The story of one of Trump’s first major diplomatic gaffes goes back to 1979 when the United States officially acknowledged the “One China” policy. Recognizing the government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole government of China meant transferring diplomatic recognition from Taipei, Taiwan to Beijing, China, and in doing so, conceding that Taiwan was not an independent nation, but officially part of China. (Source: The US Department of State.)
On December 2nd, 2016, then President-elect Donald Trump infuriated the Chinese government when he deviated from decades of diplomatic protocol by accepting a congratulatory call from the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen. Trump reciprocated by congratulating Tsai Ing-wen, a member of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, on her recent presidential victory (source). According to then Secretary of State John Kerry, nobody from the Trump administration contacted the State Department requesting any sort of briefing prior to the call.
Trump told the world about his call with Tsai Ing-wen in a Twitter post:
It took the Chinese foreign ministry less than twenty-four hours to lodge an official complaint, and two days later, Vice-President elect Mike Pence downplayed the significance of the call by referring to it as nothing more than a “courtesy,” adding:
She reached out to the President-elect and he took the call from the democratically elected leader of Taiwan.
Trump’s insinuation that President Tsai Ing-wen simply called him to congratulate him is misleading, and remarks from Mike Pence suggesting that the call was just a courtesy are, at best, an incomplete characterization. In fact, the phone call was orchestrated over a significant period of time by former Republication presidential candidate and former Senate majority leader Bob Dole (source). Dole is now a lobbyist employed by Washington law firm Alston & Bird which, in turn, is working on behalf of the Taiwanese government. Dole and Trump aligned when Dole became the only former GOP nominee to endorse Donald Trump.
The phone call between Trump and Tsai Ing-wen was not the only thing Dole’s lobbying efforts managed to achieve. According to CNN:
Dole worked with the Trump campaign on participation in a US delegation to Taiwan, coordinated a Taiwanese delegation to attend the GOP convention in July, pushed for language in the GOP platform, set up a briefing for a Trump campaign policy director, set up a meeting between top Trump adviser and now-Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions and a Taiwanese ambassador, and arranged a meeting between the Trump transition team and Taiwanese staff, a late November disclosure filing from Dole firm Alston & Bird shows.
According to disclosure forms, Alston & Bird is paid $25,000 per month by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office as a retainer. For their lobbying efforts in 2016, Alston & Bird was paid $200,000 with $140,000 of that being paid between May and October.
Trump ran on a campaign of “draining the swamp” — a metaphor for removing lobbying and money from Washington politics — yet he has largely filled his cabinet with millionaires and billionaires who have little or no public service experience, and whose financial portfolios represent a multitude of conflicts of interest (source).
Although Chinese president Xi Jinping called Trump in November of last year to congratulate him on winning the election, the two leaders had not spoken since Trump took office. After Trump’s conversation with the president of Taiwan — and subsequent comments that he planned to use the United States’ stance on the One China policy as a bargaining chip in negotiations with China (source) — Xi Jinping refused to speak with Trump until given a guarantee that Trump would acknowledge the One China policy.
On February 9th — apparently realizing that alienating the world’s second largest economy was an untenable long-term foreign policy — Trump conceded.