A White House meeting between the current U.S. president and a prominent businessman who is seeking to become president of Taiwan is causing concern.
The White House on Thursday sought to downplay any diplomatic or political sensitivities, saying President Donald Trump and Foxconn founder Terry Gou did not discuss support for the billionaire’s presidential campaign in Taiwan.
“He is just a great friend” of Trump, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.
The Taiwanese businessman, however, in a Facebook posting after Wednesday’s meeting and in a discussion with reporters, said he told the president of his candidacy and Trump responded that being president “was a tough job.”
He also displayed a pen and autographed coin he said that Trump gave him.
“If I am elected president of the Republic of China, I will be a peacemaker and won’t become a troublemaker,” Gou told reporters. “I will strengthen Taiwan and the U.S. economically.” He also boasted that of all the presidential contenders, he is the only one to have secured an Oval Office meeting.
Wednesday’s discussion is the first known circumstance of a sitting American president meeting with a Taiwanese presidential candidate since Washington broke diplomatic ties with Taipei in 1979 as part of its recognition of the communist government in Beijing.
Gou is to seek the nomination of the opposition Kuomintang party in Taiwan’s 2020 presidential election. The party is regarded as having a friendlier stance toward Beijing than the ruling Democrat Progressive Party of President Tsai Ing-wen.
Trump also was seen as breaking protocol as president-elect when he had a phone conversation with Tsai, something that prompted protest from the Chinese government, which regards Taiwan as a renegade island province.
The Trump-Gou meeting occurred at a particularly sensitive time. The United States is in the final stages of negotiating a sweeping trade deal with China amid growing strategic tension between the two Pacific powers.
Meanwhile, Gou — who has appeared in public previously alongside Trump to tout economic investment — is receiving criticism in the U.S. state of Wisconsin because what was envisioned as a $10 billion liquid crystal display factory project has fallen behind schedule.
“Mr. Gou is spending a lot of money in Wisconsin and soon will announce even more investment there,” the White House press secretary said in her statement.
Foxconn, which is a major supplier for Apple Inc. products, says Gou and Trump discussed the “positive progress of the Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park project and other matters.”
Trump, a strong supporter of the project in the political swing state, has proclaimed it the “eighth wonder of the world” for its scope and its projected economic impact, including as many as 13,000 jobs.
There is concern about whether it will become a reality as envisioned because Foxconn failed to meet its job targets in 2018 to qualify for state tax credits and it has reduced the size of the factory it originally announced it would construct.
Gou, speaking to reporters on Wednesday, disputed that anything significant has changed.
“It is not right to say our investment in Wisconsin has changed,” he said. “We suspended the work around October and November last year because the weather there was snowy and icy cold. We will continue our work in May when the weather gets warmer.”
Gou on Thursday flew to Wisconsin on his private jet and met with Gov. Tony Evers at an airport terminal to further try to allay concerns about the project.
Evers earlier told reporters he would emphasize to Gou that there must be adequate protections for taxpayers and environmental standards.