly unusual” and “significant,” said Dr. Claude Rakisits, of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, an expert in U.S.-South Asian affairs.
A spokesperson for the National Security Council said there is “no change to our longstanding policy on cross-Strait issues. We remain firmly committed to our ‘one China’ policy based on the three Joint Communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act.”
UPSET APPLE CART
“I’ve lived with this policy area my entire adult life and I’ve lived with the arguments around this for more than 25 years. To me, I am thrilled that this call took place,” a former Republican White House national security official told ABC News. “It will upset an apple cart that has needed upsetting for a long time.”
“No one should be telling the U.S. president who he can and cannot talk to,” the official said. “Especially if a very powerful competitor in the world is saying there’s a risk of conflict over this territory, it’s even more important for our leader to have communication with that leader.”
In the past, Trump has voiced support for a weapons deal with Taiwan, advocating a tough stance against China.