The Big Overlap Between Trump's Global Holdings And U.S. Foreign Policy
Donald Trump's name is affixed to skyscrapers, or soon will be, in major cities from Istanbul to Mumbai to Manila. He has luxury golf resorts in Ireland and Scotland. His hotel projects span continents, part of a global empire fueled by bank loans from Germany and China.
So when Trump enters the White House, his foreign policy decisions could have an impact, for better or worse, on his global financial holdings. The question is whether those holdings will influence his decisions.
Trump says they won't.
"Prior to the election it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world. Only the crooked media makes this a big deal!" Trump tweeted on Monday.
But it's clear the two worlds overlap.
Consider the Philippines, where friendly relations with the U.S. have been strained since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power in June and launched an often brutal war on drugs. In the face of U.S. criticism, Duterte even cursed President Obama.
But Duterte is hoping for a fresh start with Trump. He's appointed a new trade envoy to the U.S., Jose E.B. Antonio — the man building Trump Tower Manila, a 57-story luxury building that's near completion.
So how will Trump approach the Philippines?
If he alters the position of the Obama administration, critics are sure to point to his business interests, whatever Trump's reasoning may be.
Trump has provided a limited view of his holdings, domestic and international. Much of it is based on a financial disclosure document released in May, listing more than 100 foreign deals in 18 countries or territories.
Many of Trump's international operations have been in place for years, while others only emerged during his campaign — including companies in Saudi Arabia that were registered last year.
The Washington Post noted that on Aug. 21, 2015, the day Trump established four companies in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, he also told a rally in Alabama: "Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much."
Yet on the campaign trail, Trump also spoke critically of the Saudi government and recently called for a ban on oil imports from the kingdom.
A president isn't bound by law to give up his business interests, but the standard practice has been to put assets in a blind trust. However, Trump says his three grown children — Ivanka, Donald Jr. and Eric — will run the Trump empire.
Yet his kids were an integral part of his campaign and are still by his side as he starts to assume his presidential duties.
Trump and his children last week hosted Trump's business partners from India. Trump has licensed his brand to Trump Tower Mumbai, a luxury condo project being developed by the Lodha Group, the country's most prominent real estate developer.
"Mumbai is now home to the Trump lifestyle," the Lodha Group declares on its website, which also features Trump exiting his plane, flashing a "V for victory" sign and followed by three of his children.
NPR's international correspondents provided this sampling of Trump's international operations:
In July, Donald Trump tweeted: "For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia." While that may be true, he's been interested in real estate developments in Russia for almost 30 years – even if the projects haven't gone anywhere.
In 1987, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Trump traveled to the Soviet Union, where he discussed building a luxury hotel in downtown Moscow, Russian business magazine Vlast reports last week.
Ten years later, Trump was in talks to refurbish the historic Moskva Hotel and gargantuan Rossiya Hotel, projects valued at $300 million. At the time, Trump said he was interested in "skyscrapers and hotels, not casinos," in the Russian capital. Talks on the projects were revived in 2004, according to Vlast, but went nowhere.
In 2013, Trump took the Miss Universe competition to Moscow. It was held in Crocus City Hall, a concert hall owned by one of Russia's biggest developers, Aras Agalarov. One of Trump's closest associates in Moscow is Agalarov and his son, Emin. Trump invited Vladimir Putin to the event, although the Russian president didn't turn up in the end. During his visit, Trump also announced plans to build a skyscraper in Russia.
- Moscow correspondent Lucian Kim
Trump was a relentless critic of China's trade policies during the campaign. But he's had his eye on China's fast-growing property market since February 2008, when he signed a memorandum of understanding with the Evergrande Real Estate Group to develop an office tower in the southern Chinese metropolis of Guangzhou, worth more than $700 million at the time. The partnership fell apart a month later when Evergrande pulled out of the deal.
In 2012, the Trump Hotel Collection (THC) opened an office in Shanghai with 10 employees, the company's first branch office in Asia. The company hired Jie "Robby" Qiu as its chief country executive for greater China. In 2013, Qiu helped THC sign a memorandum of understanding with the State Grid Corporation of China, which provides electricity to 1.1 billion people in China and is listed by Forbes as the world's second largest company by revenue.
The deal was to brand and manage a "major development" in Beijing worth $1 billion, according to an AFP report. Negotiations broke down after Chinese authorities opened a corruption investigation into State Grid, alleging it illegally used public land for the project. According to the report, "There is no suggestion Trump or his companies were implicated in the Chinese inquiry."
When NPR reached Robby Qiu on his cellphone, he said he was no longer with THC. Before cutting the call short, Qiu told NPR that THC maintains operations at Wheelock Square in central Shanghai. When NPR visited, the building's management office found "THC China Development LLC/Trump Hotels" on an old directory, but told NPR that THC had moved out "years ago."
Despite its apparent brief stint in China, last month Trump Hotel Collection CEO Eric A. Danziger told reporters at the Asia Pacific Premier Hospitality Conference in Hong Kong that THC has plans to build 20 to 30 Trump and Scion Hotels in major Chinese cities.
- Shanghai correspondent Rob Schmitz
Pune citizens get direct access to WHITE HOUSE, V R fortunate to have ATUL & SAGAR CHORDIA, business partner of U S PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP— DEVENDRA JAIN (@shubham9601) November 17, 2016
In July, Donald Trump Jr. told Indian daily Hindustan Times that the Trump Organization had big ideas for India.
"We are very bullish on India and plan to build a pan-India development footprint for Trump branded residential and office projects," he said. The key word there is "branded."
Trump's India projects are not actually built or funded by the Trump Organization; they are super luxury properties constructed by Indian developers who have bought the rights to the Trump name.
The first to be completed is Trump Towers in Pune, a quieter cousin to Mumbai. The Trump project was developed by Panchshil Realty whose website boasts of 46 five-bedroom units sprawling over 6,000 square feet.
Panchshil chairman Atul Chordia told NPR that each sells for an average of 140 million rupees — or just over $2 million. Chordia says he got more than just a name out of the partnership, that he "was very happy to learn from the Trump Organization" about "the art of making super luxury projects."
"They have strict brand standard guidelines, which one has to follow," Chordia says, "and their team regularly comes to check."
- New Delhi correspondent Julie McCarthy and researcher Devika Bakshi
Trump has announced several major real estate projects in South America since 2012, though none have gone as quickly or as smoothly as planned.
In Uruguay, a Trump Tower first announced in 2012 is due to be finished by 2018 in the resort area of Punta del Este. Prices of the 154 apartments will range from $450,000 to $2.5 million; the penthouse may reach $8 million. Fifty percent have been sold already.
In neighboring Argentina, a 35-story Trump Tower is planned in Buenos Aires, but the project has been repeatedly delayed and still lacks the necessary permits.
Trump has a long-standing relationship with President Mauricio Macri, who was elected last year. An Argentine newspaper, La Nacion, reported that Trump, when receiving a congratulatory telephone call from Macri, asked the president for help with the permits. But a Trump spokesman said the report was false.
- Rio de Janeiro correspondent Lulu Garcia-Navarro
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.