China has urged Washington to deny Taiwan’s president entry to the United States as Donald Trump’s protocol-shredding conversation with Tsai Ing-wen continued to create frictions between the world’s two largest economies.
Tsai, who was elected Taiwan’s first female leader in January, is expected to fly through the US next month en route to a three-country tour of Central America with stops in Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador.
Why is Donald Trump’s chat with Taiwan such an issue? –
There has been speculation – denied by a number of Trump advisers – that she may stop over in New York for a meeting with the US president-elect ahead of his 20 January inauguration.
Beijing, which views Taiwan as part of its own territory and does not recognise Tsai’s authority over the self-ruled island, called on the US to prevent that happening.
China hoped the United States “does not allow her transit, and does not send any wrong signals to ‘Taiwan independence’ forces”, the foreign ministry told Reuters in a statement.
The foreign ministry claimed the true aim of Tsai, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive party (DPP), was “self-evident”.
A spokesperson for the US state department appeared to dismiss China’s calls, noting that allowing Taiwanese leaders to transit through the US was part of a “long-standing US practice, consistent with the unofficial nature of our relations with Taiwan”.
China’s calls came as it emerged that former Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole may have played a role in setting up the controversial 10-minute conversation between Trump and Tsai that has so angered Beijing.
The New York Times reported that in the lead-up to that call Dole, now a Washington lobbyist, had spent six months working behind the scenes to establish high-level contact between Taiwanese officials and Trump staff.
“It’s fair to say that we may have had some influence,” Dole was quoted as saying by the Wall Street Journal.
Dole’s law firm, Alston & Bird, reportedly received US$140,000 from the Taipei economic and cultural representative office, which functions as an unofficial embassy in the US.
Those revelations fuelled renewed criticism of the way in which foreign affairs were being handled by the US president-elect.
“It does seem very strange that Trump is ignoring the state department while apparently allowing Bob Dole, a lobbyist for Taiwan, to make arrangements for him in what appears to be a change in US policy dealing with Taiwan,” Fred Wertheimer, the founder and president of watchdog group Democracy 21, told Politico.
“Dole’s interests here certainly involved Taiwan’s interests more than it did American interests, and the fact that he was the intermediary raises a serious issue about just how President-elect Trump is going to make US foreign policy.”
video – China dismisses Trump call with Taiwan as ‘small trick’
Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a China expert from the University of California, Irvine, said Beijing’s initial public response to Trump’s decision to engage with Taiwan’s leader had been “relatively measured”.
But its irritation appeared to have intensified in the wake of Sunday night’s tweets in which the billionaire attacked Beijing over the South China Sea and alleged currency manipulation. Wasserstrom said there was now growing talk “about needing to respond more dramatically if this moves from tweets into policy … They are moving towards a less placid response.”
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Wasserstrom cautioned the real estate tycoon against adopting a “slash and burn” approach towards relations with the world’s number two economy, even if a valid argument could be made for deepening relations with Taiwan.
“There is a good argument to be made for why it is foolish to not recognise that the president of Taiwan is an important figure and worth having dialogue with,” he said.
But if Trump was determined to pursue a new policy towards Taiwan, and therefore China, it should be done through set of measured moves “not by just lobbing rhetorical hand-grenades and seeing what happens”.
Li Yonghui, the dean of the school of international relations at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, said Beijing’s attempts to “play down this matter” in public reflected a Chinese tradition of leaving room for manoeuvre and not hurting others’ pride.
“But privately there will have been some negotiations … The Chinese government’s concerns and even some form of anger will have been expressed and will be felt by the US government,” he said.
Additional reporting by Christy Yao