Joe Biden's nominee for immigration enforcement chief partnered with a Chinese government propaganda ministry on a 2014 public relations campaign to bolster the international image of Shanghai, a partnership that is now under scrutiny ahead of his Senate confirmation hearing.
Ed Gonzalez was a member of the Houston City Council and was serving as the city's mayor pro tem when he signed a cooperative agreement in October 2014 with Zhu Yonglei, the head of the Chinese government's Information Office of Shanghai, according to news reports and Gonzalez's Twitter posts at the time.
The "memorandum of understanding" between Gonzalez and Zhu was an "agreement to promote each of the partner cities for a year through a series of videos at strategic locations and on social media," according to China Daily. The deal was reportedly an expansion of an existing partnership intended to promote economic ties between Houston and Shanghai.
Gonzalez, who currently serves as the sheriff of Harris County, Texas, was nominated for director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement last month. But his involvement with the Chinese propaganda bureau has come under scrutiny ahead of his Senate confirmation hearing. The Washington Free Beacon reported last week that Gonzalez also took a 2015 trip to China that was bankrolled by an advocacy group for the EB-5 cash-for-visa program.
Zhu—who has since been promoted to deputy of Shanghai's propaganda department—praised the agreement at the time and said he "hope[d] this exchange will unite us together to promote the sustainable development of cities around the globe." Gonzalez tweeted a photo of him and Zhu signing the deal. Another photo from the event shows the two men standing next to each other while Gonzalez displays a framed photograph of Shanghai.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
China's State Council Information Office, which reports to the national Propaganda Department, "drafts the official ‘positive version' of events that the media must follow, and decides what arguments should be used to rebut stories in the international media that contradict the official propaganda line," according to Reporters Without Borders, a press freedom advocacy group.
The Shanghai municipal office seeks to "guide and coordinate the city's news reports for foreign audience[s]," "ensure the quality work for journalists from foreign countries," and "promote Shanghai to the outside world," according to its website.
Human rights groups have criticized China for its oppressive media environment. The country ranks 177th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index. According to the media advocacy group, the Chinese government uses its propaganda bureaus to promote a "new world media order … with the aim of deterring and preventing any criticism of itself."
Before joining the Information Office, Zhu was the deputy coordinator for Shanghai's 2010 World Expo, the Chinese Communist Party's attempt to create its own world's fair. The event came under fire from human rights advocates after the government demolished an estimated 18,000 homes to make way for the exhibition site.
The Chinese Communist Party also arrested over 100 followers of Falun Gong, a religious group, ahead of the event, according to a U.S. congressional report. The report called the expo "the latest in a series of events that the Chinese government has seized upon as justification for ongoing ‘security' crackdowns that aim to ferret out and punish Falun Gong practitioners."