Donald Trump's questioning of 'one China' policy rankles Beijing

China raised concerns Monday about US President-elect Donald Trump's willingness to question the United States longstanding position that Taiwan is part of 'one China.' 

Chiang Ying-ying/AP/File
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen delivers a speech during National Day celebrations in front of the Presidential Building in Taipei, Taiwan, in October. President-elect Donald Trump spoke Dec. 2, with the president of Taiwan.

Donald Trump's most recent comments about Taiwan have given China "serious concern," said a Foreign Ministry spokesman on Monday, one day after the president-elect said in a television interview that he didn't feel "bound by a one-China policy." 

"We urge the new US leader and government to fully understand the seriousness of the Taiwan issue, and to continue to stick to the one-China policy," said spokesman Geng Shuang, warning that any changes to the way America deals with Taiwan could damage diplomatic ties between China and the United States.

The warning came one day after Mr. Trump told "Fox News Sunday" that he wouldn't feel bound by the one-China policy "unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade," and one week after a controversial phone call between the president-elect and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen: the first public conversation between an American president or president-elect and a Taiwanese leader in nearly four decades.

The phone call was followed by two tweets from Trump, in which he criticized China for its tax and exchange rate policies and for building a "massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea." 

As Peter Ford reported for The Christian Science Monitor last week: 

US foreign policy experts can argue the merits of revising Washington’s relations with Taiwan, a flourishing democracy, but the topic is toxic in Beijing. The Communist government regards Taiwan’s status as part of “one China” as the most critical of its declared “core interests.”

Western observers had been expecting China to make a provocative move somewhere in the region to test the new US president’s mettle. Instead, Trump has stolen a march on Beijing.

"This is a deliberate move to test China’s bottom line," Wang Dong, who teaches international politics at Peking University, told the Monitor. "If China reacts strongly he’ll back off; if he sees it as soft, he might keep pushing the envelope."

The president-elect's phone call with the Taiwanese president, Professor Dong said, shattered the "illusions" of Chinese leaders who had previously believed that "Trump was a businessman, pragmatic, not an ideologue, an isolationist, someone China could cut a deal with.... People have returned to reality and figured out that Donald Trump is not someone we can deal easily with. He risks serious confrontations and setbacks in China-US relations."

Trump on Sunday defended the phone call, describing the interaction as "very nice."

"Why should some other nation be able to say I can't take a call?" he said on "Fox News Sunday." "I think it actually would've been very disrespectful, to be honest with you, not taking it."

After the interview aired, a commentary appeared in Xinhua News, the official press agency of the People's Republic of China, urging the president-elect to rethink his approach. 

"China hopes to closely work with the upcoming US administration to build a new type of major country relations. However, benign interaction between the world's two biggest economies can only be achieved on the basis of mutual respect and their political commitments, and the One China principle is one of them," the commentary read. "A country must be responsible for its commitments to other countries, and despite the change of government, the new US administration should act in accordance with the current framework of China-U.S. ties, rather than ignoring it in an impulsive and self-deceiving way."

A New York Times report suggests that Trump's decision to take the call from Taiwan may not have been an impulse, but the result of months of lobbying on the part of former Sen. Bob Dole, who was acting as a foreign agent for the government of Taiwan.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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