Trump’s Taiwan contact breaks decades of policy
President-elect Donald Trump spoke Friday with Taiwan’s president, a major departure from decades of U.S. policy in Asia and a breach of diplomatic protocol with ramifications for the incoming president’s relations with China.
The call is the first known contact between a U.S. president or president-elect with a Taiwanese leader since before the United States broke diplomatic relations with the island in 1979. China considers Taiwan a province, and news of the official outreach by Trump is likely to infuriate the regional military and economic power.
The exchange is one of a string of unorthodox conversations with foreign leaders that Trump has held since his election. It comes at a particularly tense time between China and Taiwan, which earlier this year elected a president, Tsai Ing-wen, who has not endorsed the notion of a unified China. Her election angered Beijing to the point of cutting off all official communication with the island government.
It is not clear whether Trump intends a more formal shift in U.S. relations with Taiwan or China. On the call, Trump and Tsai congratulated each other on winning their elections, a statement from Trump’s transition office said.
“During the discussion, they noted the close economic, political and security ties ... between Taiwan and the United States,” the statement said.
A statement from the Taiwanese president’s office said the call lasted more than 10 minutes and included discussion of economic development and national security, and about “strengthening bilateral relations.”
Tsai expressed admiration for Trump’s success in a highly competitive election, the statement said.
The Trump-Tsai conversation was first reported by the Financial Times and the Taipei Times.
Ned Price, a White House spokesman, declined to comment on reports that Beijing contacted the White House on Friday. Price emphasized: “There is no change to our long-standing 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. Our fundamental interest is in peaceful and stable cross-Strait relations.”
Asked about Trump’s call during a conference on international affairs in Beijing early Saturday, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, called it a “small action” that “cannot change China’s standing in international society.”
The breach of protocol will “not change the One China policy that the U.S. government has supported for many years,” he said. “The One China principle is the foundation for healthy development of Sino-U.S. relations. We don’t wish for anything to obstruct or ruin this foundation.”
The president-elect tweeted out Friday evening, “The president of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency.”
Later, Trump sent another tweet, apparently in response to criticism of the Taiwan
call as potentially reckless: “Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call.”
A senior adviser to Trump suggested that he knew about the longstanding U.S. policy toward Taiwan when the call occurred.
“He’s well aware of what U.S. policy has been,” Kellyanne Conway said in an interview with CNN on Friday night.
Conway bristled when asked whether Trump was properly briefed before the call on the government’s long-standing policy, questioning why President Barack Obama did not receive similar queries about his knowledge of foreign affairs.
“President-elect Trump is fully briefed and fully knowledgeable about these issues ... regardless of who’s on the other end of the phone,” she said.
Ric Grenell, a former George W. Bush administration spokesman at the United Nations, who was spotted visiting with Trump transition team officials at Trump Tower on Friday, said the presidentelect’s call was planned in advance and that Trump took the call on purpose.
“It was totally planned,” Grenell said. “It was a simple courtesy call. People need to calm down. The ‘One China’ policy wasn’t changed. Washington, D.C., types need to lighten up.”
The United States has pursued the “One China” policy since 1972, when then-President Richard M. Nixon visited China.In 1978, President Jimmy Carter recognized Beijing as the legitimate government of China, and Washington closed its embassy in Taiwan a year later. A deliberately ambiguous relationship between Washington and Taiwan has existed since.
China guards the structures of its formal relationship with the United States very carefully — especially the founding document that established the One China policy.
U.S. officials typically tiptoe around any mention of Taiwan or the Chinese goal of full reunification.