"What we can infer from Trump's initial actions — and what we can't" PBS NewsHour 12/5/2016
SUMMARY: On Friday, President-elect Donald Trump placed a controversial call to the president of Taiwan. On Monday, he joined Ivanka Trump in her meeting with former Vice President Al Gore on climate change. Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, and Geoff Dyer of the Financial Times, join Judy Woodruff to discuss Mr. Trump's Cabinet and “unpredictable” foreign policy.
JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour): But, first, for more on the president-elect's call with the president of Taiwan and the latest from the transition, it's time for Politics Monday.
Joining us are Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, and Geoff Dyer. He's diplomatic correspondent for The Financial Times. He has served as the paper's Beijing bureau chief, and he broke the story of Mr. Trump's call with the Taiwanese leader.
And we welcome all of you to the program.
So, a little bit of news before we talk about this. We have just seen on the wire services that Henry Kissinger, former secretary of state, in Beijing to meet with the leadership there, is saying that he's impressed by the — quote — “calm reaction” of the Chinese leaders to the Trump phone call with the president of Taiwan.
But, Amy Walter, why is this causing such a stir at this point?
AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: It's causing such a stir because, as we seem to say every single Monday, Judy, this is an unconventional President doing unconventional things.
And this is not something that the traditional establishment would see as a good idea to do, especially when there's not necessarily a policy behind it.
And I think that Tony Blair raised this issue, too. We don't really know what this actually means. The call in and of itself, as Henry Kissinger said, hasn't created some tremendous trouble in China. But what we don't know is whether this is just posturing or whether this is a policy change.
And we have heard from the Trump transition both sides. One side says, no, this is not. The Vice President, for example, went on television. Kellyanne Conway, who was his campaign manager, went on television, and they said, this was just a courtesy call. There's no change in policy.
We're reading other accounts today that suggest that this is about a change in policy, the president-elect had been very tough on China during the campaign, we're going to see a more aggressive Trump administration in dealing with China.
But we don't have an answer for that yet. And that's why I think there is all the consternation going around.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Geoff Dyer, how much of this was planned, and how much of it is just happenstance on the part of Mr. Trump?
GEOFF DYER, The Financial Times: As was just said, it's very hard to tell, actually.
Mike Pence came out and said this was a courtesy call, which would seem that it was just a small gesture that they're planning to do. But then Donald Trump a few hours later went on Twitter, as is his wont, and essentially linked the call to Taiwan with a whole series of things he doesn't like about Chinese economic and foreign policies and implied that the U.S. views of the status of Taiwan are now up for negotiation, that he wants them to be part of a broader negotiation with China about a whole series of economic and foreign policy issues.
So, we just don't really know what exactly they're planing to do with this. Was it just about Taiwan? Is it just because they want to push back a bit on Taiwan? Or do we see this as a way of somehow to get leverage for a whole series of other issues on the currency, on tariffs, on the South China Sea? It's unclear.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Excuse me.
Karen Tumulty, read the tea leaves a little bit more. What do you see?
KAREN TUMULTY, The Washington Post: Well, I think that Donald Trump, how many times during the campaign did he tell us that his plan for dealing with foreign policy was to be unpredictable? Well, there we have it.
I think that, increasingly, the evidence does look like this wasn't just a casual — world leaders don't just pick up the phone and call each other. It does appear that this was a deliberate move, a deliberately provocative move.
And it seems very much in line with his rhetoric during the campaign that he intended to be tough on China. And don't forget, we have seen a lot of presidential candidates, memorably, Bill Clinton, who used to criticize George Herbert Walker Bush for coddling dictators and then take the much softer line with China once he's in office.
I think Donald Trump is signaling that that's not going to be his way of doing business.