(Ty Wright/Getty Images)
President-elect Donald Trump spoke with the president of Taiwan by phone on Friday, in a move likely to infuriate Beijing and hinder US-China relations.
“President-elect Trump spoke with President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, who offered her congratulations,” according to a readout of the call released by Trump’s transition team.
“During the discussion, they noted the close economic, political, and security ties” between Taiwan and the United States, the statement continued. “President-elect Trump also congratulated President Tsai on becoming President of Taiwan earlier this year.”
The call, first reported by the Financial Times, is the first time a US president has directly spoken with Taiwan’s leadership in more than 30 years. The White House was not made aware of the call until after it occurred, an administration official told Business Insider.
The US suspended formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979 after establishing a One China position — which states that “there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China” — in an effort to establish diplomatic channels with Beijing.
Beijing views Taiwan as a province of China, whereas Taiwan — which has its own democratically elected government — has a more complicated view of the nations’ relationship.
“There is no change to our longstanding policy on cross-Strait issues,” said Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council.
“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,” he added.
Ing-wen, who was elected the first female president of Taiwan in May, told The Washington Post over the summer that she hopes Chinese President Xi Jinping “can appreciate that Taiwan is a democratic society in which the leader has to follow the will of the people.”
Analysts were quick to point out that the phone call will likely infuriate Beijing.
“Trump has phone call w Taiwan President, 1st by US Pres or Pres-elect since 1979,” goepolitical expert Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, tweeted on Friday. “Beijing will be absolutely incensed.”
“Trump almost surely unaware of Taiwan-China sensitivities before taking President’s call,” Bremmer added. “They don’t yet have Asia expertise on team.”
Evan Medeiros, former Asia director at the White House national security council, told the Financial Times that “the Chinese leadership will see this as a highly provocative action, of historic proportions.”
“Regardless if it was deliberate or accidental, this phone call will fundamentally change China’s perceptions of Trump’s strategic intentions for the negative,” he said. “With this kind of move, Trump is setting a foundation of enduring mistrust and strategic competition for US-China relations.”
Trump has apparently been considering building a luxury hotel chain in the northwest Taiwanese city of Taoyuan, the Shanghaiist reported last month.
Henry Kissinger — who, as secretary of state, arranged President Richard Nixon’s initial trip to Beijing to establish ties in 1972 — is currently visiting Beijing. Kissinger met with Trump at Trump Tower after the election and told reporters that Trump “has absolutely no baggage.”
“He has no obligation to any particular group because he has become a president on the basis of his own strategy and a program he put before the American public that his competitors did not present,” Kissinger said. “So that is a unique situation.”
Still, the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler said news of the phone call will likely give Kissinger “a heart attack.”
“Years of careful diplomatic winks and nods up in smoke,” he tweeted.
Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary under George W. Bush, tweeted on Friday that he “wasn’t even allowed to refer” to the government “of” Taiwan when serving in the Bush administration.
“I could say gvt ‘on’ Taiwan,” he noted. “China will go nuts.”
Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, tweeted that while “it’s Trump’s right to shift policy, alliances, strategy … what has happened in the last 48 hours is not a shift. These are major pivots in foreign policy w/out any plan. That’s how wars start. And if they aren’t pivots — just radical temporary deviations — allies will walk if they have no clue what we stand for. Just as bad.”
He added: “It’s probably time we get a Secretary of State nominee on board. Preferably w experience. Like, really really soon.”
Trump risked damaging the US’ relationship with India earlier this week after telling Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif in a phone call that he would “love” to visit the country soon.
“It sends a powerful message to the people of a country when the president of the United States goes to visit,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said when asked about the call with Sharif. “That’s true whether it’s some of our closest allies, or that’s also true if it’s a country like Pakistan, with whom our relationship is somewhat more complicated.”
Trump’s communications director, Jason Miller, told reporters Friday before reports of the phone call between Trump and Ying-wen emerged that Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence are “briefed in advanced of their calls” with foreign leaders. He did not comment on whether the State Department has had any involvement in briefing Trump and Pence, however.
Brett LoGiurato contributed reporting.
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