Biden’s Top Candidate To Be Ambassador to Israel Leads Pro-China Think Tank

Jack Lew has cozied up to Beijing and earned praise from Chinese state media

Jacob Lew / Getty Images
August 28, 2023

President Biden’s top candidate for ambassador to Israel hosted Chinese Communist Party officials as chairman of a think tank described as "consistently soft on China." That could be cause for concern as the United States seeks Israel’s help in combating Beijing’s growing influence in the Middle East—and to weaken the growing ties between Israel and China.

Jack Lew, the leading contender for the post, serves as chairman of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, an advisory group that supports closer business and diplomatic ties between the United States and China. The committee is funded by corporations like Citigroup, Blackstone, and BlackRock, the private equity behemoth the Wall Street Journal has labeled a "powerful friend" of China.

Lew, who took the helm of the National Committee in January 2021, has hosted top CCP officials and met in Beijing with China’s foreign minister, who during their meeting blamed the United States for creating the "root causes" of tension in the United States-China relationship. Lew, who served as Treasury secretary under President Barack Obama, also took part in a commemorative event organized by the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, which conducts foreign influence operations for the CCP.

While China may not be at the top of Lew’s portfolio as ambassador to Israel, his views on United States-China relations would loom large in his dealings with Jerusalem. The American government has ramped up pressure on the Israelis to cut ties with China. The Biden administration has also pushed for a pact between Israel and Saudi Arabia in order to curb China’s growing influence in the Middle East.

One intelligence analyst who studies China’s influence activities said groups like the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations and the Asia Society, another pro-China advocacy group, are "consistently soft on China."

"Individuals with strong links to China, including through organizations like the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations or Asia Society, should have no place in U.S. politics," said Anders Corr, an intelligence analyst and publisher of the Journal of Political Risk.

Leaders at the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations often appear on Chinese state television to criticize American foreign policy toward China, while largely ignoring Beijing’s aggression. Stephen Orlins, the committee’s president, asserted this year that the United States is "overly hostile" to China. Orlins, who one Chinese media outlet described as "China-friendly," called the Trump administration—which took a tough stance toward Beijing—a "four-year nightmare."

For his part, Lew has struck a conciliatory approach in his dealings with CCP officials. During a meeting on June 26 with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, Lew stated that the United States and China are interdependent and that the economic "decoupling" of the two countries would fail. Lew’s remarks came after Wang blamed the United States for the "root causes" of tensions with China. Wang called on the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations to "continue to stabilize the China-U.S. relationship from deterioration, advance friendly exchanges, and disseminate true stories of mutually beneficial cooperation."

In February 2021, CCP Politburo official Yang Jiechi accused the United States of "interference" in Chinese affairs, and warned American officials against "meddling" in issues related to Hong Kong and Xinjiang. He also accused the United States of "harassing" Chinese students studying at American universities. Lew ignored the verbal attacks, and said Yang had "raised several important areas that will require deeper exploration and further dialogue."

Lew spoke at an event last year organized by the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, where he pledged that the committee will "continue to promote dialogue and exchanges among all sectors of society." The Biden administration has said the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries uses its exchange programs to covertly wield influence to "advance China’s global agenda."

If confirmed, Lew will join a stable of Biden ambassadors who have cozied up to CCP interests. Eric Garcetti and Caroline Kennedy, the ambassadors to India and Australia, respectively, served on the board of Asia Society.

Mark Brzezinski, the ambassador to Poland, was paid in 2019 to speak at an event for a Chinese Communist Party advisory panel, where the diplomat complained that elements within the United States were "demonizing" China. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the ambassador to the United Nations, came under scrutiny during her confirmation hearing over a speech she gave in 2019 to a Confucius Institute, which the Chinese government uses to wield influence at American colleges.

The National Committee on U.S.-China Relations and the White House did not respond to requests for comment.