In an interview Sunday on ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanopoulos pressed Vice President-elect Mike Pence on the topic of President-elect Donald Trump’s phone conversation Friday with Tsai Ing-wen, the leader of Taiwan.
Since 1979, the United States has recognized a “One China” policy and had no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province.
“Let’s get right to China, that call with the leader of Taiwan,” began Stephanopoulos. “As far as we know, no president or president-elect has spoken with Taiwan’s leader in nearly four decades.”
“Why did Mr. Trump choose to break that precedent?” he asked.
“Well, I’ll tell you what,” Pence replied, “from the morning after the election we’ve seen the president-elect engaging the world. He’s spoken to more than 50 world leaders. I’ve spoken to several dozen myself. And he received a courtesy call from the democratically elected president of Taiwan to congratulate him.”
When asked about China’s unfavorable reaction to the call, Pence directed the focus back to what Trump’s outreach with foreign leaders says about his impending presidency.
“Did he intend to send the kind of signal it sent?” Stephanopoulos asked. “Because the Chinese government has already complained about this. How did you guys respond to that?”
“Well, I understand some of the controversy in the media about this, but I –” began Pence.
Stephanopoulos interrupted to say it wasn’t just an issue in the media, but that the Chinese government had registered its displeasure with the call.
“Well, yes, of course,” answered Pence. “But I would tell you that I think the American people find it very refreshing, the energy that our president-elect is bringing to this whole transition.”
The vice president-elect added, “He’s not only bringing together a Cabinet at a historic pace for the last 40 years, he’s not only assembling a legislative agenda to move forward this country at home and abroad, but he’s also been engaging the world.”
“I think the American people are encouraged … to see that President-elect Trump is taking calls from the world, speaking to the world. They know he’s going to be out there advancing America’s interests first with that broad-shouldered leadership that’s characterized his entire life,” he continued.
Stephanopoulos then inquired as to whether Trump’s call would have implications for the “One China” policy.
“Well, we’ll deal with policy after Jan. 20,” Pence responded. “This was a courtesy call.”
Pence then drew a comparison with the current president and his talks with the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
“It’s a little mystifying to me that President Obama can reach out to a murdering dictator in Cuba in the last year and be hailed as a hero for doing it, and President-elect Donald Trump takes a courtesy call from the democratically elected leader in Taiwan and it’s become something of a controversy,” he said.
Some say Trump’s call was a calculated move designed to send a message to China.
Marc A. Thiessen, writing in The Washington Post, said it “wasn’t a blunder by an inexperienced president-elect unschooled in the niceties of cross-straits diplomacy. It was a deliberate move — and a brilliant one at that.”
“Trump knew precisely what he was doing in taking the call,” he wrote. “He was serving notice on Beijing that it is dealing with a different kind of president — an outsider who will not be encumbered by the same Lilliputian diplomatic threads that tied down previous administrations. The message, as John Bolton correctly put it, was that ‘the president of the United States [will] talk to whomever he wants if he thinks it’s in the interest of the United States, and nobody in Beijing gets to dictate who we talk to.’”
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