Asia advisers to President-elect Donald Trump apparently were behind Mr. Trump's phone call with Taiwan's leader Tsai Ing-wen.
Alexander Gray, Peter Navarro, and Stephen Yates were whispered to be the drivers behind the call, according to several insiders close to the Trump transition team.
Stephen Yates, CEO of D.C. International Advisory
(DCIA), previously served as a Senior Policy Analyst at the Heritage
Foundation. Several sources say Yates was behind the call, but he has denied it. Yates reportedly wrote much of the China/Taiwan portion of the Republican Party platform.
The Heritage Foundation has very close ties to Taiwan, and Ed Fuelner, the former President of that think tank (and current adviser to the Trump transition team), is said to have cultivated extensive ties with Taiwan for decades. [Fuelner actually took a group from his think tank and met with Tsai Ing-wen in October 2016, and is said to have been a "crucial figure" is setting up communications channels between the two sides.]
Here is the Heritage Foundation's most current thinking on Taiwan. Last month the think tank held an event on US-Taiwan relations in the new administration (video here).
Walter Lohman, Director of the Heritage Foundation's Asia Studies Center, said that the Trump-Tsai call is a "good start" to reforming US-Taiwan relations.
Lohman told Politico today that Heritage has received money for 30 years from three Taiwanese companies, although he declined to name them. Politico noted that Taiwan has also given money to American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). However, an AEI spokesman said the think tank no longer accepts foreign donations.
Mr. Gray was a Policy Analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) from 2011-2013, and also participated in the CSIS-Pacific Forum Young Leaders Program in 2014 and the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) Future Leaders Program 2014-2015.
The phone call was reportedly arranged by Bob Dole, Special Counsel at the law firm of Alston & Bird LLP and Co-founder of BPC.
Dr. Navarro,a professor at the University of California-Irvine, is not tied directly to any think tanks but writes extensively about China and Taiwan. Here is a Navarro piece from July 2016 entitled "America Can't Dump Taiwan."
Here is a recent Foreign Policy piece by Gray and Navarro entitled "Donald Trump's Peace Through Strength Vision for the Asia Pacific."
Think Tank Watch should note that other conservative think tanks have also been supportive of Trump's seemingly new Asia policy. Michael Pillsbury, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Chinese Strategy at the Hudson Institute, said he admires Trump's writing and campaign speeches about how to negotiate with China.
Dan Blumenthal, Director of Asian Studies and Resident Fellow AEI, and Randall Shriver, President and CEO of the Project 2049 Institute, said that Trump's Taiwan call was a step toward balanced relations.
The call comes as Taiwan has begun to ramp up its lobbying and think tank efforts in Washington, DC the past year, and the incoming Trump Administration should be a big boon to new Taiwan-funded think tanks such as the Global Taiwan Institute (GTI).
One thing is for sure: Asia hands from think tanks who supported Hillary Clinton should have their hands full as they work to figure out how to handle the new administration.