Vice President-elect Mike Pence attempted to tamp down criticism of President-elect Donald Trump’s call on Friday with the President of Taiwan, the first call between the leaders of both countries since 1979.
In favor of its relationship with China, the US government does not maintain formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan because of a decades-long dispute between the island and China over governance of Taiwan and the Chinese mainland.
In several interviews Sunday, Pence described the conversation between Trump and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen as “nothing more than a courtesy call,” noting that it was “one of more than 50 telephone calls that the president-elect has taken from and made to world leaders.”
“She reached out to the president-elect and he took the call from the democratically elected leader of Taiwan,” Pence said on “Meet The Press.”
He added: “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.”
Pence argued that President Barack Obama also broke foreign policy norms by visiting Cuba, though Obama’s detente with the island nation was the result of years of planning and negotiation between the two countries.
“To be honest with you, the waters here seem like a little bit of a tempest in a teapot. I mean, it’s striking to me that President Obama would reach out to a murdering dictator in Cuba and be hailed as a hero. And President-Elect Donald Trump takes a courtesy call from the democratically elected president of Taiwan and it becomes something of a thing in the media,” Pence said.
The vice president-elect also suggested that China should not have been upset over the call, repeating his claim that the US will “deal with policy” after Trump takes office.
“I would just say to our counterparts in China that this was a moment of courtesy. The president-elect talked to President Xi two weeks ago in the same manner that was not a discussion about policy. And we’re going to be preparing after January 20 to advance now what will be President Trump’s agenda on the world stage, and we’ll deal with policy at that time.
For its part, China also publicly downplayed the call, yet appeared to deliver a warning to Trump about making overtures to Taiwan.
China’s foreign minister Wang Yi characterized the call as “just a small trick by Taiwan,” but the country lodged a formal complaint with the US over the call.
“The one-China policy is the cornerstone of the healthy development of China-US relations, and we hope this political foundation will not be interfered with or damaged,” Yi said.
Friday’s call quickly garnered criticism from many Democrats, as well as some US foreign-policy experts. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, criticized Trump on Twitter for not anticipating diplomatic blowback.
“What has happened in the last 48 hours is not a shift. These are major pivots in foreign policy w/out any plan. That’s how wars start,” Murphy tweeted.