For the first known time since the U.S. and Taiwan severed relations in 1979, the U.S. president-elect engaged in a phone conversation with the leader of Taiwan, risking anger from China.
Donald Trump's team said that during the phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Dec. 2, which was first reported by the Taipei Times and subsequently verified by the Financial Times, Taiwan's first female leader congratulated the president-elect on his win over Hillary Clinton, notes the Guardian.
"During the discussion they noted the close economic, political and security ties that exist between Taiwan and the United States," Trump's transition team said, according to The Guardian. "President-elect Trump also congratulated President Tsai on becoming president of Taiwan earlier this year."
Since the late 1970s, the U.S. has followed a "one China" principle that does not acknowledge the democratic island nation as independent, allying with China on the matter. Now that Trump has done what no president or president-elect has since that time, experts on U.S. relations in the area say he has likely angered China's leadership before assuming office.
"This is going to make real waves in Beijing," said China expert Bill Bishop, who heads Washington D.C.'s Sinocism newsletter. "I think we will see quite the reaction from Beijing … this will put relations from day one into a very difficult place."
Trump frequently railed against China in his presidential campaign, saying that the country takes advantage of the U.S. when it comes to trade and financial matters. On his campaign website, he vowed to have China labeled as "a currency manipulator" and to "use every lawful presidential power to remedy trade disputes if China does not stop its illegal activities, including its theft of American trade secrets."
China is reportedly looking to maintain a positive relationship with Trump's administration, according to the country's official media outlet, although the White House national security council's Asia Director Evan Medeiros told the Financial Times that Beijing will consider Trump's phone call "a highly provocative action, of historic proportions," notes the Guardian.
"Regardless if it was deliberate or accidental, this phone call will fundamentally change China’s perceptions of Trump’s strategic intentions for the negative," said Medeiros. "With this kind of move, Trump is setting a foundation of enduring mistrust and strategic competition for U.S.-China relations."