Heritage Foundation cofounder Edwin Feulner, a senior adviser to US president-elect Donald Trump’s transition team, on Monday said he did not meet President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) during her stopover in Houston, Texas, but they spoke on the phone.
Feulner, who heads the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, said Tsai called him on Saturday and they talked for five minutes about Taiwan-US relations.
“I accepted the call from a longtime friend as a private citizen and in no way represented the president-elect or the Trump transition team,” he said in an e-mailed response to questions by Taiwanese reporters.
Also on Monday, US Department of State spokesman John Kirby said the department had no role in Tsai’s meetings with US politicians during her stopover and that he was not aware of any protest or complaint from Beijing.
He described Tsai’s transit through the US as “consistent with the unofficial nature of our relations with Taiwan” and that it was for the “comfort, safety and convenience only” of the travelers, adding that there has been no change to the US’ “one-China” policy.
However, three unnamed diplomatic personnel in Washington said that Feulner canceled a luncheon with Tsai scheduled for Saturday and instead had a telephone conference because of pressure from China.
The change was motivated by pressure from Beijing, as well as Feulner’s personal concerns that such a meeting could be inappropriate during a sensitive transition period at the White House, the sources said.
The channels through which Chinese officials used to exert pressure are unknown, but Beijing is believed to have prevented Tsai from seeing members of Trump’s Cabinet.
However, Lohman who attended the lunch last Saturday with President Tsai in Houston said that to his understanding, Chinese pressure had no role in shaping Dr. Feulner's decision. There was no contact with Dr. Feulner from anyone from China.
US Senator Ted Cruz had told the media that the Chinese embassy had warned him and other congressional members against meeting Tsai, but added that it is not China’s place to forbid US politicians from seeing foreign visitors.
In an act reportedly prompted by Beijing, a pro-unification “overseas compatriot” group in Texas issued a statement demanding that Tsai recognize the so-called “1992 consensus.”
The so-called “1992 consensus,” a term former Mainland Affairs Council chairman Su Chi (蘇起) in 2006 admitted making up in 2000, refers to a tacit understanding between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese government that both sides of the Taiwan Strait acknowledge there is “one China,” with each side having its own interpretation of what “China” means.
Feulner’s remarks came after the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister paper) on Monday reported that Tsai met Feulner; Walter Lohman, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center; and former US deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Randall Schriver for lunch in Houston.
Citing an unnamed source, the Liberty Times said they had an in-depth discussion about cross-strait relations and Taiwan-US ties.
The report also said that Feulner played an important role in arranging the congratulatory telephone call between Tsai and Trump early last month.
It was the first interaction of its kind since the US switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in January 1979.