Two days after a transcript of President-elect Donald Trump‘s phone call with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made news, the next President of the United States has reportedly had another diplomatically-challenging conversation with a world leader. Instead of causing potential friction between U.S.-India relations, however, Trump’s Friday chat with Tsai Ying-wen, the current president of Taiwan, could spell major trouble for America’s political and economic alliance with China. Especially since he may be the first U.S. elected representative to officially speak to a Taiwanese counterpart since 1979.
According to the Financial Times, neither the Trump transition team nor Chinese officials have officially commented on the phone call. However, the chances of China’s leaders being unhappy with the conversation are quite high. As the former Asia director at the White House national security council, Evan Medeiros, explained:
“The 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. With this kind of move, Trump is setting a foundation of enduring mistrust and strategic competition for U.S.-China relations.”
Although official diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Taiwan were cut in 1979, the first steps toward their dissolution occurred during President Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, when he met with Chairman Mao Zedong. President Jimmy Carter then officially recognized China as a single government in 1978 and closed the American embassy in Taipei in 1979.
UPDATE #1: Trump’s apparently cordial phone call with Tsai Ying-wen may have something to do with a Shanghaiist report from mid-November detailing a Trump Organization representative’s visit to the region in September. Per local Taiwanese news outlets, the unnamed representative allegedly “[expressed] interest in the city’s Aerotropolis, a large-scale urban development project aimed at capitalizing on Taoyuan’s status as a transport hub for East Asia.” Trump has since claimed publicly that he would leave his “great business in total” once inaugurated, though the details of how that might transpire remain unknown.
Meanwhile, several journalists and politicos on Twitter pointed to two tweets from October and November 2011 as evidence against Trump’s (or his team’s) possibly feigning ignorance about what the Taiwan phone call would do to U.S.-China relations:
At the time, Trump was referring to the news that President Barack Obama’s administration had decided not to sell 66 F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan due to its diplomatic commitment to China. According to the New York Times, the White House decided to refurbish the country’s current fleet of planes — purchased from President George H.W. Bush in 1992 — as a “consolation prize” meant to “allow Taiwan to defend itself but would avoid opening a major rift with China.”
UPDATE #2: The Trump transition team confirmed the president-elect’s phone call with Taiwan’s president in an official statement:
President-elect Trump spoke with President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, who offered her congratulations. 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.
UPDATE #3: In a move that isn’t all that surprising (considering his behavior throughout the campaign), President-elect Trump took to Twitter to comment on his call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ying-wen. “The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency,” he claimed. “Thank you!
Whether or not Trump’s assertion that Ying-wen called him, and not the other way around, has not been corroborated (and likely won’t be).