Following yesterday's unexpected phone call between Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen and President-elect Trump, which broke with decades of foreign policy norms resulting from Washington's official "One China" stance....
... and which spooked numerous foreign policy pundits, concerned that China would see the call as a hostile act by the Trump team and lead to a material deterioration in US-China relations, which also prompted Trump to take to twitter on Friday night to explain that he did not initiate the call but was merely responding to good wishes from the president of Taiwan...
The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2016
....and further poked the hypocrisy of the US establishment by saying "Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call" in a follow up tweet...
Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2016
... China responded on Saturday morning in two ways.
First, as Xinhua writes in its English edition, it "lodged solemn representations with the United States, urging the latter to honor its commitment to the one-China policy, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said on Saturday."
"It must be stated that, there is only one China and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China's territory, and the government of the People's Republic of China is the sole legitimate government that represents China. Those are all facts recognized by the international community," Geng said. The one-China principle is the political foundation for the China-U.S. relations, Geng said.
The White House on Friday reaffirmed backing for its long-standing support of the one-China policy and the three China-U.S. joint communiques. "We remain firmly committed to our one-China policy based on the three joint communiques," White House National Security Council spokesperson Ned Price told local media. "Our fundamental interest is in peaceful and stable cross-strait relations."
Geng also urged "relevant parties in the US to honor the commitment to the one-China policy as well as the three Sino-U.S. joint communiques, and to handle Taiwan-related issues with caution and care to avoid unnecessarily interfering with the overall situation of Sino-US relations." That was interpreted as a direct warning to Trump to be careful while observing international diplomatic protocol, especially when China is involved.
According to AFP, it was not immediately clear whether Trump's telephone call with Tsai Ing-wen marked a deliberate pivot away from Washington's official "One China" stance, but it fuelled fears he is improvising on international affairs. China added that the one-China principle is a cornerstone for healthy development of Sino-U.S. relations, and China does not want this political foundation to be interfered with or damaged, Wang added.
That said, to avoid being seen as too critical on the president-elect, Xinhua also reported that overnight, Foreign Minister Wang Yi called Tsai's call with Trump "a little trick", or loosely translated in English as "gimmick", by Taiwan which would not change the one-China consensus in international community. He added that the "One-China" policy is the foundation for the healthy development of China’s relationship with the U.S.
Further de-escalating tensions, Wang also said on the sidelines of a foreign policy seminar on Saturday that "I don't think it will change the one-China policy of the U.S. government either."
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Prior to Beijing's response, in China, analysts painted the call as something originating from Taiwan, claiming it was a deliberate Taiwanese attempt to upend America's China policy. Jin Canrong, from China's Renmin University, told AFP Tsai had been "very cunning" in her call to Trump.
"Tsai Ing-wen would like to draw the United States against the mainland," he said.
During his presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly accused China of manipulating its currency to harm US manufacturing and threatened to impose tariffs on some of its exports. "One can see at once that Trump is very reckless, not familiar at all with the whole context," Jin said.
Chinese citizens were quick to react to the call on social networking platforms, noting Trump's reference to Tsai as "president" whereas on the mainland she is only referred to as Taiwan's "leader".
"The US dares to recognise Taiwan independence," one user said on Weibo, China's version of Twitter.
Another posted: "He calls Tsai as +president+ on Twitter!!! Is Trump thinking of using Taiwan as a bargaining chip in his negotiations with China?"
However Zhang Wensheng, of Xiamen University, was more circumspect, dismissing Trump's use of the term "president" as "personal greetings" that "do not reflect a political position whatsoever".
While the motive behind Trump's conversation with the Taiwan president remains unclear - and perhaps there was no motive to begin with - Friday's incident is a reminder that under the President-elect, everything is about to change and what was formally considered "mere protocol" is now officially out of the door, for better or worse.