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Donald Trump's Call With Taiwan President Was No Surprise: Official

The unprecedented conversation between Trump and President Tsai Ing-wen could enrage China and strain ties between the two powers.
Image: President-Elect Donald Trump And Vice President Elect Pence Hold Election Victory Rally In Ohio
President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a stop at U.S. Bank Arena on December 1, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.Ty Wright / Getty Images

BEIJING — A phone call between Donald Trump and Taiwan’s leader that risks damaging relations between the U.S. and China was pre-arranged, a top Taiwanese official told NBC News on Saturday.

Trump — who lambasted China throughout the election campaign and promised to slap 45 percent tariffs on Chinese goods — tweeted that Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen had called him.

"Maintaining good relations with the United States is as important as maintaining good relations across the Taiwan Strait," Taiwanese presidential spokesman Alex Huang told NBC News. "Both are in line with Taiwan’s national interest."

He added that the call had not been a surprise.

Related: Trump's Call With Taiwan's Leader Exposes China's Strained Relations

The conversation represented a stark break in U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. has not had diplomatic relations with Taiwan since 1979, when it recognized the People’s Republic of China as sole legal government. China sees Taiwan as a breakaway province and the two have nearly gone to war three times since 1949.

The call was one of a series of talks with controversial global figures — including some from countries that are considered in China's direct sphere of influence such as Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. According to State Department officials, the president-elect was not briefed by the agency ahead of his call to the Philippines president nor before any of his calls to world leaders since his election.

Kellyanne Conway, who managed the Republican's campaign and is one of the president-elect's top advisers, came to Trump's defense Friday.

"President-elect Trump is fully briefed and fully knowledgeable about these issues ... regardless of who is on the other end of the phone," she told CNN.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the White House's National Security Council, said that the administration remains "firmly committed to our 'one China' policy."

"There is no change to our longstanding policy on cross-Strait issues," spokesman Ned Price said Friday.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi initially called the call a "little trick played by Taiwan."

The ministry later issued a formal statement on the conversation, saying it had lodged "a solemn representation to the United States" over the call.

"It must be pointed out that there is only one China in the world, and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China," the statement added. "One China policy is the political basis of China-U.S. relations."

The call is believed to be one of the first between a U.S. president or president-elect and a leader from Taiwan in decades. China, a regional powerhouse, has long resented U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, and has rebuffed U.S. pressure to curb its activity in the disputed South China Sea.

While the U.S. does not formally recognize Taiwan as an independent nation, it has sold $12 billion in arms to the island as part of a 1970s agreement that commits Washington to helping Taiwan defend itself.

After the call, Taiwan's presidential office said Tsai "hopes to see a strengthened interaction and connection as well as a closer cooperation between two sides" and "also expressed to president-elect Trump her wishes for the U.S. to continue supporting Taiwan to have more opportunities to participate in and contribute to global agenda."

Trump also spoke by phone Friday with the Philippines' Duterte who welcomed Trump’s election to the U.S. presidency.

The U.S.- Philippines relationship has been fraught since Duterte took office, with the Philippines' president announcing his “separation” from the U.S. in October while praising both China and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Tensions over the handling of the Philippines' war on drugs have led to heated anti-American rhetoric, including Duterte calling President Barack Obama the son of a whore in Filipino slang.

Earlier in the week, Pakistan released a transcript of what it said was a call between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Trump. Trump allegedly called Sharif a “terrific guy” with “a very good reputation,” and told him he was “doing amazing work which is visible in every way.”

According to the transcript, Trump also said he would visit Pakistan, a country yet to be visited by Obama during both terms in office.

The U.S. and Pakistan have an important alliance focused on combating terrorism which has been complicated by allegations that Pakistan's intelligence service has supported groups like the Afghan Taliban. Recent rising tensions between Pakistan and India, also a U.S. ally, have strained ties further.