China lodges protest with US over Trump-Tsai phone call

A handout picture released by the Office of the President Taiwan on Dec 3, 2016, shows Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen (centre) having a phone conversation with US President-elect Donald Trump late evening in Taipei, Taiwan, Dec 2, 2016.
A handout picture released by the Office of the President Taiwan on Dec 3, 2016, shows Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen (centre) having a phone conversation with US President-elect Donald Trump late evening in Taipei, Taiwan, Dec 2, 2016. PHOTO: EPA
US president-elect Donald Trump (left) and Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen.
US president-elect Donald Trump (left) and Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen. PHOTOS: REUTERS, AFP

BEIJING - China’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday (Dec 3) it had lodged a protest with the United States after President-elect Donald Trump committed a taboo in China-US relations by speaking with telephone with the president of Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a breakaway province.

The “one China” principle is the political basis of the China-US relationship, the ministry added, urging the“relevant side” to uphold this policy and carefully handle the Taiwan issue to avoid unnecessary disturbances in ties.

The move came after China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi dismissed the 10-minute phone call between Mr Trump and Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen as a "petty gambit" by Taiwan.

"This is but a petty gambit (小动作) by Taiwan. It can never change the 'one China' reality that has formed in international society, nor will it change the 'one China' policy maintained by the US government all these years," he said in a measured response to media queries at a forum on Saturday morning.

He added: "The 'one China' principle is the cornerstone of a healthy Sino-US relationship. We do not wish this political foundation be affected or destroyed in any way."

In Taipei, Taiwan’s policy making body on China, the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), said China should look at the call “calmly”. 

“We call on China to face the new situation in the Asia-Pacific region and work with us towards developing a benign cross-strait relationship and create a new way that will benefit the development of peace, prosperity and stability for the region,” MAC said in a statement. 

Analysts told The Straits Times that this incident could spell trouble for Sino-US ties.

"This is a very serious incident. Even though Mr Trump has not been inaugurated, given his position as president-elect, this is a very significant signal," Beijing-based academic Qiao Mu told The Straits Times.

"I'm afraid the next four years will see testy relations between both countries."

 

Dr Qiao believes that Beijing will give the incident a "cold treatment" and avoid giving it attention in the media so as to prevent public opinion from brewing.

The reaction from netizens on a news flash posted by micro-blogging platform Weibo has been mixed.

Some are confused by Mr Trump's action while others said this shows that Mr Trump is not easy to deal with and China must be wary of him.

Chinese state censors appear to have moved quickly to take down online posts of the news and comments on Mr Trump's phone call. 

Within less than two hours, the Sina Weibo newsflash that was posted at around 7.20 am was deleted from the site. Analysts have told The Straits Times that their Weibo posts related to the incident were also removed very swiftly.

Independent think-tank Charhar Institute researcher Wang Chong said the phone call has exposed Mr Trump and his team's inexperience in dealing with foreign affairs.

"They lack proper understanding of Sino-US relations and cross-strait ties," he said.

"Beijing will take this opportunity to warn the US and Mr Trump and put pressure on them," he added.

Cross-strait expert Zhu Songling said it's still early days to judge how this phone call will impact cross-strait ties.

"It remains to be seen how Mr Trump will formulate his cross-strait policy, especially when this is a phone call before he officially takes office," said Dr Zhu of Beijing Union University.

But cross-strait expert Wang Weinan of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences told The Straits Times that he thinks this will not bode well for both Sino-US ties and cross-strait relations.

"This has breached the well-established framework of Sino-Taiwan," he said.

Mr Trump is believed to be the first US president or president-elect to speak to a Taiwanese leader since the US broke ties with Taiwan after establishing diplomatic relations with China in 1979.