President-elect Donald Trump risked upending the United States’ delicate relationship with China by speaking with the president of Taiwan by phone on Friday.
The call with President Tsai Ing-wen marks the first time a U.S. leader has spoken directly with Taiwan’s leadership in over 30 years, and is a violation of the “One China” position implemented to improve diplomatic relations with Beijing. The call was first reported by the Financial Times and later confirmed in a readout from Trump’s transition team.
State Department officials have urged the President-elect to consult with their experts before speaking to foreign leaders in order to avoid blunders. As of Thursday, however, a spokesman for the agency said that Trump has not received briefings from the department before any of his calls to world leaders.
The Friday call represents an impromptu opening in U.S.-Taiwanese relations after they were formally suspended in 1979. Evan Medeiros, former Asia director at the White House national security council, told the Financial Times that “Chinese leadership will see this as a highly provocative action, of historic proportions.”
“Regardless if it was deliberate or accidental, this phone call will fundamentally change China’s perceptions of Trump’s strategic intentions for the negative,” he continued. “With this kind of move, Trump is setting a foundation of enduring mistrust and strategic competition for US-China relations.”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) cautioned that this sort of action was “how wars start.”
— Chris Geidner (@chrisgeidner) December 2, 2016
Trump’s transition team said that President Ing-wen “offered her congratulations” on his electoral victory, and spoke about the ‘close economic, political, and security ties” between the two countries.
According to the Taipei Times, the call was arranged by “Taiwan-friendly” members of Trump’s transition team, who briefed him on issues related to the island nation. No other news outlet has confirmed that impetus for the phone conversation.
Another Friday phone call also raised concerns among international relations experts.
Trump this morning spoke with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in a call Duterte’s aides called “very engaging and animated.” Duterte’s aides also said Trump extended an invitation to the White House; Trump’s team did not confirm that in its readout of the call.
President Barack Obama recently canceled a scheduled meeting with Duterte after the Philippine leader called him a “son of a bitch” at a press briefing. Since taking office in May, Duterte has launched a crackdown on illegal drugs that has led to spike in extrajudicial killings, and has threatened to withdraw the Philippines from the United Nations.