Joe Biden's incoming Asia policy czar was a top leader at a nonprofit group that was bankrolled by the head of a Chinese propaganda front group and partnered with a Chinese foreign mission.
Kurt Campbell, a former Obama State Department official and businessman, was until August 2020 listed as board vice chairman of the U.S.-China Strong Foundation, ostensibly a nonprofit group that promotes student language exchanges with Beijing but whose leaders included prominent members of the Chinese government’s overseas propaganda fronts, according to State Department and Department of Justice records.
Campbell is slated to serve as the chief coordinator for President Joe Biden’s Asia policy on the National Security Council, but his leadership role with the foundation is raising concerns with China hawks in Washington. The foundation has promoted the Chinese army and China's Belt and Road Initiative—deemed a national security threat by U.S. officials. It has also partnered with the Confucius Institute U.S. Center, an educational nonprofit organization that the State Department designated as a foreign mission last summer, citing its promotion of Beijing's propaganda efforts to academics across the world.
In August 2017, the U.S.-China Strong Foundation appeared to celebrate the founding of the People’s Liberation Army on its Twitter account, writing, "Today is the 90th anniversary of the founding of China's PLA!" and urging followers to read about a commemorating address by President Xi. The group also posted multiple favorable Twitter messages about China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure program that U.S. officials have decried as a national security risk.
"The indicators suggest that the U.S.-China Strong Foundation could be a [Chinese Communist Party] front group, or so heavily influenced by the CCP as to be tantamount to a front group," said Anders Corr, an intelligence analyst and publisher of the Journal of Political Risk.
The U.S.-China Strong Foundation’s website appears to have vanished from the internet in August 2020, and its phone number and email address are no longer in service. An archived version of the website, however, listed Campbell as vice chairman and a member of the corporate advisory board as recently as Aug. 15, 2020. He is also listed as vice chairman in the group’s most recent federal financial disclosure, filed in 2019.
The foundation is bankrolled by Florence Fang, a Chinese-American philanthropist who sits on the group’s board and corporate leadership council. Fang is listed as the honorary president of the San Francisco chapter of the National Association for China’s Peaceful Unification, which promotes unified Chinese control over Taiwan. According to the State Department, the association is controlled by the United Front Work Department, the Chinese government’s primary overseas propaganda agency.
Fang, who also goes by the name Fang Li Bangqin, is regularly quoted in state-run media outlets and pictured meeting with Chinese government leaders, including President Xi Jinping. In 2017, Fang met with then-vice premier Liu Yandong, who said their friendship began when Liu served as head of the United Front Work Department in the early 2000s.
Hong Kong billionaire Ronnie Chan is also listed as a member of the U.S.-China Strong Foundation’s leadership council. Chan is a former Hong Kong government official and a governor of the China-United States Exchange Foundation, a registered foreign agent of the Chinese government, the Washington Free Beacon reported last July.
Other U.S.-China Strong Foundation board members include Pin Ni, the head of Chinese conglomerate Wanxiang's U.S. subsidiary, and Cindy Mi, the head of a Chinese-American educational company that reportedly fired teachers for teaching about the Tiananmen Square massacre.
The U.S.-China Strong Foundation was founded in 2013 and was previously known as the "100,000 Strong Foundation." The group was a privately funded spinoff of an Obama administration joint initiative with the Chinese government in 2010 to encourage 100,000 American students to travel to China to learn Mandarin through foreign-language exchanges.
The initiative was spearheaded by Campbell, who served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs at the time. Then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton credited Campbell for advancing the project in a Jan. 24, 2013, speech and praised him for helping to "deepen and strengthen our relationship with China and others in the region."
Campbell left his government post just a couple of weeks later and immediately helped launch the U.S.-China Strong Foundation as an independent nonprofit with more than $1 million in seed funding from Florence Fang and the Ford Foundation, according to a Politico column he wrote at the time.
Although the foundation initially seemed aimed at supporting American language exchange programs in China, its work has also focused on promoting Chinese cultural centers in the United States and even pro-Beijing policies.
The foundation has partnered with the Confucius Institute U.S. Center, an umbrella group of Chinese-language educational centers partially funded by the Chinese government. The U.S. State Department has said the institutes actively seek to influence students and academics as part of "Beijing’s multifaceted propaganda efforts" and designated the group as a foreign mission in August.
In 2018, the U.S.-China Strong Foundation cohosted a "panel discussion" with the Confucius Institute U.S. Center at the National Press Club titled, "U.S.-China Educational Exchanges: 40 Years of Engagement in Higher Education." The event came as federal agencies were starting to crack down on Confucius Institutes on American campuses and seemed timed to defend the program against public criticism.
"The kinds of groups that Campbell associates with typically promote ‘engagement,' ‘cooperation,' and ‘understanding' between the U.S. and China," said Corr. "The words sound great, but the CCP is using these words as cover for infiltration operations."
Campbell is not the first Biden-administration official whose China-related work has drawn scrutiny. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s consulting firm, WestExec, helped American universities raise money from China while sidestepping Pentagon grant restrictions, the Free Beacon reported in December. And Biden’s nominee for a top Pentagon post, Colin Kahl, works at a research institute that runs an outpost at Peking University, the Free Beacon reported in January.