December 05, 2016

CNAS Press Note: Trump’s Taiwan Call

By Dr. Patrick M. Cronin, Dr. Mira Rapp-Hooper, and Harry Krejsa

Following President-elect Donald Trump’s conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Asia-Pacific Security Program Director Patrick Cronin, Asia-Pacific Security Program Senior Fellow Mira Rapp-Hooper, and Asia-Pacific Security Program Research Associate Harry Krejsa have written a new Press Note, “Trump’s Taiwan Call.”

The full Press Note is below:

On Friday, U.S. President-elect Donald J. Trump diverged from four decades of diplomatic protocol by speaking directly with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. The telephone call, thought to be the first presidential contact between American and Taiwanese leaders since 1979 and the adoption of the "One China Policy," returns Taiwan to a central place in Sino-American relations following years of an uneasy status quo. China considers Taiwan a breakaway province under its sovereignty, and the island's political status as a core strategic interest. The call comes as the American President-elect is just beginning to define his foreign policy leadership and focus, and reportedly just weeks before Ms. Tsai Ing-Wen prepares to transit through the United States (itself a diplomatic gesture) during her own international travels. 

Presidents Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter normalized relations with the People's Republic of China, recognizing the government based in Beijing as its capitol and suspending formal relations with the Taiwanese government, based in Taipei. The United States has maintained unofficial but close contact with Taiwan since then, fostering a close trade relationship, supporting its transition to a liberal democracy, and occasionally supplying the island polity with defensive arms sales. Washington and Beijing have struck an uneasy balance, agreeing to largely maintain the status quo as long as China did not attempt forceful reunification and the United States refrained from supporting formal Taiwanese independence movements.  

Relations among Beijing, Washington, and Taipei encountered fresh tensions this year as Taiwan elected President Tsai Ing-wen and her more independence-friendly Democratic Progressive Party. While President Tsai has pledged to maintain the status quo that Taiwan enjoys and avoid political independence, her policy agenda appears to seek more economic independence from the mainland than her predecessor. Beijing has suspended formal contacts with President Tsai's government as a result, and appears to believe that current trends do not support eventual reunification as clearly as they once did. 

China continues to view any recognition of Taiwan as a highly provocative act. As President-Elect Trump prepares to take office, it is clear that relations between the United States and China will be at the top of his agenda. 

Cronin, Rapp-Hooper, and Krejsa are available for interviews. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at 202-457-9409 or nurwitz@cnas.org

  • Dr. Patrick M. Cronin

    Senior Advisor and Senior Director, Asia-Pacific Security Program

    Patrick M. Cronin is a Senior Advisor and Senior Director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Previously, he was the Senior ...

  • Dr. Mira Rapp-Hooper

    Adjunct Senior Fellow, Asia-Pacific Security Program

    Dr. Mira Rapp-Hooper is an Adjunct Senior Fellow with the Asia-Pacific Security Program at CNAS. She is formerly a Fellow with the CSIS Asia Program and Director of the CSIS A...

  • Harry Krejsa

    Bacevich Fellow, Asia-Pacific Security Program

    Harry Krejsa is the Bacevich Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), working in the Asia-Pacific Security Program. His research areas include Chinese economic...