Tsai Ing-wen’s call to Trump irritates Beijing

The two presidents congratulate each other, talk about close economic, political and security relations between Taiwan and the United States. This has not happened in almost 40 years. The “US sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call," wonders Trump. Speculation is ripe about possible shifts in US policy towards Beijing.


Taipei (AsiaNews) – US President-elect Donald Trump has spoken on the phone with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, breaking with US policy set almost 40 years ago.

This is unprecedented since 1979 when the United States recognised the People's Republic of China (PRC) and formally at least cut off diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

The decision has irritated Beijing because it seems to call into question its ‘One China’ policy, whereby it requires that all those who recognise it must cut off relations with the "rebel island", which is how the mainland defines Taiwan.

Still, reacting to the event, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reportedly dismissed the phone call as a "small move" by Taiwan. "The One China policy is the cornerstone of the healthy development of China-US relations," he was quoted as saying.

Tsai’s office said that the conversation, which took place at 11 pm Friday Taipei time, lasted more than 10 minutes and that the island’s leader called for US “support of Taiwan’s bid for more international participation and contributions to global agenda.”

Donald Trump's team said he "congratulated" Tsai Ing-wen on becoming the president of Taiwan in January.

Following media reports pointing out the risks of angering China, Mr Trump tweeted: "Interesting how the US sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call."

Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said the president-elect’s conversation does not signal any change to long-standing US policy on “cross-strait” issues.

“We remain firmly committed to our ‘one China’ policy,” Price said. “Our fundamental interest is in peaceful and stable cross-strait relations.”

Even so, Trump’s unusual move once again demonstrates his impatience with conventional diplomacy.

At present, Washington recognises mainland China and has no diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but does offer military protection to the island in case of an attack by China.

Since 1949 when Chiang Kai-shek fled the mainland, Beijing views the island as a “breakaway province” and has hundreds of missiles pointed at it, which it has pledged to use in case the latter declares its independence.

More recently, decades of tensions were replaced by détente and co-operation in communications, business, and tourism under former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou.

Last January, Taiwan’s presidential elections saw however the victory of Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party, whose members tend towards independence, or at least against reunification. In the wake of this, Beijing froze economic relations and communications.

When the United States recognised China, breaking diplomatic relations with Taiwan, it accepted the principle of reunification between the two entities, albeit a peaceful one. Now, it is still unclear whether Trump’s phone call is a sign of changing US policy towards China.

During the US election campaign, Trump often criticised Beijing for destroying US industry and “attacked it as a “currency manipulator” to favour its exports.

Some analysts think that the call is a form of blackmail towards Beijing to extract economic concessions.

It is equally important to bear in mind that China owns a large share of the US external debt, about 10% or 1.24 trillion dollars.

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