July 8, 2021
Chinese Human Assets inside America’s Ruling Class
Chinese intelligence assets in America resemble a “large school of fish swimming freely in the sea gobbling up bits of food.” That is how one Chinese official described its covert activities inside the United States. China’s influence operations have long tentacles and run deep inside the corridors of power in Washington and among the Biden Administration’s inner circle. Having close business links to the communist state improves Beijing’s ability to influence US policy, even when the official is a US patriot and not intentionally aiding China’s efforts. In recent decades Beijing has been much more successful at creating “old friends” with American officials than the Soviet Union was during the Cold War era. China’s aim today is to penetrate, compromise, and use leverage to achieve the communist giant’s long-term goals. So, who are these individuals with links to China and what positions of influence do they hold in Washington?
After the election when the Biden Administration was searching for Cabinet Members, William Burns’ name was discussed as a possible Secretary of State. He previously served as head of the liberal-leaning Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) and as a US Ambassador to Russia. Last fall a Russian publication, Kommersant, cited sources inside the “state structure” of the Russian government as saying that Burns would “be the most advantageous for Moscow of all the five cited” at the time for the Secretary of State Cabinet position. Burns later was named Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. His China connection, among others, includes getting CEIP programs, according to media reports, underwritten with up to $2 million from Chinese Communist Party-tied businessmen and think tanks. It is a connection but below the level of a conviction. Beijing knew that such an over tie would take Burns out of the running.
President Biden chose Tony Blinken instead as his Secretary of State. He also is tightly-linked to Beijing having co-founded WestExec Advisors, a consultancy that aids corporations and academic institutions in pursuing their interests in China. One versed in Chinese relationship building knows that business consulting “friendships” in China are defined by their give and-take nature. We may never know how Blinken balanced his relationship debts to his Chinese business colleagues. Blinken also served as the managing director of the Penn Biden Center, which is backed by the University of Pennsylvania.
The University, it appears, received anonymous funding from China that runs into the 10’s of millions of dollars, which represents a very large increase over the range of its previous donations. Again, a strong connection to China but not a conviction of Blinken. Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Mira Rapp-Hooper who serves as the senior advisor on China on the State Department’s Policy Planning staff, and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl, all served as strategic consultants at the Penn Biden Center.
According to the Project on Government Oversight, Kurt Campbell who was selected to serve as Biden’s Asia “Czar,” also has deeply troubling China connections. His twice amended Form 278 Public Financial Disclosure Reports were submitted incomplete. What is known is that he served on Board of the Chinese-funded Confucius Institute, which was shut down in part for spying activities inside the United States. He also worked with The Asia Group (TAG), a “shadow lobbying” firm that operates in DC just below the level requiring registration. TAG helps companies navigate Asian and Chinese political relationships. A spokesperson for TAG admitted to POGO, a government watchdog organization, that “The Asia Group is a strategic advisory firm that focuses on US companies seeking access to and leveling the playing field in the countries of the Indo-Pacific.” During the transition in January Campbell served on the National Security Council as the deputy assistant to the president and coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs, making him the most senior official inside the White House crafting American trade and economic policies toward China,” according to Biden transition team officials at the time. Not enough to convict but again it raises serious questions.
The list of Chinese connected officials inside the inner circle of the Biden Administration is longer than space permits. A few other Biden officials include Thomas Zimmerman, a Special Assistant to the President for Presidential Personnel was at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, which the FBI has identified as having close ties to China’s spy agency. Biden’s United Nations Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield who often speaks favorably about China, including at a recent Confucius Institute event, was a senior vice president at the Stonebridge Group. This Washington, DC strategic advisory firm identifies China as its “largest single country” group. The head of the Stonebridge Group previously worked for the Chinese government.
According to Ben Weingarten, a Fellow at the Claremont Institute, “The CCP touches these individuals and institutions through developing direct relationships, lavishing money on them and leveraging dupes, useful idiots and witting assets of the CCP.” The President and his immediate family also have known, close financial ties to China. Perhaps, not enough to convict, but it warrants scrutiny given Chinese President Xi Jinping and the CCP’s operating style and stated goal to make China the dominant Middle Kingdom of the 21st century.
DARIA NOVAK served in the United States State Department during the Reagan Administration, and currently is on the Board of the American Analysis of News and Media Inc., which publishes usagovpolicy.com and the New York Analysis of Policy and Government. Each Saturday, she presents key updates on U.S. foreign policy from the State Department.