Donald Trump is not in the White House yet, but it took him less than a minute to create a diplomatic blowup in Assia.
On Friday, Trump shocked foreign policy experts by revealing he had an official phone call with the president of Taiwan, a break with more than 35 years of U.S. policy that is likely to infuriate China, reported Politico.
The United States has a strong but unofficial relationship with Taiwan, and Trump’s phone call, confirmed by his transition team Friday afternoon, raises questions about whether the president-elect intended to signal a policy shift that could antagonize Beijing even before he takes office.
Even as Asia hands were still scrambling to process the extraordinary breach of diplomatic protocol, conflicting narratives emerged over just who contacted whom.
“The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency,” Trump tweeted on Friday evening.
But according to the Taipei Times, the call was “arranged by his Taiwan-friendly campaign staff and Taipei’s motives were more than simple congratulations.
The Taiwanese government revealed that some planning went into the call. “Of course both sides agreed ahead of time before making contact,” Alex Huan, a spokesman for Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen, told Reuters.
“The president hopes to strengthen two-way interaction and communication and establish closer cooperative relations,” a statement from Tsai’s office said. “The president also told Trump that in the future she hopes that on the question of international relations, the U.S. side can continue to help Taiwan have more chances to participate and make contributions.”
Trump’s ignorance of foreign policy matters is already complicating Asia diplomacy for the White House, which found it necessary to re-affirm that the ‘One China’ policy remains in effect.
The call is the latest of several post-election conversations between Trump and foreign leaders that have raised alarms about whether the president-elect understands or cares about diplomatic protocol. One former senior Obama White House official who handled foreign policy said on Friday that world leaders may be wondering whether to take Trump’s words literally. “This has all the earmarks of randomness on the U.S. side,” said a former senior diplomat who served in the George W. Bush administration.