Why Trump’s call to Taiwan’s president will likely incense Chinese leaders

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Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen speaks during an interview in Luque
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Thomson Reuters

President-elect Donald Trump spoke with the president of Taiwan by phone on Friday, in a move likely to infuriate Beijing.

A call by the US president to any president of Taiwan would risk endangering China-US relations, but the situation is particularly fraught because Taiwan’s current president, Tsai Ing-wen, has stated that she believes Taiwan is independent from China.

Tsai, who took office in January, is a member of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party and is openly against the “one-China principle.”

The “One China principle” states that “there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China.”

Beijing views Taiwan as a province of China, whereas Taiwan – which has its own democratically elected government – has a more complicated view of the relationship.

“I am not clear what the U.S. means when they use the term ‘entity.’ For us here in Taiwan, we believe that we are a country, a democratic country,” Tsai said in a Washington Post interview in July, referring to Washington’s view of Taiwan as an entity, not a country.

“It is indeed unfair,” Tsai said of Taiwan not being independently recognized in the world.

China suspended diplomatic talks with Taiwan in June.

Chinese president Xi Jinping publicly snubbed the Taiwan government during a high-profile meeting with Taiwan’s opposition leader last month, warning that Taiwan will be limited in access to the mainland’s highest levels of power unless it accepts the idea of being part of China, the Associated Press reported.

The US suspended formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979 after establishing a One China position in an effort to promote diplomatic channels with Beijing.

The US’ unofficial diplomatic office in Taipei is called American Institute in Taiwan, and its counterpart in Washington is called Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the US.