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By Ben Blanchard and Roberta Rampton
| BEIJING/WASHINGTON

BEIJING/WASHINGTON U.S. President-elect Trump is clear about China’s position on the Taiwan issue and China has maintained contacts with his team, the foreign ministry said on Monday, as Trump took to Twitter to complain about Chinese economic and military policy.

Trump’s unusual call with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Friday prompted a diplomatic protest on Saturday, though U.S. Vice President-elect Mike Pence played down the telephone conversation, saying it was a “courtesy” call, not intended to show a shift in U.S. policy on China.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang would not say directly who China had lodged “stern representations” with about Trump’s call, repeating a weekend statement that it had gone to the “relevant side” in the United States.

“The whole world knows about the Chinese government’s position on the Taiwan issue. I think President-elect Trump and his team are also clear,” Lu told a daily news briefing.

“The Chinese side in Beijing and Washington lodged solemn representations with the relevant side in the U.S. The world is very clear on China’s solemn position. The U.S. side, including President-elect Trump’s team, is very clear about China’s solemn position on this issue.”

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Pressed on who the diplomatic protest was lodged with, Lu said: “I think it’s easy to understand ‘the relevant side’.”

“In fact, China has maintained contacts and communication with the team of President-elect Trump,” he added, repeating a previous assertion, though did not give details.

Lu also said 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 United States.

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 U.S. 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.

China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts or all of the energy-rich South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes annually.

Lu would not be drawn on directly commenting on Trump’s tweets, but defended the China-U.S. relationship.

“The China-U.S. 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.

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“China and the United States maintaining good relations, a steadily developing relationship, accords with the joint interests of both peoples.”

PHONE CALLS

The diplomatic contretemps was one of several recently for the Republican president-elect, a real estate magnate who has never held public office and has no foreign affairs or military experience.

Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, is still considering his choice for secretary of state.

The call with Taipei was the first by a U.S. president-elect or president with a Taiwan leader since President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan in 1979, acknowledging Taiwan as part of “one China”. China regards Taiwan as a renegade province.

China blamed Taiwan for the call, but also lodged the diplomatic protest with the United States, saying the “one China” policy was the bedrock of relations with the United States.

Pence called the uproar over the call with “democratically elected” Tsai a “tempest in a teapot”. He blamed the media for the controversy, saying the call was similar in nature to one between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping after the Nov. 8 election.

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“I would just say to our counterparts in China that this was a moment of courtesy. The president-elect talked to President Xi two weeks ago in the same manner. It was not a discussion about policy,” Pence said on NBC’s “Meet the Press”.

Pence said he was not aware of any contact between the Trump transition team and the Chinese government since Friday and did not expect Trump’s team to reach out this week to ease tension with Beijing.

Trump and Pence have had more than 50 phone calls with foreign leaders. Pence said he spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Saturday.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday the Trump transition team had yet to contact the State Department for information and recommendations ahead of calls with foreign leaders.

“I do think there’s a value, obviously, on having at least the recommendations, whether you choose to follow them or not is a different issue,” Kerry told a think-tank conference.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

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