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Taiwan contact signals Trump’s continuing break with convention

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Donald Trump’s conversation with Taiwan’s president could seriously antagonize China’s government.
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WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump’s break with diplomatic precedent by speaking with the president of Taiwan is yet another signal that the unconventional path candidate Trump took to victory in the general election will likely guide him in the White House, some analysts and government officials said Saturday.

The implications of Trump’s latest action — the first such direct communication with a Taiwanese leader since the U.S. broke diplomatic relations in 1979 — are not immediately clear. Yet some foreign policy experts said there are serious potential ramifications to pursuing such an unorthodox course.

“Unfortunately, President-elect Trump has waded into the thicket of U.S.-Taiwan relations without any apparent briefings by senior State Department officials intimately familiar with this long history,” Jeffrey Bader, a former principal adviser to President Obama on Asia, said Saturday in a written statement. “This phone call will likely to be interpreted by Beijing as something much more than a personal chat.”

The U.S. formally severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1979 after President Jimmy Carter formally recognized Beijing as the sole government of China.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said Saturday that State officials “supported requests from the transition team for some of their communications’’ with foreign leaders. Government officials, however, had no advance knowledge of Trump’s plan to speak with Tsai Ing-wen.

As recently as Tuesday, secretary of State John Kerry was lauding growing cooperation with China on climate change and development, progress resulting from careful negotiations with the nation.

“Unlike the Cold War, which was often a zero-sum competition for influence, we have a chance today to establish unprecedented levels of coordination among donors and investors,” Kerry told the Women’s Foreign Policy Group in Washington. “This is a topic that I’ve already discussed with Chinese officials, and they have agreed to make cooperation on development one of the pillars of our bilateral ties.

“Imagine that,” Kerry said, “China and the United States cooperating on global development. That cooperation is something the world has never seen before, but it’s starting already to happen now, and I believe if we grow it, it can make a major difference in the generation to come.”

By early Saturday, however, China had lodged a formal complaint with the U.S., over the Trump call, with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang declaring that “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China.”

“The one China principle is the political basis of the China-US relationship,” Shuang said in a statement Saturday. “We urge the relevant party in the U.S. to honor its commitment to the one China policy and … and properly deal with Taiwan-related issues in a discreet manner, so as to avoid unnecessary disruptions to the overall China-U.S. relationship.”

Trump addressed the matter Friday night in his signature way, issuing a tweet claiming that “the president of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency.”

That tweet was followed by another: “Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call.”

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a member of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Saturday that Trump’s interactions so far with foreign leaders may represent an uneasy “a new chapter” in such dealings involving an American president.

“We’ll have to see whether this is the beginning of a new chapter where the president-elect, after his inauguration, conducts foreign policy that is shoot-from-hip, twitter-storm style, where he gets in twitter fights or takes unscheduled calls from foreign leaders in ways that break with decades of precedent,” Coons said on CNN.

“We we know from the campaign is that the president-elect Trump promised to shake things up,” the senator said, “and he made a number of concerning, even alarming proposals,” including a reconsideration of the U.S.’s future commitment to (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) NATO.”

Kellyanne Conway, a senior Trump adviser and spokeswoman, disputed any suggestion that the president-elect was not aware of the potential gravity of such a communication with Taiwan.

“President-elect Trump is fully briefed and fully knowledgeable about these issues,” Conway said on CNN.

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