China Hawks Sound Alarm Over Podesta Appointment

Lawmakers worry ex-Clinton aide will give communist nation a powerful ally in the White House

Biden climate adviser John Podesta and Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi in 2014 / Chinese Embassy
September 8, 2022

President Joe Biden on Friday tapped John Podesta to oversee $370 billion in climate spending, a move that has China hawks on Capitol Hill concerned over Podesta's encouragement of Chinese investment in American infrastructure and praise for the top U.S. adversary on climate change.

Podesta has called for Chinese investment in American infrastructure, arguing in 2013 that there are "great opportunities for Chinese firms to directly invest in this nation, to build American infrastructure, to create American jobs, and generate steady and handsome returns." He added, "There's also the ability for Chinese firms to invest here and learn best practices, and take those home to the tremendous and growing middle class market in China."

Instead, in the intervening decade, the Chinese government has committed widespread economic espionage—one 2017 estimate found that China steals up to $600 billion in trade secrets a year. Engineers in China, meanwhile, use popular social media platform TikTok to access nonpublic data from U.S. users.

Podesta has also praised China's efforts to combat climate change, arguing in 2015 that the Chinese "are beginning to do a fair amount." China, which is the world's top carbon emitter, went on to dramatically accelerate its coal consumption, which reached a record high in 2020.

That record has China hawks on the Hill concerned that America's top adversary has a new—and powerful—ally in the White House. Podesta's role will see the liberal consultant implement $370 billion in spending toward alternative energy, a sector that China dominates when it comes to raw materials. As such, alternative energy companies receiving the Podesta-steered funding could turn to China to secure supplies. The new Biden aide will likely take no issue with that dynamic, given that he has argued the United States and China should "align" on a green economy. Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) and Ted Cruz (R., Texas) argued that the move reflects the White House's soft-on-China stance.

"It is no surprise that the Biden White House hired John Podesta, who has known links to China. This White House does not understand that Beijing is our enemy and a part of the New Axis of Evil," Blackburn told the Washington Free Beacon. Cruz echoed Blackburn's sentiment, calling it "unsurprising that Biden officials are entangled with the [Chinese Communist Party]." Cruz also expressed concern over Podesta's appointment given that the green energy field "float[s] on Chinese money."

The White House did not return a request for comment.

Prior to his Biden White House role, Podesta served for eight years as president of the Center for American Progress (CAP), a liberal think tank that in a 2017 report heaped praise on China, arguing that Beijing had "grabb[ed] the clean energy bull by the horns" and embarked on a "truly impressive" shift away from dirty energy sources such as coal. China quickly proved the report wrong—it loosened its restrictions on coal projects from 2017 to 2019, prompting a mad dash to build new power plants. CAP later acknowledged that trend as "deeply concerning."

Beyond the issue of climate change, CAP has also worked extensively with the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation, a registered foreign agent backed by the Chinese Communist Party's foreign influence arm. During a 2013 speech, Podesta credited the foundation with providing the American and Chinese governments "with an important set of recommendations" to "bring our two nations closer together."

Podesta's newfound role advising Biden on climate could lead to the president declaring a national climate emergency, E&E News reported Tuesday.