A long time ago when its famous edifice rose just seven storeys and William Jefferson Clinton was a rookie first-term President of the United States, an uncharacteristically quiet American checked into The Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong. As he settled into the then HK$20,000-a-night Marco Polo suite – around HK$100,000 in today’s money – the man with a big mouth and bigger hair cut a curiously reserved figure. He had an empire to save and Hong Kong, as it turned out, was to be his ace in the hole.
The year was 1993 and the top-floor suite resident was Donald Trump, the man who has turned US politics on its head as his opponents in the race to become the Republican Party’s presidential candidate fall by the wayside and an apparently complacent political establishment begins to wake up to a phenomenon it singularly failed to predict.
Back then, Trump was in financial trouble and was definitely in the market for investors . The chips were down on his casino empire and a landmark New York development project, Riverside South, on Manhattan’s West Side was in dire need of a cash injection.
In other words, then, as now, Trump was news, so I joined the rest of the Hong Kong media pack in the lobby of the Peninsula hoping for a quote or two from “The Donald”. But he wasn’t talking and – much the photographers’ annoyance – there was no sign of his then glamorous girlfriend, Marla Maples.
Until that is, it dawned on Trump’s personal assistant – whom I had called every hour, on the hour in search of an audience with the great man – that I was Scottish. “You’re Scotch, right? she said , then seconds later: “ Donald will see you now.’’
He did, and the rest was pretty much what you might expect. Overblown talk of a “Trump Tower II” in Hong Kong and superlatives aplenty. But it was clear the man who talks the talk and somehow always seems to find a way of buying the walk, was in the city on a mission.
But the interview and the circumstances in which it came about revealed a truth – not a word always immediately associated with “The Donald” – about the man. He runs on instinct. The geographical accident of my birth was the only reason I was invited to his Peninsula suite.
“You’re Scottish, right,” was his opening gambit: “Me too.” And so the interview went on, Scotland the Brave punctuated with grand plans short on detail and long on bluster.
“I am very keen to develop here in Hong Kong because it is a special place,” said Trump adding: “I have to be very careful with the Trump Tower name, it has been very successful and has to be handled with care .’’ Trump Tower Hong Kong never happened.
Before emigrating to the United States, Trump’s mother was born and brought up on the Isle of Lewis, a small austere island off the rugged north west coast of Scotland. It’s a heritage he obviously clings to and one which has led him into difficulties over a multi-million dollar golf course development in the country of his mother’s birth.
The instinct-driven nature of his politics is almost certainly the reason he has struck such a chord with a significant number of republican voters tired of what they see as Obama spin and a system of political dynasties in the shape of the Clinton and Bush families.
Whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump takes the White House, pragmatism is likely to be the eventual winner
However much as he tried to hide the fact, it was clear Trump was in Hong Kong in 1993 looking for help and he found it in the shape of Henry Cheng Kar-chun of the New World group, one of Hong Kong’s leading developers and the second-generation head of one of Hong Kong’s wealthiest families and fellow tycoon, Vincent Lo Hong -sui.
When Trump’s Hong Kong investors sold the bulk of the project more than a decade after his visit to the city, they made US$1.8 billion, in what was billed as the largest residential real estate transaction in New York City history.
The relationship has since been mired in legal arguments but as Trump talks of taking back US jobs from China and loving how Chinese property investors line his pockets with the millions he now needs to fund a campaign he says is different because he isn’t in the pockets of the super-pacs, perhaps he has one eye on the city and the people who were his ace in the hole.
The quotes of Donald Trump
“You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young, and beautiful, piece of ass.” (told Esquire in 1991)
“Our country is in serious trouble. We don’t have victories anymore. We used to have victories, but we don’t have them. When was the last time anybody saw us beating, let’s say, China in a trade deal? They kill us. I beat China all the time. All the time,” (June 16, 2015)
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bring crime. They’re rapists… And some, I assume, are good people.” (presidential campaign announcement speech, June 16, 2015)
“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.” Trump on Twitter, (November 6, 2012)
“Part of the beauty of me is that I’m very rich. So if I need US$600 million, I can put US$600 million myself. That’s a huge advantage. I must tell you, that’s a huge advantage over the other candidates.” (Trump tells ABC news March 17, 2011)
“I watched the world trade centre come tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as the building was coming down,” (November 22, 2015) Trump repeats claims he saw TV reports of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the 9/11 terrorist attack.
“I could stand in the middle of 5th avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose voters,” (January 23, 2016)
“It is very hard for them to attack me on looks, because I am so good looking,” (August 7, 2015)
“Look at those hands, are they small hands? And, [Republican rival Marco Rubio] referred to my hands -- ‘if they’re small, something else must be small.’ I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee,” (March 3, 2016, Trump defends his manhood)
“An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a fraud.” (August 7, 2012)