US president-elect, in break with practice, speaks to Taiwan's leader

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Donald Trump spoke by phone on Friday with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, a move that is likely to infuriate China and complicate U.S. relations with Beijing.

The call was the first such contact with Taiwan by a U.S. president-elect or president since President Jimmy Carter adopted a one-China policy in 1979.

Trump said on Twitter that the Taiwanese leader 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."

13 PHOTOS
Members of the Trump family
See Gallery
Members of the Trump family
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 26: Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are seen on March 26, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Tal Rubin/GC Images)
BRIARCLIFF MANOR, NY - SEPTEMBER 21: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump attends the 9th Annual Eric Trump Foundation golf invitational at Trump National Golf Club Westchester on September 21, 2015 in Briarcliff Manor City. (Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage)
BRIARCLIFF MANOR, NY - SEPTEMBER 21: (L-R) Vanessa Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Ivana Trump, Eric Trump, Lara Trump, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner attend the 9th Annual Eric Trump Foundation Golf Invitational Auction & Dinner at Trump National Golf Club Westchester on September 21, 2015 in Briarcliff Manor, New York. (Photo by Grant Lamos IV/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 04: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump attend the 'China: Through The Looking Glass' Costume Institute Benefit Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 4, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 16: (L-R) Eric Trump, Lara Yunaska Trump, Donald Trump, Barron Trump, Melania Trump, Vanessa Haydon Trump, Kai Madison Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Donald John Trump III, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and Tiffany Trump pose for photos on stage after Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the U.S. presidency at Trump Tower on June 16, 2015 in New York City. Trump is the 12th Republican who has announced running for the White House. (Photo by Christopher Gregory/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: Jared Kushner (L) and Ivanka Trump attend the American Theatre Wing's 69th Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 7, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Mark Sagliocco/Getty Images)
BEDMINSTER, NJ - OCTOBER, 25: In this handout image provided by Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump (R) and Jared Kushner (L) attend their wedding at Trump National Golf Club on October 25, 2009 in Bedminster, New Jersey. (Photo Brian Marcus/Fred Marcus Photography via Getty Images)
Donald Trump, president and chief executive of Trump Organization Inc. and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, center, speaks as his sons Donald Trump Jr., left, and Eric Trump, right, listen during a caucus night rally in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. Trump's dominating victory in the Nevada caucuses pushes him further out ahead of his nearest competitors for the Republican presidential nomination, giving his unorthodox candidacy a major boost heading into Super Tuesday contests next week. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
20/20 - Donald Trump and his family - including wife Melania Trump and his children - sit down for an interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters in a special edition of 20/20 airing Friday, Nov. 20 (10-11pm, ET) on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC via Getty Images) DONALD TRUMP, JR., IVANKA TRUMP, ERIC TRUMP, TIFFANY TRUMP, BARBARA WALTERS
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 28: Marla Maples (L) and Tiffany Trump have dinner at Sumosan on July 28, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Getty Images)
BRIARCLIFF MANOR, NY - SEPTEMBER 15: (EDITORS NOTE: Retransmission of #455504994 with alternate crop.) (L-R) Donald Trump, Ivana Trump, Eric Trump and Lara Yunaska attend The Eric Trump 8th Annual Golf Tournament at Trump National Golf Club Westchester on September 15, 2014 in Briarcliff Manor, New York. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 18: Donald Trump, Eric Trump and Lara Yunaska attend the New York Observer's 2013 Young Philanthropy event at PH-D Rooftop Lounge at Dream Downtown on April 18, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

The Trump transition team said in a statement that the two leaders noted that "close economic, political and security ties exist between Taiwan and the United States."

Taiwan's presidential office said the two leaders touched on 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.

Washington is Taiwan's most important political ally and sole arms supplier, despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties.

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 has 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."

A former diplomat who helped arrange the call and did not want to be identified said Chinese officials he spoke to beforehand said they were not troubled by the call because Trump was not yet president. Trump takes office on Jan. 20.

Tsai was one of four world leaders Trump spoke to on Friday, raising questions about whether he is effectively coordinating with the U.S. State Department before reaching out to leaders overseas.

Gerrit van der Wees, a former Dutch diplomat who lobbies on behalf of Taiwan, said the call indicated Trump would be less bound by conventions and restrictions in foreign policy and was "signaling a broader change in U.S. policy towards Taiwan."

"SEAT OF HIS PANTS"

Advisers to the Republican president-elect have indicated that he is likely to take a more robust policy toward China than Obama, a Democrat, and that Trump plans to boost the U.S. military in part in response to China's increasing power in Asia. However, details of his plans remain scant.

Senator Chris Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Trump was entitled to change policy, but his approach was potentially dangerous.

"Foreign policy consistency is a means, not an end. It's not sacred. Thus, it's Trump's right to shift policy, alliances, strategy," Murphy, a Democrat, said in a note on Twitter.

16 PHOTOS
Donald Trump's 'USA thank you' tour
See Gallery
Donald Trump's 'USA thank you' tour
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump throws a cap to the audience as he speaks during a "Thank You USA" tour rally in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S., December 9, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar 
Supporters of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump attend a USA Thank You Tour event at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S., December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Supporters of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump attend a "Thank You USA" tour rally in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S., December 9, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Supporters of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump attend a USA Thank You Tour event at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S., December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at a rally as part of their "USA Thank You Tour 2016" in Cincinnati, Ohio, December 1, 2016 . REUTERS/William Philpott
A protester walks out of the U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence at a rally as part of their "USA Thank You Tour 2016" in Cincinnati, Ohio, December 1, 2016 . REUTERS/William Philpott
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence hold a rally in Cincinnati, Ohio, December 1, 2016 as part of their "USA Thank You Tour 2016". REUTERS/William Philpott
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Cincinnati, Ohio, December 1, 2016 as part of their "USA Thank You Tour 2016". REUTERS/William Philpott
Supporters of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump attend a USA Thank You Tour event at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S., December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 01: Guests listen as President-elect Donald Trump speaks at U.S. Bank Arena on December 1, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Trump took time off from selecting the cabinet for his incoming administration to celebrate his victory in the general election. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son speak to the press after meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., December 6, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at a USA Thank You Tour event at Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville, North Carolina, U.S., December 5, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Supporters cheer for U.S. President-elect Donald Trump at a USA Thank You Tour event at Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville, North Carolina, U.S., December 6, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Republican presidential then nominee Donald Trump and Ben Carson walk to Carson's childhood home in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/ File photo
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump greets members of the press at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., December 6, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

But he added: "What has happened in the last 48 hours is not a shift. These are major pivots in foreign policy w/out any plan. That's how wars start."

Also on Friday, Trump invited Philippines leader Rodrigo Duterte to the White House next year during what a Duterte aide said was a "very engaging, animated" phone conversation. Duterte has openly insulted Obama, who canceled a planned meeting with him in September.

A statement issued by Trump's transition team made no mention of the invitation. The transition team said that Trump also spoke on Friday to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Winston Lord, who was U.S. ambassador to China from 1985-89 and is a former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said the strategic importance of the Taiwan call was unclear.

"Like so many things with Trump, who knows? This man is ignorant about foreign policy and is flying by the seat of his pants, so it is difficult to assess the significance.

"Having said that, I have no problem with his talking to Madame Tsai; Taiwan is a good friend and although our relations are unofficial, I think it's important to maintain close bonds with Taiwan."

Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke by telephone on Nov. 14. Xi stressed that cooperation was the only choice for relations between the world's two largest economies, and Trump said that the two had established a "clear sense of mutual respect."

Trump lambasted China throughout the U.S. election campaign, drumming up headlines with pledges to slap 45 percent tariffs on imported Chinese goods and label the country a currency manipulator on his first day in office.

Douglas Paal, a former official of the U.S. National Security Council who served as U.S. representative to Taiwan from 2002-2006, said nothing Trump had said in the campaign suggested he wanted to rebuild the relationship with Taiwan at the expense of the China relationship.

"From the information I have so far, this is a standalone item," Paal said, "but the Chinese will feel the need to make a major protest so there isn't more of this."

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners