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Trump's Call With Taiwan President Breaks Decades Of Diplomatic Tradition


President-elect Trump has been fielding congratulatory phone calls from foreign leaders, including one from the president of Taiwan. The Trump transition team says that the two leaders spoke about, quote, "the close economic, political and security ties between the U.S. and Taiwan." But the U.S. broke off diplomatic ties with Taiwan more than 30 years ago when this country recognized the People's Republic of China. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us. Scott, thanks very much for being with us.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: So as you see it, is the president-elect trying to change U.S. - decades of U.S. foreign policy with the phone call or just having a phone call with the leader of a country that, whether it's recognized or not, is in fact a U.S. ally?

HORSLEY: Well, if Donald Trump the businessman took a call like this, Scott, nobody would be too concerned. But phone calls involving the president of the United States, or even the president-elect, carry some extra weight. And that is an adjustment or a learning curve that Trump is in the early stages of. It doesn't seem as though he was deliberately trying to upend decades of U.S. policy. Although some of his advisers are known to be friendly to Taiwan. Instead, this looks to be another example of Trump acting as sort of an improviser. Last night, he tweeted out rather defensively saying it was Taiwan's president who reached out to him, and in fact, China's foreign minister suggests that Taiwan was taking advantage of Trump's inexperience. Foreign policy professionals in this country have had to do some damage control. The National Security Council stressed that there is no change in America's long-standing one-China policy.

SIMON: President-elect Trump has been on the phone a lot, I mean, more than most teenagers I think this week. He's a busy man. Tell us about some of the other calls he's had with foreign leaders.

HORSLEY: Well, a lot of them have been long distance and he - the president-elect spoke this week with the prime minister of Pakistan, a country with which the U.S. has had a challenging relationship. There was an almost comical readout of that phone call from the Pakistani government saying Trump heaped praise on the prime minister and the people of Pakistan. Trump also spoke just yesterday with the president of the Philippines who has been outspoken in his criticism of the United States. And it doesn't appear as though in any of these calls Trump or his team has been consulting with diplomats from the U.S. State Department.

The foreign policy apparatus of the United States has been made available to the president-elect. But, remember, Trump is someone who said during the campaign he knows more about the military than the generals do. He knows more about foreign policy than the professionals do. If in fact he has stumbled here when it comes to Taiwan, this could be an early signal of what happens when a president-elect doesn't know what he doesn't know and isn't particularly interested in finding out.

SIMON: Let me ask you about reports in the Taiwanese media that The Trump Organization has been considering a hotel project in Taiwan.

HORSLEY: Right. There were reports in Taiwan this fall that a representative of The Trump Organization had visited the island with an eye towards developing a luxury resort. Now, The Trump Organization denies that it has any expansion plans in Taiwan. It's also thought to be eyeing development opportunities in mainland China, so the business interests could cut both ways. But this is the kind of question about potential conflicts of interest that are going to keep coming up as long as the president-elect has an interest in the sprawling Trump business empire.

Now this week, Trump announced that he plans to separate himself from the operations of that empire, although perhaps not the ownership. But we don't really know what form that separation is going to take. We do expect to get some details at a news conference in a couple of weeks.

SIMON: NPR's Scott Horsley, thanks so much.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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