WASHINGTON/NEW YORK: US President-elect Donald Trump spoke by phone on Friday with President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, a move that is likely to infuriate China, which considers the self-ruled island its own, and complicate US relations with Beijing.
The conversation was the first such contact with Taiwan by a US president-elect or president since President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, recognising Taiwan as part of “one China”.
Trump said on Twitter that Tsai had initiated the call. “The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me, congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!” he said.
Alex Huang, a spokesman for Tsai, said, “Of course both sides agreed ahead of time before making contact.”
The two noted that “close economic, political and security ties exist between Taiwan and the United States,” the Trump transition team said in a statement. Taiwan’s presidential office said the two discussed strengthening bilateral interactions and establishing closer cooperation.
There was no immediate comment from China, which is likely to be angered because it views Taiwan as a renegade province, to be united by force if necessary.
Washington is Taiwan’s most important political ally and sole arms supplier, despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties.
“Interesting how the US sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call,” Trump said in another tweet.
Trump has eschewed tradition in other calls with foreign leaders since he won the US election, prompting the White House to encourage him to make use of the diplomatic expertise and counsel of the State Department.
The call comes at a time of worsened Taiwan-China relations since the election of Tsai’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) earlier this year.
The White House responded to the call by saying that “longstanding policy” on China and Taiwan had not changed.
“We remain firmly committed to our ‘one China’ policy,” said Ned Price, a national security spokesman for President Barack Obama. “Our fundamental interest is in peaceful and stable cross-Strait relations.”
Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said on CNN that Trump was “well aware of what US policy has been” on Taiwan.
Administration officials said Trump’s team did not alert the White House about the call ahead of time.
Randy Schriver, a former deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for East Asia, including Taiwan, under former President George W. Bush said he believed the call was “primarily a courtesy.”
“China should have no objection…They know better than anyone that contact between leaders does not violate a US One China Policy,” he said.