The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has lodged a complaint with Washington after a
phone call made between US president-elect Donald Trump and Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen smashed longstanding protocol in what appeared to be a major departure from US policy.
Trump himself took to Twitter early this morning to make the announcement, saying:
The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2016
Less than an hour later, as it became clear a shitstorm was emerging, he tweeted:
Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2016
“We have noticed relevant reports and lodged solemn representation with our counterparts in the United States,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at a press conference. “It must be pointed out that there is only one China in the world, that Taiwan is an inseparable part of Chinese territory, and that the government of the People’s Republic of China is the only legal government of China. This is a fact that has been accepted by the international community.”
“The ‘one China’ principle is the political bedrock of China-US relations,” he added. “We urge the relevant side in the US to adhere to the ‘one China’ policy, abide by the pledges in the three joint China-US communiques, and handle issues related to Taiwan carefully and properly to avoid causing unnecessary interference to the overall China-U.S. relationship.”
Earlier, Foreign Minister Wang Yi had downplayed the importance of the phone call, insisting that diplomatic relations between China and the USA would not be “interfered with or damaged“.
Wang, however, appeared to lay the blame squarely on the self-governed island that China regards as a breakaway province, describing the phone call as a “shenanigan by Taiwan”.
The phone call, the first direct contact made between a president or president-elect of the USA and a Taiwanese president in over 35 years.
Handout picture from Taiwan’s presidential office.
Tsai Ing-wen was photographed taking the call with Trump, and the “historic” moment, as Taiwan’s Central News Agency called it, was witnessed by national security council secretary-general Joseph Wu and foreign minister David Lee.
Trump’s transition team confirmed the President-elect had spoken with Tsai in ten minute call. “During the discussion, they noted the close economic, political, and security ties exists between Taiwan and the United States,” read a statement released by the team. “President-elect Trump also congratulated President Tsai on becoming President of Taiwan earlier this year.”
Political pundits in Taiwan were taken by surprise. “Nobody saw this coming,” said Professor Francis Hu, head of politics at Taichung University, to Time magazine. “This will make cross-strait relations even more unpredictable in the next few months,” he said. “We already have a lot of problems for the time being and this action will complicate the scenario.”
Ric Grenell, who had been visiting the Trump transition team on Friday, said the president-elect’s call was planned in advance and that Trump took the call on purpose.
“It was totally planned,” Grenell said, according to the Washington Post. “It was a simple courtesy call. People need to calm down.”
Tamkang University political analyst Edward Chen said the call should not be viewed as a reversal of US policy. “It is just a 10 minute call with both leaders making general conversation without any substantive discussion,” he told the Straits Times. “It’s just a friendly gesture by Mr Trump which will not make much of a difference in his policy position.”
Diplomatic relations between China and the United States were re-established after President Nixon visited Beijing in 1972. Six years later, President Jimmy Carter recognized Beijing as the sole government of both mainland China and Taiwan. Shortly thereafter, the US closed its embassy in Taiwan.
The White House has reaffirmed the ‘one China’ policy. “There is no change to our longstanding policy on cross-strait issues,” National Security spokeswoman Emily Horne told AFP. “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.”
— Eric Lipton (@EricLiptonNYT) December 3, 2016
Critics are already pointing to the tangled web of conflicts of interest that Donald Trump’s globe-spanning business interests will create while he is in office. Earlier this month, the mayor of Taoyuan confirmed that Trump was considering constructing a series of luxury hotels and resorts in the northwest Taiwanese city.
Responding to the latest developments, Trump Organization spokesperson Amanda Miller said the company had “no plans for expansion into Taiwan nor is Eric Trump planning a visit.”
This, however, has been quickly debunked by Eric Lipton, an investigative reporter with the New York Times, who earlier published a damning look at Trump’s conflicts of interests.
Anne-Marie Donoghue, a Trump Hotels executive overseeing business development in Asia, had visited Taiwan in October. “I’m in Taipei now, Donoghue wrote on her Facebook profile. “Work trip, but it has been so fun!!!”
Watch this space for more.
By Charles Liu