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Trump challenges China by making first official call to Taiwan since 1979

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President-elect Donald Trump might be sending signals to the Chinese government by doing something no American official has done since 1979.

According to the Financial Times — and confirmed by three people — Trump has placed a phone call to the Taiwanese president Tsai Ying-wen on Friday.

The telephone call, confirmed by three people, is believed to be the first between a US president or president-elect and a leader of Taiwan since diplomatic relations between the two were cut in 1979.

Although it is not clear if the Trump transition team intended the conversation to signal a broader change in US policy towards Taiwan, the call is likely to infuriate Beijing which regards the island as a renegade province.

In 1978, America formally recognized the "One China" policy, and acknowledged Beijing as China's sole head of state. The "One China" policy states that the People's Republican of China is the government that has blanket control over all of China, and the surrounding islands. Taiwan does not recognize this, and instead seeks independence.

Trump contacting Taiwan in this way may be a show of recognition of its own independent state. This, one expert says, is something that could risk souring relationships with China.

“The Chinese leadership will see this as a highly provocative action, of historic proportions,” said Evan Medeiros, former Asia director at the White House national security council.

“Regardless if it was deliberate or accidental, this phone call will fundamentally change China’s perceptions of Trump’s strategic intentions for the negative. With this kind of move, Trump is setting a foundation of enduring mistrust and strategic competition for US-China relations.”

Trump's hard talk against China during the length of his campaign may clue us in to what kind of relationship he seeks to establish before he gets into office.

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