Donald Trump risks opening up a major diplomatic dispute with China before he has even been inaugurated after speaking on the phone on Friday with Tsai Ying-wen, the president of Taiwan.
The telephone call, confirmed by three people, is believed to be the first between a US president-elect and a leader of Taiwan since diplomatic relations between the two were cut in 1979.
Although it is not clear if the Trump transition team intended the conversation to signal a broader change in US policy towards Taiwan, the call is likely to infuriate Beijing which regards the island as a renegade province.
The US has adopted the so-called “One China” policy since 1972 after the Nixon-Mao meetings and in 1978 President Jimmy Carter formally recognised Beijing as the sole government of China, with the US embassy closing in Taipei the year after.
The Trump team did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“The Chinese leadership will see this as a highly provocative action, of historic proportions,” said Evan Medeiros, former Asia director at the White House national security council.
“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.”
Like the Israel settlement question, the U.S. should really stay out of this stuff. If Trump makes clear that he just wants to be a good friend to all nations that is fine, but if he doesn't make this absolutely clear to China it is remarkably provocative.
A neocon cheers Trump for his Twain move because he sees it as dissing China!
Any time Trump disses the ChiComs, it's a good moment. They are not our friends, neither are they freedom-lovers.— John Schindler (@20committee) December 2, 2016