What Is The Relationship Between Taiwan & The United States? Donald Trump's Phone Call Was Rare

Less than two months from Inauguration Day, President-elect Donald Trump continues to disturb politics both here at home and abroad. Trump took a phone call with Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-Wen on Friday night, a big no-no in international diplomacy. The phone call is unprecedented in contemporary U.S. politics.

In the early 1970s, the United States and other United Nations members recognized the People's Republic of China — the Beijing government — as China's official government, moving away from Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China. This is known as the "one China" policy, which numerous U.N. member states follow. The U.S. government subsequently terminated diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Following the passage of the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979, the United States did approve unofficial relations with Taiwan.

Trump claimed that he took the phone call with current Taiwanese leader Tsai because she was calling to congratulate him on his recent presidential win. "The president of Taiwan CALLED ME," Trump later tweeted.

Given the timeline of U.S.-China-Taiwan relations, it's understood that President Jimmy Carter was likely the last U.S. president-elect who received a congratulatory phone call. Since 1979, it's understood that no U.S. president takes a phone call with a Taiwanese leader, even though the United States still does business with Taiwan.

A spokesperson for the Taiwanese president said Saturday that this phone call between Trump and Tsai shouldn't be that surprising. "Maintaining good relations with the United States is as important as maintaining good relations across the Taiwan Strait," spokesperson Alex Huang told NBC News. "Both are in line with Taiwan's national interest."

But the phone call is surprising because there's no evidence that a Taiwanese leader has spoken over the phone with a U.S. president over the last four decades, even if just to congratulate him on winning the election. Although President Obama recently passed a law reaffirming the U.S. government's commitment to funding Taiwan with defense equipment, there's no known record of a diplomatic phone call between the president and Taiwanese leaders.

“This phone call calls into question whether or not Trump adheres to the basic foundation of the U.S.-China relationship,” Barack Obama’s former top China adviser Evan Medeiros told Vanity Fair. “This action guarantees that U.S.-China relations under Trump will get off to a very rocky start.”

The Chinese government has already lodged a complaint with the United States. This doesn't bode well for Trump.

This phone call is the latest unorthodox move from Trump, who's been making some interesting choices over the last few weeks. He met with the Japanese prime minister with only his daughter, Ivanka, in the room; took a phone call with the leader of Pakistan; and tweeted the Brexit leader Nigel Farage should be made an ambassador to Washington.