- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 4, 2016

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Government officials and analysts here are celebrating behind the scenes over President Tsai Ing-wen’s phone conversation with President-elect Donald Trump, even as concerns mount over potential fallout with China, where authorities expressed outrage over the development over the weekend.

Friday’s call is believed to be the first in 40 years between a Taiwanese leader and an American president-elect in the wake of the 1979 “One China” policy, in which Washington recognized China as the sole legal government of the Chinese people and cut off official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which Beijing regards as its territory. The Taipei Times described the conversation as a “landmark event.”

The phone call and Mr. Trump’s tweeting about it have been widely perceived as a historic nod by the incoming U.S. administration to Taiwanese sovereignty, but officials close to Ms. Tsai spent the weekend trying to downplay the notion that any major shift in policy is at play.

Tsai spokesman Alex Huang said over the weekend that Taiwan values its ties with China and the United States and that the island’s efforts to improve the two separate sets of relations do not conflict with each other.

“As far as Taiwan is concerned, good relations across the Taiwan Strait and good relations with the United States are equally important, and both are very helpful to peace and stability in the region,” Mr. Huang said.

Ms. Tsai’s rise to the Taiwanese presidency last year prompted hope in Washington for a more pro-U.S. government than that of former President Ma Ying-jeo, a member of Taiwan’s Chinese Nationalist Party who had spent the previous eight years adopting a more conciliatory posture toward Beijing.

A Taiwanese source who spoke on condition of anonymity Sunday said that the last thing the Tsai government actually wants is for the Trump call to trigger diplomatic friction between Taipei and Beijing.

“We do not want to play [this] up to confront China,” the source told a reporter from The Washington Times visiting Taipei on a trip sponsored by the U.S.-backed East-West Center.

China lodged a diplomatic protest on Saturday over the Trump-Tsai call and blamed the Tsai government for engaging in the call as a “petty” move. China’s Foreign Ministry, according to Reuters, said it had lodged “stern” protests with what it called the “relevant U.S. side,” urging the careful handling of the Taiwan issue to avoid any unnecessary disturbances in ties.

“The ‘one China’ principle is the political basis of the China-U.S. relationship,” it said in wording that implied the protest had gone directly to the Trump camp.

Meanwhile, there was confusion over who initiated the phone call. It also was unclear whether Mr. Trump had engaged in a rookie foreign policy mistake by tweeting about the call or in a strategic move to advise China to ready itself for a more muscular posture from the incoming U.S. administration.

Mr. Trump tweeted Friday that the Taiwanese president called him, but the Taipei Times reported the call was arranged by Edwin Feulner, a former president of the conservative Heritage Foundation who serves as an adviser to Mr. Trump.

The newspaper also claimed that Stephen Yates, a onetime national security aide to former Vice President President Dick Cheney and a renowned supporter of deeper U.S.-Taiwan relations, is being considered for an appointment in the Trump administration. He is slated to visit Taiwan later this week.

Taiwanese officials declined to comment on who initiated the Trump-Tsai call, saying only that it was held at 11 p.m. Taipei time on Friday and lasted roughly 10 minutes, with Ms. Tsai congratulating Mr. Trump on his victory and telling him he will make an “excellent president.”

The two also shared views on governance, especially on promoting domestic economic development and strengthening national defense to ensure a better, safer life for the public, officials close to Ms. Tsai said in a statement. On Taiwan-U.S. relations, specifically, Ms. Tsai expressed the wish of strengthening bilateral exchanges and contacts and establishing closer cooperation relations.

While critics in Washington lambasted Mr. Trump for breaking with decades of protocol in speaking with Ms. Tsai, Vice President-elect Mike Pence shot back Sunday, defending Mr. Trump while hurling criticism at the outgoing Obama administration.

Mr. Pence said on ABC’s “This Week” that he was “mystified” that those outraged over the “courtesy call” had no problem with the Obama administration’s outreach to Cuba.

“It’s a little mystifying to me that President Obama can reach out to a murdering dictator in Cuba and be hailed as a hero for doing it, and President-elect Donald Trump takes a courtesy call from the democratically elected leader in Taiwan and it’s become something of a controversy,” Mr. Pence said on “This Week.”

He added that Friday’s call was one of about 50 conversations that have taken place between Mr. Trump and world leaders since the election. “I think the American people appreciate the fact that our president-elect is taking calls from and reaching out to the world, and preparing on Day One to lead America on the world stage,” Mr. Pence added.

Mr. Trump spoke on the telephone with Chinese President Xi Jinping roughly a week after last month’s election in the U.S.

In response to the outrage expressed by Chinese officials over the weekend, Mr. Pence said Sunday, “I think I would just say to our counterparts in China that this was a moment of courtesy.”

“I think most Americans and, frankly, most leaders around the world, know this for what it was. And it’s all part and parcel. I think you’re going to see in a President Donald Trump a willingness to engage the world but engage the world on America’s terms,” Mr. Pence said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Mr. Trump also took a jab at his critics in a Friday Twitter posting about the call. “Interesting how U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call,” Mr. Trump said in a Friday tweet.

Valerie Richardson contributed to this report.


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