China on Wednesday accused Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen of seeking to use a planned transit stop in the U.S. to score diplomatic points, amid Chinese rancor over an unprecedented phone call between Tsai and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump.
Asked at a briefing whether China has asked the U.S. to cancel the stop planned for next month, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang reiterated China’s claim to sovereignty over Taiwan and accused Tsai of political machinations.
“Taiwan’s administration and leader always perform some petty moves like a transit diplomacy whose ulterior political intentions are clear for all to see,” Lu said.
Tsai plans to stop in the U.S. on her way to visit Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador, among the island’s handful of diplomatic allies. China, which claims Taiwan as a breakaway province, objects to any nation having formal contact with its government. The island has diplomatic relations with just 22 countries, of which 12 are in Central America and the Caribbean.
The phone conversation last Friday between Tsai and Trump broke a more than 4-decade-old precedent barring such direct communication, and set off a firestorm of controversy in Washington over Trump’s apparent indifference to diplomatic protocol. Since the U.S. switched relations from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, the sides have had only unofficial diplomatic dealings, although the U.S. remains a key ally of Taiwan and by law must ensure the island can maintain a credible defense.
China, which split with Taiwan during a civil war in 1949, continues to threaten to use force to reunify if deemed necessary.
Beijing cut off contacts with Tsai’s government earlier this year over her refusal to endorse the concept that China and Taiwan remain part of a single Chinese nation despite their present state of division. That brought a shuddering halt to the trend in recent years of warming ties between the former archrivals.
In Taipei, presidential spokesman Alex Huang said Wednesday that Taiwan considered it of equal importance to maintain good relations with both the U.S. and China, but also took a swipe at China’s response.
“Such overreaction is unnecessary and is also not conducive to the normal development of (Taiwan-China) relations,” Huang was quoted as saying by Taiwan’s official Central News Agency.
While some Chinese scholars had welcomed Trump’s win over Hillary Clinton, whom they saw as more hawkish toward China, events of the past few days — including Trump’s sharp criticism of China on Twitter — appeared to be changing that view.
“The signs are not good,” said Shi Yinhong, director of the Center for American Studies at Beijing’s Renmin University. “Although I cannot foretell exactly how far he will go on the issue of Taiwan, the policy his administration will hold in this regard will definitely be more negative than that of President Obama’s administration and all the others since President (Jimmy) Carter.”
Shi said he was particularly concerned about how Trump’s tough talk on China’s trade surplus with the U.S. and its alleged currency manipulation, and blanket criticism of trade agreements, might translate into damaging policies.
China, he said, would likely retaliate against any harm to its interests, regardless of the consequences.
“In that case, the economic and trade interests of both will suffer huge losses and the global economy and finance will suffer huge losses,” Shi said.