US President-elect Donald Trump railed against China on Sunday, only hours after his transition team denied that his call with Taiwan’s president signaled a new US policy toward Pacific power.
Trump’s unusual call with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Friday prompted a diplomatic protest with the United States on Saturday, although Vice President-elect Mike Pence downplayed its significance, saying it was a “courtesy” call, not intended to show a shift in US policy on China.
Trump, who vowed during his campaign he would label China a currency manipulator, continued some of his hard-line rhetoric on Sunday. Showing no signs of a conciliatory approach after the phone call with Tsai, he made his feelings clear on Twitter.
“Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the US doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don’t think so!” Trump said tweeted.
China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts or all of the South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes annually.
The diplomatic contretemps was one of several recently for the Republican president-elect, a real estate magnate who has never held public office and has no foreign affairs or military experience. Trump, who takes office on January 20, is still considering whom to name as his secretary of state.
The call with Taipei was the first by a US president-elect or president with a Taiwanese leader since President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan in 1979, acknowledging Taiwan as part of “one China.” China regards Taiwan as a renegade province.
China blamed Taiwan for the call, but also lodged a diplomatic protest with the United States on Saturday, saying the “one China” policy was the bedrock of relations between China and the United States.
Pence called the uproar over the call with “democratically elected” Tsai a “tempest in a teapot.” He blamed the media for the controversy, saying the call was similar in nature to one between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping after the November 8 election.
“I think 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. It was not a discussion about policy,” Pence said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
China’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday it had lodged “stern representations” with what it called the “relevant US side,” urging caution on the issue.
Pence said he was not aware of any contact between the Trump transition team and the Chinese government since Friday and did not expect Trump’s team to reach out this week to ease tensions with Beijing.