Biden State Department Taps Beijing Bull To Run China Shop

Tom Donilon has promoted investments in China, opposed tariffs on regime

Tom Donilon / AP
June 22, 2022

The Biden administration's pick to advise the State Department on "strategic competition" with Beijing chairs an investment think tank that urged Americans to triple their investments in China.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday selected BlackRock Investment Institute chairman and Obama administration national security adviser Tom Donilon to co-chair the Foreign Affairs Policy Board amid the State Department’s pivot to China.

Donilon’s work at BlackRock could pose a conflict of interest for the board, which provides "advice, feedback, and perspectives" to senior State Department officials on foreign policy matters. Under his leadership, the Investment Institute has urged investors to dramatically increase their stakes in Chinese companies. What’s more, BlackRock views "strategic competition" with China as bad for the company’s bottom line.

"Strategic competition between the U.S. and China and resulting tensions have also contributed to uncertainty in the geopolitical and regulatory landscapes," reads BlackRock’s most recent annual report. The firm listed U.S.-Chinese competition as a factor that could hurt its revenue and profit. BlackRock opened a mutual fund in China in September, making it the first American firm approved to sell financial products there.

BlackRock’s Chinese entanglements have raised concerns that the company is undermining the United States. The company has come under fire for investing in sanctioned Chinese companies, including surveillance giant Hikvision. Even progressive megadonor George Soros called BlackRock’s investments in China a "tragic mistake" that would damage U.S. national security interests.

Donilon has sided with China in the debate over tariffs imposed during the Trump administration. He chided government officials in 2019 about the tariffs and inaccurately warned that they would cause a global recession.

"Future generations of Americans will judge today’s leaders harshly for squandering this moment," Donilon wrote in an article touted by China Daily, a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party.

Tariffs "are hurting U.S. businesses, consumers, and farmers," Donilon wrote. "They are alienating U.S. allies. And, analysts warn, they are increasing the risk of a global recession."

The Foreign Affairs Policy Board plays a crucial role at the State Department. The department says the board is "necessary to supplement the advice and support the Secretary gets from the Department" on a broad range of international issues. Its meetings are closed to the public due to "discussions on sensitive, and often classified, topics and materials."

Tariffs are likely to be an area of focus for the board, as will the administration’s position on China’s human rights record and increased military activity in the Pacific and South China Sea. Blinken has accused Beijing of waging genocide against Muslims in western China. Other officials, including climate envoy John Kerry, have refused to confront Chinese leaders on the topic for fear of hurting cooperative efforts on climate change.

Donilon, whom Blinken has called his "dear friend," is the latest in a string of Biden allies to land an influential advisory post. The State Department picked Dominic Ng, the chairman of East West Bank, to represent the United States on the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation’s Business Advisory Council. Ng, a major Biden donor, has criticized U.S. foreign policy toward China and served on organizations linked to the Chinese Communist Party.

Biden selected his longtime friend, Chris Dodd, to serve as special adviser for the Summit of the Americas. Dodd signed an ethics agreement because his lobbying firm represents some of the countries represented at the summit. Biden appointed another major donor, Joe Kiani, to serve on the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Neither the State Department nor BlackRock returned requests for comment.