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US reassures Beijing after Trump call with Taiwan leader

Donald Trump and Tsai Ing-wen

The White House said on Monday that it had sought to reassure China after president-elect Donald Trump's phone call with Taiwan's leader last week, which the Obama administration warned could undermine progress in relations with Beijing.

The statement from a spokesman for President Barack Obama highlighted concerns about the potential fallout from Trump's unusual call with Taiwan's leader Tsai Ing-wen on Friday, which prompted a diplomatic protest from Beijing on Saturday.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said senior National Security Council officials spoke twice with Chinese officials over the weekend to reassure them of Washington's commitment to the "One China" policy and to "reiterate and clarify the continued commitment of the United States to our longstanding China policy."

The policy has been in place for 40 years and is focused on promoting and preserving peace and stability in the strait separating China and Taiwan, which is in US interests, Earnest said.

"If the president-elect's team has a different aim, I'll leave it to them to describe," he said.

"The Chinese government in Beijing placed an enormous priority on this situation, and it's a sensitive matter. Some of the progress that we have made in our relationship with China could be undermined by this issue flaring up," he said.

Vice president-elect Mike Pence sought to play down the telephone conversation, saying on Sunday that it was a "courtesy" call, not intended to show a shift in US policy on China.

Earlier on Monday, China's Foreign Ministry said that Trump was clear about China's position on the Taiwan issue and that China had maintained contacts with his team.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a daily news briefing that he would not speculate on what prompted the call, but described the matter of Taiwan as the most important and sensitive question between China and the US.

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 US 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 would not be drawn on directly commenting on Trump's tweets but defended the China-US relationship.

"The China-US 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.

'Calm reaction'

At an event in New York on Monday sponsored by the National Committee on US-China Relations, Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said that he was impressed by the Chinese leadership's calm reaction to Trump's call with Tsa.

"At this moment I've been very impressed at the calm reaction of the Chinese leadership, which suggests a determination to see whether a calm dialogue can be developed," Kissinger said at the event.

Kissinger, who met with Trump last month, said that it suggested Beijing may be looking to develop a "calm dialogue" with the new US administration.

'Absolutely right'

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, newly on Trump's expanded list of contenders for secretary of state, praised the president-elect's decision to take a call from Taiwan's leader, which broke with decades of US policy.

"The call came in from President Tsai Ing-wen. He made the choice to take it, which I think was absolutely right," Huntsman told ABC News before making remarks at a conference hosted by the nonpartisan group No Labels, which he co-chairs.

Huntsman's praise is especially significant because he served as the US ambassador to China under President Obama from 2009 to 2011.

Huntsman said that he did not view this call as a shift in US-China policy but said that he was sure the Trump team did not orchestrate the call without knowing the implications.

"I think there's a lot more to come, would be my guess, once the president-elect becomes president, but we'll have to just wait and see. I'm sure he's got a broader strategy," Huntsman said.

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