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Monday, December 5, 2016

In First Formal Briefing, China Says Trump "Clear" On Taiwan's Importance To Beijing, In Touch With His Team

Seeking to defuse any diplomatic tensions following Trump's phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, China’s Foreign Ministry said Mr. Trump’s people understand the importance of the issue to Beijing even as Trump took to Twitter to complain about Chinese economic and military policy. 

"The whole world knows about the Chinese government's position on the Taiwan issue." ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a packed briefing room on Monday. He added that “Taiwan-related issues are the most important and sensitive part of the China-U.S relationship.  We believe Trump’s transition team is very clear on that.”

Trump's unusual call with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Friday prompted a diplomatic protest on Saturday, although Lu Kang would not say directly who China had lodged "stern representations" with about Trump's call, repeating a weekend statement that it had gone to the "relevant side" in the United States. "The Chinese side in Beijing and Washington lodged solemn representations with the relevant side in the U.S. The world is very clear on China's solemn position. The U.S. side, including President-elect Trump's team, is very clear about China's solemn position on this issue."

Pressed on who the diplomatic protest was lodged with, Lu said: "I think it's easy to understand 'the relevant side'."

"In fact, China has maintained contacts and communication with the team of President-elect Trump," he added, repeating a previous assertion, though did not give details. Lu also said he would not speculate on what prompted the call.

Trump, who vowed during his campaign to label China a currency manipulator, issued more tough rhetoric on Sunday. "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 U.S. 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 on Twitter.

Lu refused to be drawn on directly commenting on Trump's tweets, saying ”we have no comment on what motivated the Trump team to make such tweets,” Mr. Lu said. He defended the China-U.S. relationship. "The China-U.S. economic and trade relationship has over many years always been a highly mutually beneficial one, otherwise it couldn't have developed the way it has today," he said.

“I know the media in the U.S. made a lot of comments on President-elect Trump during his campaign season and after his election—but for us, for China, we do not comment on his personality. We focus on his policies,” said Mr. Lu, who fielded nearly 20 questions on Mr. Trump over the course of the half-hour briefing.

Chinese officials and state media have been restrained in their response to Mr. Trump’s talk with Ms. Tsai. Beijing lodged a formal complaint with the U.S., while the country’s State Council Taiwan Affairs Office declared the phone exchange “can’t change Taiwan’s status as a part of China.”

State-run nationalist tabloid the Global Times called the phone conversation “jaw-dropping” and declared in an editorial that Mr. Trump “has zero diplomatic experience and is unaware of the repercussions of shaking up Sino-U.S. relations.”

Still, the editorial said, it would be inappropriate to target Mr. Trump, as he’s not yet in office, and added that it would be best to engage in “constructive” conversations.

In short: China - seemingly unwilling to escalate the diplomatic spat with the Trump team - is giving the President-elect leeway. We expect he will use it generously.

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