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Trump Speaks With Taiwanese President, Risking A Rise In US-China Tension

REUTERS/Jason Lee

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter

President-elect Donald Trump spoke with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen Friday, a historic move almost certain to anger China.

The telephone call, which was confirmed by Trump transition team spokeswoman Hope Hicks, is reportedly the first time a U.S. president or president-elect has spoken with Taiwan since formal diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Taiwan were officially cut in 1979.

Tsai Ing-wen reportedly called Trump, and the two discussed various aspects of the U.S.-Taiwan relationship.

The historic phone call with Taiwan’s president will inevitably infuriate China, which perceives Taiwan as a separatist province and opposes any and all actions that signify Taiwan is an independent nation with the ability to cultivate diplomatic ties to other countries.

“The facts prove that cooperation is the only correct choice for China and the United States,” Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly told Trump during an earlier phone conversation.

China considers territorial integrity and Taiwan to be inviolable “core interests,” and China is unlikely to see this level of U.S. engagement with Taiwan as cooperation.

“The Chinese leadership will see this as a highly provocative action, of historic proportions,” Evan Medeiros, former Asia director at the White House national security council, explained to the Financial Times.

“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 US-China relations,” he added.

The U.S. has embraced the One-China Policy since 1972, when Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger met Chairman Mao Zedong. In 1978, Jimmy Carter recognized the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the only China. The American embassy in Taipei, Taiwan was closed the next year.

Taiwan’s democratic system and the current president’s pro-independence leanings concern China, which has been much tougher on Taiwan in recent months.

Recently, the Chinese government criticized Singapore for its military ties to Taiwan and expressed concerns over a U.S. defense bill proposing high-level military exchanges with Taiwan.

A peace treaty for China’s civil war, the two sides of which are divided by the Taiwan Strait, has never been signed, and the relationship between Taiwan and China is extremely tense.

Tsai’s call to Trump will almost certainly fan the flames, stirring tension between China and Taiwan, as well as China and the U.S., especially if China interprets this as a U.S. policy shift.

(Editor’s note: This piece has been updated.)

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