Bob Dole behind Tsai-Trump call: NY Times

World War II veteran and former Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS) attends a Veterans Day ceremony at the National World War II Memorial on November 11, 2016 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Olivier Douliery

By Yuan-Ming Chiao ,The China Post

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Former United States Senator Bob Dole was influential in setting up last week’s phone call between President Tsai Ing-wen and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, according to a New York Times story published Tuesday. Disclosure papers filed with the U.S. Justice Department by Washington-based law firm Alston & Bird, where Dole is a lobbyist, claimed that the former senator had set up a meeting between the Trump transition team and government officials in Taiwan.

The documents also indicated that Dole facilitated the inclusion of language into the Republican party platform that was favorable to Taiwan’s government. Other activities included securing a meeting between Taiwan representative to the United States Stanley Kao and U.S. Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, as well as a White House tour for members of a Democratic Progressive Party delegation. In a separate interview, Dole said Taiwan was “very optimistic” about deeper cooperation with the United States, an opportunity made available by the election of a new Republican president. Presidential Office Spokesman Alex Huang called the report “inaccurate” and said the document submitted to the U.S. Justice Department made no mention of communication between Tsai and Trump.

Huang added that Taiwan’s government had communicated with members of the Trump team and that public relations firms were not involved in the process.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) declined to comment on the matter, while calling Dole “a long time and important friend” to Taiwan. MOFA cited Dole’s role in helping Taiwan liaise with Republican party office holders. It added that Taiwan’s representative office in the U.S. contracts U.S. public relations firms in strict compliance with local laws. A source close to the matter said the compensation package listed in the original report was inaccurate and that Alston & Bird was contracted in 2016 (from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31) for US$240,000. The New York Times reported that Dole’s firm was paid US$140,000 for work completed between May to October.

Tsai’s call to Trump, in which she congratulated the business mogul turned president-elect and discussed the two nations’ “close economic, political and security ties,” was the first direct communication between the leaders of the two countries since 1979. The call drew an official protest from Beijing. The Wall Street Journal reported that the phone conversation also included discussion on issues of Asian regional security. The Washington political establishment has largely framed the incident as one characterized by Trump’s foreign policy inexperience and unfamiliarity with the complex relations among China, Taiwan and the U.S.

The participation of experienced lobbyists such as Dole in orchestrating the phone call points to a possible shift in U.S. strategy to one that deepens relations with the island. Trump on Tuesday reportedly met with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, a key architect of Washington’s 1979 move to recognize Beijing in lieu of Taipei.