Impact of Trump Taiwan call on US-China relations

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," December 5, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: It was just a phone call at this point. It signals the fact that he accepted a congratulatory call. President-elect Trump is not out there making policy or announcing new policy prescriptions worldwide.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The response from the Chinese government in the aftermath of this has primarily been to ratchet up the rhetoric against Taiwan. It's unclear to me how that kind of consequence benefits the people of Taiwan.

JOHN HUNTSMAN, (R) FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have been involved in this relationship for a lot of years. And this is the first time I have ever seen a real business person who understands leverage and understands a fair deal and a level playing field.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Jon Huntsman perhaps applying for secretary of state as he gets ready for his own interview. He is on a long list, expanding list. We will get into that in just a minute. But the phone call between president- elect and the president of Taiwan, a congratulatory call, prompted all this reaction. Donald Trump on Twitter kind of reacting to China's reaction. "Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency, making it hard for our companies to compete, heavily tax our products going into their country? The U.S. doesn't tax them. Or to build a massive military complex in the middle of South China Sea? I don't think so."

Now there are multiple stories that this was a planned shift and all this hubbub is about nothing. Let's bring in our panel: Jonah Goldberg, senior editor of National Review; Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, editor in chief of Lifezette, Laura Ingraham. Jonah, there was a ton of reaction over the weekend.

JONAH GOLDBERG, NATIONAL REVIEW: There was. And I will say as someone who thinks that Chiang Kai Shek was the rightful ruler of China, not Mao, that I have no problem with the idea of sending this kind of signal, messing with China, starting out strong and all the rest. The problem is, if that was the intent, as The Washington Post story today implies and other reporting backs up, then why were Kellyanne Conway and Mike Pence out there selling a different story? The messaging behind the decision is schizophrenic. But if this is part of some strategic ambiguity and all that and giving them the benefit of the doubt, I have no problem playing hardball with China. But the messaging doesn't back that up.

BAIER: Marc Thiessen, who didn't start out as a big Trump fan, writes "Donald Trump's phone call with the president of Taiwan wasn't a blunder by an inexperienced president-elect unschooled in the niceties of cross- straits diplomacy. It was a deliberate move and a brilliant one at that." He goes on to say "The very idea that Trump could not speak to Taiwan's president because it would anger Beijing is precisely the kind of weak- kneed subservience that Trump promised to eliminate as president," as goes on to defends that. Laura, what about the messaging here?

LAURA INGRAHAM, EDITOR IN CHIEF, LIFEZETTE.COM: I think Jonah raises a good point. You want a unified front on the messaging of this call.

I do think it's quite something that the United States is supposed to check in with China before they take phone calls from world leaders, an ally of ours -- the Taiwan Relations Act that has been reconfirmed and supported again and again. Every time it comes up for consideration, even in an informal matter, Democrats, Marco Rubio, others -- we always reaffirm our support for Taiwan, our reassurances for Taiwan. Under the Taiwan Relations Act, we could potentially have to militarily intervene if China decides to move against Taiwan.

We kind of put that all aside because of our belief in globalization, or at least our former belief in globalization. But this is a serious deal what's been done and the pressure that has been put on countries in the region, especially the concern about the shipping and transit through that South China Sea. I think Jonah is exactly right. This was a move by Trump to show there's a new game in town. We're not your patsy anymore. And I think it's welcomed by most in the United States.

BAIER: With perhaps with an exclamation point on Twitter over the weekend.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Donald Trump has said, hey, I did this on purpose. He has presented a tougher posture towards China in all of his tweets. And I agree with Jonah. I don't understand why his spokespeople would go out there and undercut this. Months and months ago, John Bolton, other advisers to Trump, have laid out an argument for why the U.S. should be -- get tough we are China by making these steps to be friendlier to Taiwan. In other words, this is a stated, explained policy change from the Trump brain trust. Barack Obama tried to pivot to Asia and then kind of gave up. But idea was that China does need to be checked. China is getting to be more of a hegemon in that region of that world and we need to do more there. So here is Trump doing it. I don't know why his people would undercut him on that.

BAIER: Meantime, as I mentioned earlier, the State Department nominee list continues to expand, not contract, it seems. As you look at the list here. You have Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Bob Corker, David Petraeus, John Bolton, now you've added Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, retired admiral James Stavridis, Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Joe Manchin is in there from West Virginia, and as I talked about, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman. Are you going to be on there, Jonah or what?

GOLDBERG: At this rate, maybe in 2019 they will get to my name. I think one of the things we know about Donald Trump, whether you think it's a good thing or a bad thing, is he really has a sort of intuitive, instinctual sense for heightening drama and creating drama and suspense and all the rest. And it seems to me that they like this storyline and having all of these people come and visit the imperial court and kowtow to the next president. And I think that -- I do think it's kind of odd that more people who were angry about Mitt Romney going there than Al Gore going there, but that's a different topic.

LIASSON: He isn't a candidate for secretary of state, at least not right now.

GOLDBERG: Give it time. But my point is that I think part of this has something to do a little bit with the fact that they like the visuals of this and he is casting a wide net.

INGRAHAM: This is what Jon Huntsman said in 2009 about Barack Obama, "I have an enormous regard for your experience, sense of history, brilliant analysis of the world." Fawning praise of Hillary Clinton. If we're going to get tough on China, Jon Huntsman is a very curious choice for secretary of state.

LIASSON: He has a lot of experience.

BAIER: He can speak mandarin.

LIASSON: So does Mark Zuckerberg, but we don't want him to be secretary of state.

BAIER: Mara, what about this expanding list?

LIASSON: You know, it's got a lot of people on it. And I think that he should probably get a secretary of state pretty soon because he is conducting a lot of diplomacy on his own, and it's consequential diplomacy. This China thing is a really big deal. I think it could be a positive thing. But he really needs a secretary of state.

BAIER: But what about that meeting with Al Gore, Ivanka Trump? He comes out and says he found it extremely interesting and to be continued, wouldn't get into the details, the former vice-president and one-time Democratic nominee.

INGRAHAM: When you think of the poster children for left wing excess, Al Gore is right up there with the hall of fame. So it is interesting that the Republicans and the conservatives obviously on the whole climate change deal certainly don't believe government should intervene, a carbon tax. Al Gore is literally for making life in the United States more expensive through carbon taxes and all sorts of other things as he flies around the world on his private jet. His movie, obviously the problems with the film, we talked about that --

BAIER: Is this about reaching out? Is it about common ground? Is it about image?

INGRAHAM: I don't know. The climate change crowd is the cool crowd. But I think most Donald Trump, the president-elect's supporters, people who got him elected, that's not really high up on their list of priorities.

LIASSON: What's really interesting is that Donald Trump, who said famously during the campaign that global warming was a Chinese hoax designed to hurt our manufacturing -- in 2009 he and his children signed a letter, an open letter saying that they believed -- they wanted real action on climate change. So this is not one of his bedrock beliefs. There are some things he has believed for many, many years. Climate change is not one of them. So I would say, just like torture, he is open to persuasion.

GOLDBERG: It seems the genesis of this was that Ivanka Trump, who has sent a lot of signals that she wants to be a version of a first lady role and that she is definitely to the left of the Republican party on a lot of issues, and this meeting was originally because she wants that portfolio, the climate change portfolio for her own brand.

BAIER: But I don't understand this. What is the deal? She's going to run the business with the two brothers and come to Washington and be a part of the administration? I don't --

GOLDBERG: We await the announcement of how they're going to fix the concerns.

INGRAHAM: The lawyers have to look at this. Definitely at the very beginning of the Trump administration, you want a very clear, I think, line on how this is going to appear, appearance is important, ethics. I think it's all going to have to be seriously considered for a bunch of reasons. Getting people off the real topics of tax reform, obviously immigration, trade, health care, those are the real big tent poles of his platform. And again, I don't think this was one of them regardless of what people's views are.

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