White House warning over Trump’s phone call to Taiwan leader

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen speaks on the phone with U.S. president-elect Donald Trump at her office in Taipei, Taiwan, in this handout photo made available December 3, 2016. Taiwan Presidential Office/Handout via REUTERS

The White House has warned that a phone conversation between Donald Trump and Taiwan’s leader could “undermine” relations between Washington and Beijing.

The President-elect’s unprecedented call with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen led to a diplomatic protest from China’s foreign ministry, which described the discussion as a “petty action” by Taiwan – a self-ruled island it claims as its own.

In speaking to Ms Tsai, Mr Trump risked a rift with Beijing and disregarded the US government’s so-called “one China” policy which has been in place since 1979.

White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said the call could jeopardise US relations with China.

He said: “The Chinese government and Beijing places an enormous priority on this situation and it’s a sensitive matter.

“Some of the progress that we have made in our relationship with China could be undermined by this issue flaring up.”

Mr Earnest said National Security Council officials twice spoke with Chinese diplomats to “reiterate and clarify” Washington’s commitment to the “one China” policy.

He added: “I think it’s hard to determine exactly what the aim was of the President-elect and both the vice president-elect and his campaign manager were … I’ll leave that to them to explain.”

On Sunday, Mr Trump responded to controversy over the phone call by complaining about Chinese economic and military policy on Twitter.

He said: “Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the US doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea?

“I don’t think so!”

Speaking to Sky News, former US assistant secretary of state for public affairs James Rubin said Mr Trump “may have overplayed his hand”.

He added: “This wasn’t an accident … it’s pretty clear to me that the teams on both sides organised this call.

“I think Mr Trump is hoping to show he is tough and that he can decide who he gets a call from.”

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