When President-elect Donald Trump spoke with the President of Taiwan today, it unleashed a firestorm of protest from Democrats and pundits who fear that the telephone call between the two leaders will trigger a showdown with communist China. "President-elect Trump spoke with President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, who offered her congratulations," Trump's transition team said in a statement. "During the discussion, they noted the close economic, political, and security ties exists between Taiwan and the United States. President-elect Trump also congratulated President Tsai on becoming President of Taiwan earlier this year."
Trump posted comments on Twitter about the call. "The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!" Trump tweeted. This was followed up by another post on Twitter, which said, "Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call." No president, including Barack Obama, has had such a call with a Taiwanese leader since 1979 during the Carter administration when full diplomatic relations between Taiwan and the US. Former George W. Bush official Ari Fleischer expressed concern, tweeting “China will go nuts.”
Uh-oh. I wasn't even allowed to refer to the gvt "of" Taiwan. (I could say gvt "on" Taiwan.) China will go nuts. https://t.co/vJcBD2rika— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) December 2, 2016
Members of the media were all over Trump’s statement. For example, the New York Times tweeted that a “major rift with China” may be imminent.
Donald Trump spoke by telephone with Taiwan’s leader, which could lead to a major rift with China https://t.co/5fQI11MJ9O— The New York Times (@nytimes) December 2, 2016
Leading foreign policy correspondents were also quizzical.
Christopher Hayes of MSNBC was dismissive.
I mean, if you know, like, 5 things about China, one of them is: THEY'RE KIND OF TOUCHY ABOUT TAIWAN— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) December 2, 2016
A reporter for The Nation, referred to Trump’s call as an example of “pig-ignorance.”
It is hard to overstate the bottomless pig-ignorance & recklessness, of this step.— James Fallows (@JamesFallows) December 2, 2016
Presidents from Nixon onward had careful PRC/ROC protocol https://t.co/s9EqhOjoT8
"This could be damaging," said Barry Pavel, who directs the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council, who predicted that the Chinese reaction will not be pretty. Pavel said that since Trump is not yet president, he should not be making calls such as the one to china. So far, Trump has had calls with two national leaders; the first was the president of Pakistan.
Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, was quick to explain Trump’s strategy in an exchange with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. She told Cooper on "AC360" that she would not gainsay the statement from the transition team. However, she suggested that Trump is aware of the implications of his actions. "He either will disclose or not disclose the full contents of that conversation but he's well aware of what US policy has been," Conway said.
Following the news of the telephone call, China's state-run CCTV issued a statement denouncing what it said was "an unprecedented break with the One-China Policy and accepted US-Mainland protocol." Furthermore, the statement said, "There is no immediate reaction from the Chinese government to this call," and added, "The Mainland says it firmly opposes official contact in any form between Washington and Taipei."
Trump is dangerously out of touch, making moves that defy common sense and risk catapulting us into worldwide chaos. https://t.co/lBg94FAPiN— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) December 2, 2016
White House officials have already been in touch with their Chinese counterparts. Ned Price, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said "there is no change to our longstanding policy on cross-Strait issues." He said, “We remain firmly committed to our 'one China' policy based on the three Joint Communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act," and added, "Our fundamental interest is in peaceful and stable cross-Strait relations." The call apparently came as a surprise to the Obama administration. Reportedly, it was Stephen Yates -- a fellow at the Heritage Foundation who advises Trump -- who is in Taiwan and helped to arrange for the call. China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang warned the US to respect the so-called One China Policy. "We urge the US side to strictly adhere to the one-China policy, abide by the principles of the three Sino-U.S. joint communique, be cautious in handling the Taiwan issue and never turn back the wheel of history, lest the overall situation of China-U.S. relations be impaired," he said.