BEIJING (Reuters) - China expressed "serious concern" on Monday after U.S. President-elect Donald Trump said the United States did not necessarily have to stick to its long-held stance that Taiwan is part of "one China", calling it the basis for relations.

Trump's comments on "Fox News Sunday", questioning nearly four decades of U.S. policy, came after he prompted a diplomatic protest from China over his decision to accept a telephone call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Dec. 2.

China's Foreign Ministry said cooperation was "out of the question" if Washington could not recognise Beijing's core interest on Taiwan, indicating it would reject any effort by Trump to use the issue as a bargaining chip in a long list of commercial and security problems facing the two countries.

"China has noted the report and expresses serious concern about it. I want to stress that the Taiwan issue concerns China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and involves China's core interests," said ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.

"Upholding the 'one China' principle is the political basis for developing China-U.S. ties. If this basis is interfered with or damaged then the healthy development of China-U.S. relations and bilateral cooperation in important areas is out of the question," Geng told a daily news briefing.

Geng said China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi, who outranks the foreign minister, had met with Trump advisers, including his pick for national security adviser, retired Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, during a transit in New York on his way to Latin America in recent days.

"Both sides exchanged views on China-U.S. ties and important issues both are concerned with," Geng said, without elaborating.

He did not give a precise date for the meeting, and it was unclear if it occurred before or after Trump's latest remarks on Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.

Geng urged the incoming Trump administration to fully recognise the sensitivity of the Taiwan issue and uphold a 'one China' policy to "avoid the broader picture of China-U.S. ties being seriously interfered with or damaged".

"The China-U.S. relationship has global and strategic significance. This not only concerns the happiness of both countries and their people, it concerns the peace, stability, development and prosperity of the Asia Pacific (region) and internationally."

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Writing by Michael Martina; Editing by Ian Geoghegan)

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U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump appears at a campaign roundtable event in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S., October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

TAIPEI (Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's declaration that the United States could link its policy on Taiwan to trade negotiations with China prompted concerns on the island that it may become a pawn in wider superpower discussions.

"Trump's comments regularly mention Taiwan. What advantage is this giving Taiwan? This is something we must consider," Johnny Chiang, an opposition Nationalist lawmaker, told reporters. "Otherwise, among the superpowers, when we are betrayed, we won't even realize it."

Trump told "Fox News Sunday" he fully understood the "one China" policy, "but I don't know why we have to be bound by a 'one China' policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade."

On Saturday, Chinese military aircraft flew over waterways near Taiwan as part of long-range exercises, Taiwan said.

The exercises came a week after Trump took a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen. It was the first such contact between a U.S. president-elect or president and a Taiwan leader since President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan in 1979.

China claims self-ruled Taiwan as its own - known as Beijing's "one China" policy - and has never renounced the use of force to take back what it deems a wayward province. China lodged a diplomatic protest over the call and blamed Taiwan for what it called a "petty" move.

Tsai has never recognised Beijing's "one China" policy. A month after she took power in May, Beijing cut official communication channels with Taipei. Her ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) traditionally advocates independence for Taiwan.

"It looks like in Donald Trump's mind (Taiwan) is a useful tool to pick the most sensitive nerve of China," said Alexander Huang, chairman of the Council on Strategic and Wargaming Studies in Taiwan and a former Taiwanese government policymaker.

Huang said it was too early to tell what Trump was angling at, but the real message could be about "a fair deal or a quid pro quo" between the U.S. and China.

Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang declined to comment about Trump's Sunday comments. But Huang told Reuters: "When Taiwan is seen as a contributor in regional politics or regional security then you won't be ignored nor used as a pawn for others."

Taiwan defence minister Feng Shih-kuan told lawmakers in parliament on Monday the timing of China's air drill seemed "a bit coincidental but if they do it again in December, then it indicates they are testing where they need to improve their capabilities."

"This is 'attacking with words and scaring with weapons'," he said, adding that he expected the frequency of military drills by China to increase.

For diplomatically-isolated Taiwan the risks are high as the United States is its only major political ally and sole arms supplier, while China is one of the island's largest trade partners.

Fitch on Monday warned that major economic shocks to Taiwan from cooling relations with China were a lower probability, but "the risks around this baseline have risen."

"On foreign policy, (China) is pretty rational except for one or two things and Taiwan is one of them," said a foreign representative in Taiwan. "It's like which of my 10 fingers do you want me to chop off."

(Reporting by J.R. Wu; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

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