(The Guardian) – Donald Trump looked to have sparked a potentially damaging diplomatic row with China on Friday after speaking to Pro-Independence Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen on the telephone in a move experts said would anger Beijing.
The call, first reported by the Taipei Times and later confirmed by the Financial Times, is thought to be the first between the leader of the island and the US president or president-elect since ties between America and Taiwan were severed in 1979, at Beijing’s behest.
The US closed its embassy in Taiwan – a democratically-ruled island which Beijing considers a breakaway province – in the late 1970s following the historic rapprochement between Beijing and Washington that stemmed from Richard Nixon’s 1972 trip to China.
Since then the US has adhered to the so-called ‘one China’ principle which officially considers the independently governed island part of the same single Chinese nation as the mainland.
Beijing clearly does not want a change in the normalized relations between the Taiwan and the US, but some question why the US decided to Kowtow to China, a Totalitarian Communist State, in the first place.
Trump’s transition team said Tsai, who was elected Tawain’s first female president in January, had congratulated the billionaire tycoon on his recent victory.
The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2016
“During the discussion they noted the close economic, political, and security ties that exist between Taiwan and the United States,” it said. “President-elect Trump also congratulated President Tsai on becoming president of Taiwan earlier this year.”
Experts said the unanticipated call would infuriate China’s leaders, even before Trump took office. “This is going to make real waves in Beijing,” said Bill Bishop, a veteran China watcher who runs the Sinocism newsletter from Washington DC. “I think we will see quite the reaction from Beijing … this will put relations from day one into a very difficult place.”
— Sputnik (@SputnikInt) November 16, 2016
Evan Medeiros, the Asia director at the White House national security council, told the Financial Times: “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. With this kind of move, Trump is setting a foundation of enduring mistrust and strategic competition for US-China relations.”
Bishop said it was hard to know whether the call was the result of a deliberate policy move by Trump or merely an intervention by a member of his staff who was friendly towards Tsai Ing-wen and Taipei.
Trump adviser Peter Navarro, an economics professor, travelled to Taiwan in the first half of this year at the invitation of its ministry of foreign affairs.
Peter Navarro is a controversial figure. He directed the documentary ‘Death by China’, which can be viewed below
In a recent article for Foreign Policy magazine, Navarro said Barack Obama’s treatment of Taiwan had been “egregious”, adding: “This beacon of democracy in Asia is perhaps the most militarily vulnerable US partner anywhere in the world.”
Bishop said Beijing’s immediate reaction would be a “rhetorical explosion” but that the longer-term consequences were altogether more unpredictable.
“If the US starts to change the one China policy, that puts US-China relations into uncharted territory,” he said.
Beijing has been scrambling to understand what a Trump White House might mean for already fraught US-China relations since his election last month, with some predicting an unexpected rapprochement and others a trade war.
On Friday Xi Jinping held a 90-minute meeting with Henry Kissinger, a longstanding go-between for Washington and Beijing, in the Chinese capital to discuss relations between the two countries.
According to Xinhua, China’s official news agency, Xi told Kissinger:
“China will work closely with the United States at a new starting point to maintain the smooth transition of ties and stable growth. The two countries should properly handle their different views and divergences in a constructive manner,” Xi reportedly added.
That relationship is likely to be come under sudden and renewed strain in the wake of Trump’s call with Tsai.
Taiwan Inaugurates First Female President: Tsai Ing-wen's party has previously pushed for formal independence… https://t.co/OvmKg3EgyO
— Sunrise Rotary (@RotaryMobileAM) May 20, 2016
“This adds a level of risk to US-China relations that we haven’t seen in a very long time,” said Bishop.
“This is the third rail of US-China relations. For Trump to come in and basically look like he is setting aside decades of US policy towards [China/Taiwan] relations has to be quite worrisome for them. There is a lot of uncertainty about what Trump is going to do.
— PRI's The World (@pritheworld) November 9, 2016
“It’s unclear who his advisers are, although certainly the ones who have been named have argued over the years for the US to change the relationship we have with Taiwan; to make the US-Taiwan relationship more important and upend the one China policy that we have had in place since the 1970s. So this could set off a lot of alarm bells in Beijing.”