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Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan president, breaks silence on Trump call, says no major policy shift

TAIPEI, Taiwan — President Tsai Ing-wen on Tuesday downplayed her historic recent phone call with President-elect Donald Trump, stressing that “one phone call does not mean a policy shift” between Washington and the island nation that China regards as its territory.

“The phone call was a way for us to express our respect for the U.S. election as well as to congratulate President-elect Trump on his win,” Ms. Tsai told a small group of American reporters here in her first public remarks on Friday’s call that has made headlines around the world since Mr. Trump tweeted about it over the weekend.

“I do not foresee major policy shifts in the near future because we all see the value of stability in the region,” Ms. Tsai told the U.S. reporters in Taipei on a trip sponsored by the U.S.-backed East-West Center.

Her remarks reflected a cautious posture taken by others in her administration since Mr. Trump tweeted about the call, which has been widely perceived as a historic nod by the incoming U.S. administration to Taiwanese sovereignty, and has prompted outrage from Beijing.

The call is believed to have been the first in 40 years between a Taiwanese leader and a U.S. president-elect in the wake of the 1979 “One China” policy, in which Washington recognized China as the sole legal government of the Chinese people and cut off official diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

China lodged a diplomatic protest on Saturday over the call and blamed the Tsai government for engaging in it as a “petty” move to agitate Beijing. China’s Foreign Ministry said it had lodged “stern” protests with what it called the “relevant U.S. side,” implying that it had raised the matter directly with Mr. Trump’s transition team.

While Mr. Trump tweeted Saturday that Ms. Tsai had initiated the call with him, it was unclear whether his tweeting about it was a risky rookie foreign policy mistake or a strategic move to advise China to ready itself for a more muscular posture from the incoming U.S. administration.

A spokesman for Ms. Tsai has said both sides agreed to the call before it took place, according to Reuters.

Mr. Trump defended the call in a series of tweets Sunday night, lashing out at critics who’d accused him of acting irresponsibly toward China.

“Did China ask us if it was OK to carry out a number of actions such as build up disputed islands in the South China Sea or take economic measures hurtful to the United States,” Mr. Trump tweeted.

Ms. Tsai’s rise to the Taiwanese presidency last year prompted hope in Washington for a more pro-U.S. government than that of former President Ma Ying-jeo, a member of Taiwan’s Chinese Nationalist Party who had spent the previous eight years adopting a more conciliatory posture toward Beijing.

A Taiwanese source who spoke on condition of anonymity Sunday said that the last thing the Tsai government wants is for Mr. Trump’s call to trigger diplomatic friction between Taipei and Beijing.

“We do not want to play [this] up to confront China,” the source told a reporter from The Washington Times.

Source: www.washingtontimes.com stories: Politics

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