Trump-Tai­wan call: China lodges protest

The Star (St. Lucia) - - REGIONAL -

China’s for­eign min­istry says it has lodged a com­plaint with the US after Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump spoke to Tai­wan’s leader in a phone call.

China sees Tai­wan as a break­away prov­ince. US pol­icy set in 1979 cut for­mal re­la­tions with Tai­wan. Mr Trump’s tran­si­tion team said he and Tsai Ing-wen noted, “close eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal, and se­cu­rity ties”.

The US is Tai­wan’s most im­por­tant ally and pro­vides Tai­wan with suf­fi­cient weaponry to de­fend it­self. China said it had lodged a “solemn rep­re­sen­ta­tion” with Wash­ing­ton.

Ac­cord­ing to the state news agency Xin­hua, China urged the US “to cau­tiously, prop­erly han­dle Tai­wan issue to avoid un­nec­es­sary dis­tur­bance to Sino-US re­la­tions”.

For­eign Min­is­ter Wang Yi dis­missed the call as a “petty trick” by Tai­wan, Chi­nese state me­dia said.

Mr Trump tweeted on Friday that Ms Tsai had called him to con­grat­u­late him on win­ning the US elec­tion.

His team said that the US pres­i­dent-elect had also con­grat­u­lated Ms Tsai on be­com­ing the pres­i­dent of Tai­wan last Jan­uary. No US pres­i­dent or pres­i­den­t­elect has spo­ken di­rectly to a Tai­wanese leader for decades.

Fol­low­ing me­dia re­ports point­ing out the risks of an­ger­ing China, Mr Trump tweeted: “In­ter­est­ing how the US sells Tai­wan bil­lions of dol­lars of mil­i­tary equip­ment but I should not ac­cept a con­grat­u­la­tory call.”

The White House has said Mr Trump’s con­ver­sa­tion does not sig­nal any change in US pol­icy. US me­dia re­ported that the White House learned of the call only after it had hap­pened. Mr Trump’s spokes­woman said he was “well aware” of US pol­icy to­wards Tai­wan.

What is the prob­lem?

The split be­tween China and Tai­wan goes back to 1949, when the Repub­lic of China (ROC) Kuom­intang (KMT) govern­ment fled the main­land to Tai­wan after be­ing de­feated by the com­mu­nists un­der Mao Ze­dong. The KMT held China’s seat on the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and was, for a while, recog­nised by many West­ern na­tions as the only Chi­nese govern­ment. But in 1971, the UN switched diplo­matic recog­ni­tion to Bei­jing. Only a hand­ful of coun­tries now recog­nise Tai­wan’s govern­ment.

Wash­ing­ton cut for­mal diplo­matic ties with Tai­wan in 1979, ex­press­ing its sup­port for Bei­jing’s “one coun­try, two sys­tems” con­cept, which states that Tai­wan is part of China. But de­spite the cut, the US re­mains, by far, Tai­wan’s most im­por­tant friend, and its only ally.

The Tai­wan Re­la­tions Act prom­ises to sup­ply Tai­wan with de­fen­sive weapons. It says that any at­tack by China on Tai­wan would be con­sid­ered of “grave con­cern” to the US.

China has hun­dreds of mis­siles point­ing to­wards Tai­wan, and has threat­ened to use force if it for­mally de­clares in­de­pen­dence. Pres­i­dent Tsai, Tai­wan’s first fe­male leader, led the Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party (DPP) to a land­slide vic­tory in the Jan­uary 2016 elec­tion. The DPP has tra­di­tion­ally leaned to­wards in­de­pen­dence from China. Pres­i­dent Tsai’s ad­min­is­tra­tion does not ac­cept the “One China” pol­icy.

From con­cern to alarm and anger - Car­rie Gra­cie, BBC China ed­i­tor, Bei­jing

Mr Trump’s de­ci­sion to turn his back on four decades of US pro­to­col on Tai­wan and speak di­rectly to a pres­i­dent of Tai­wan has stunned pol­i­cy­mak­ers in Bei­jing.

Since his elec­tion last month, they have strug­gled to un­der­stand who is ad­vis­ing Don­ald Trump on Asia and what his China pol­icy will look like. This move will turn con­cern into alarm and anger.

Bei­jing sees Tai­wan as a prov­ince. Deny­ing it any of the trap­pings of an in­de­pen­dent state is one of the key pri­or­i­ties of Chi­nese for­eign pol­icy.

China’s re­ac­tion is rel­a­tively mild. It doesn’t want to get off on the wrong foot with Mr Trump. And it sees Mr Trump as an in­ex­pe­ri­enced politi­cian, so for now it’s will­ing to for­give him and not play this up.

It may also be some­what re­as­sured by state­ments from the US that its pol­icy on China and Tai­wan has not changed. But be­hind the scenes it’s safe to say China is work­ing hard to “ed­u­cate” the Trump team on not re­peat­ing such diplo­matic faux pas.

This move by Tai­wan’s Pres­i­dent Tsai will fur­ther in­fu­ri­ate Bei­jing and make it dis­trust her even more and see her as favour­ing Tai­wan’s for­mal in­de­pen­dence from China.

Don­ald Trump’s team said he “con­grat­u­lated” Tsai Ing-wen on be­com­ing pres­i­dent of Tai­wan in Jan­uary

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