Shortly after President Trump's bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 summit, a White House news release misidentified Xi as the leader of “the Republic of China.”
Xi is the president of the People's Republic of China.
— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) July 8, 2017
Tsai Ing-wen is the president of the Chinese nationalist government on the island of Taiwan, which claims to be the Republic of China.
On Monday, China's Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China received an apology from the United States. Geng told reporters in Beijing that U.S. officials described the mistake as a technical error.
On the surface, this may seem to be just a minor oversight. But considering Trump's previous wavering on the one-China policy long held by Washington, this could be taken as an offense by Beijing.
— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) July 8, 2017
It was the White House press shop's second flub of the day. Earlier Saturday, they incorrectly referred to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as “President Abe of Japan” in a news release detailing Trump’s meeting with the Japanese leader. However, Trump did correctly refer to the leader of Japan as prime minister during his remarks.
Saturday's gaffes aren't the first time the White House press team has misidentified world leaders since Trump took office.
In January, the White House misspelled British Prime Minister Theresa May’s first name, leaving out the letter “h,” in a memo and official schedule sent to the press.
The White House promptly corrected the error but not before several news outlets noted the misspelling was the name of a different, um, public figure: former adult film star Teresa May.
In February, White House press secretary Sean Spicer referred to Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “Joe” during a news conference.
“Yesterday the president had an incredibly productive set of meetings and discussions with Prime Minister Joe Trudeau of Canada focusing on our shared commitment to close cooperation in addressing both the challenges facing our two countries and the problems throughout the world,” he said.
Prime Minister Trudeau made light of the gaffe during his remarks at the annual Parliamentary Press Gallery Dinner in June. Trudeau poked fun at his well-practiced and “normal” handshake — a reference to Trump's notoriously overly firm handshake — suggesting it may have contributed to Spicer’s mistake.
“You were all in Washington, you saw,” he said, addressing the reporters in attendance. “That handshake was so damn normal, Sean Spicer even forgot my name.”
The Trump administration has flubbed the titles of its own, too. In an April news release, it identified Steven Mnuchin as “Secretary of Commerce.” Mnuchin is the treasury secretary.
And during an interview with the Wall Street Journal in April, Trump said that “Korea actually used to be a part of China.” But as The Washington Post's Fact Checker noted, Korea was never under direct and official control by China, despite repeated Chinese invasions.
But gaffes and misspellings happen. President Barack Obama's press office misspelled President Ronald Reagan twice in a release in 2014.
The White House's recent gaffes come as the United States' ties with China have become more complicated.
Just last month, the Treasury Department announced new sanctions on a Chinese bank accused of laundering money for North Korean companies. The United States also approved a $1.4 billion arms sales package for Taiwan — a move seen by Chinese officials as an affront to China's sovereignty. Meanwhile, Trump has shown signs of losing faith in China's ability to pressure North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons program.
Last March, Trump's top trade negotiator, Robert E. Lighthizer, promised to forge a stronger relationship with Taiwan, saying in a statement that he “intend[s] to develop a trade and investment policy that promotes a stronger bilateral relationship with Taiwan.”
Shortly after Trump's election, a controversial phone call between him and Taiwan's president, Tsai Ing-wen, risked upsetting the United States' relationship with China, which sees Taiwan as a renegade province.
The United States has, for years, had formal ties with China rather than Taiwan, and has acknowledged China's position that there's only one Chinese government. But Trump's phone call went against decades of diplomatic protocol under what's known as the “one China” policy.
Brian Murphy contributed to this report.