Trump’s Break From Taiwan Policy Puts Businesswoman in Spotlight

  • Interest in Charlyne Chen centers on talk of Taiwan projects
  • Chen says she’s not an employee of the Trump Organization

QuickTake: Taiwan's Political Tightrope

A Taiwanese-American businesswoman and her commercial ties to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump have been thrust into the spotlight since he broke with almost four decades of U.S.-China policy by taking a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan’s president.

QuickTake Taiwan’s Tightrope

The scrutiny of Charlyne Chen has centered on a September meeting to discuss projects in the Taiwanese city of Taoyuan and if she was there representing the Trump Organization. While initially little noticed, interest in that meeting has intensified after Trump’s election victory and a public announcement that he spoke Friday with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, prompting a diplomatic protest from China.

In a brief phone conversation Monday with Bloomberg News, Chen said that while she wasn’t a Trump employee, she had had interactions with his organization. Speaking on Nov. 24 with local broadcaster Formosa Television, Chen said she’d helped sell properties at a Trump Organization development in Las Vegas to buyers in Taiwan and Shanghai.

Amanda Miller, a spokeswoman for the Trump Organization, said the company had no plan for expansion in Taiwan and that there’d been no authorized visits to push development projects there.

Governed separately since 1949 as a result of civil war, China considers Taiwan part of its territory that can be retaken by force. The U.S. has had no official diplomatic ties with the island since recognizing China in 1979, nor had any American president or president-elect disclosed conversations with the leader of Taiwan. Trump’s decision to break from that policy comes ahead of a Dec. 15 briefing he’s scheduled to address concerns on how he’ll avoid conflicts with his business interests as president.

At the September meeting Chen attended with the mayor of Taoyuan, local officials provided her with information about the Taoyuan Aerotropolis Project, a mixed-use site of residential, commercial and transportation developments currently being reviewed by the government. In a statement issued Nov. 17 in response to local media reports, the city said Chen at the meeting presented a document from the Trump Organization outlining her business ties with the company.

Chen showed a copy of a letter during an appearance on Formosa Television last month. It was an undated welcome letter to Trump International Hotel Las Vegas visitors from Taiwan. The letter refers to Chen as a “sales ambassador," with whom potential investors could meet regarding the “ownership opportunities” they were being offered.

When speaking by phone Monday, Chen denied she was using links to the Trump Organization for personal benefit. She said she’d hosted a dinner for Trump supporters in Taipei ahead of the Nov. 8 election. “I didn’t come out and support him after he got elected, I actually held a dinner for him before that,” Chen said.

That dinner for about 50 guests took place on Nov. 1, according to Sanlih E-Television. Chen indicated to attendees that Trump was interested in building a tower on the island, the broadcaster reported.

At a daily briefing Monday in Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said progress made in U.S.-Chinese relationship “could be undermined by this issue flaring up,” referring to Trump’s conversation with Taiwan’s president.

“It’s a sensitive matter,” Earnest said. “Whenever you are talking about the president-elect of the United States interacting with foreign leaders, it’s incredibly important” and has a “profound impact”.