White House on Damage Control After Trump-Taiwan Call Angers China

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada June 18, 2016. REUTERS/David Becker - RTX2GYKG

Last Friday, President-elect Donald Trump received a phone call that essentially made history. On the other line was Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen. Trump picked up the phone breaking more than 40 years of U.S.-Taiwan policy. He then tweeted about it.

Since 1979, Washington has had no formal relations with Taiwan, and it does not recognize it as an independent nation. Neither does China, which sees it as a breakaway province and has hundreds of missiles pointed at it.

Needless to say, Beijing was not happy. She retaliated with a diplomatic complaint that sent White House officials shuffling for answers.

Now, the Obama Administration is racing to reassure China that the U.S. remains committed to recognizing the “One-China” policy.

“The adherence to and commitment to this policy has advanced the ability of the United States to make progress in our relationship with China and, of course, has benefitted the people of Taiwan,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest this week.   

He told reporters that it was “hard to determine what the aim was” for Trump’s move. But the president-elect says the conversation was merely a courtesy call. Last January, Trump congratulated Tsai after becoming Taiwan’s first female president following her campaign under the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party.

Following the Tweet, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi dismissed the call as a “petty trick” by Taiwan, Chinese state media reports.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said US-China relations were always conducted on a “win-win” approach. “To maintain such sound momentum of development, it will take both sides to work together on the basis of upholding major principles in bilateral relations.”

But the true nature of Sino-China relations, even as they relate to Taiwan, remains a mystery. In fact, Beijing’s officials have kept sharp eyes on Trump trying to figure out who advises him on Asia and what his intentions are. But it’s likely the celebrity turned leader of the free world is going to keep them guessing.  

Following media reports speculating Beijing’s response to Trump’s phone call, the billionaire real estate mogul tweeted: “Interesting how the US sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call.”

About Andrew Burke 145 Articles
Editor-in-Chief Andrew Burke is a lifelong aficionado of all things Chinese. He studied Mandarin while living in Taiwan for six years and now works as a digitization specialist at the Yenching Library, which specializes in Asian books and documents, at Harvard University where he also studies topics related to China, Chinese, Asia and foreign affairs.