President Biden’s latest State Department hire, who once urged Americans to "embrace China," has worked with two prominent Chinese Communist Party front groups to foster ties between Washington and Beijing.
Biden tapped Nina Hachigian to serve as the State Department’s special representative for subnational diplomacy. The newly created position is aimed in part at countering China’s growing diplomatic influence. But Hachigian has worked in recent years with Chinese organizations the Biden administration has said are influence organs for the Chinese Communist Party.
As deputy mayor of Los Angeles, Hachigian met with the president of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, a major CCP influence group, to discuss "exchanges and cooperation" between the United States and China. At the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, Hachigian was part of a delegation with officials from the CCP-backed China–U.S. Exchange Foundation that proposed "exchanges of military personnel" between the American military and People’s Liberation Army to strengthen the U.S.-China relationship. She also collaborated at the Center for American Progress with an official from the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, a government think tank overseen by China’s main intelligence agency.
Hachigian, who contributed $19,400 to Biden’s campaign in 2020, is the latest in a string of State Department appointees who have espoused sympathetic views toward China or worked closely with CCP groups. Tom Donilon, who Biden tapped to advise the State Department on "strategic competition" with China, is an executive at BlackRock, the private equity behemoth that is heavily invested in China. Dominic Ng, a prominent Biden donor picked to advise the State Department on trade in Asia, has criticized U.S. tariffs on China and served in multiple pro-Beijing organizations in the United States. Climate czar John Kerry, who holds a $1 million stake in a Chinese investment group that funds China’s artificial intelligence sector, has downplayed China’s human rights abuses in order to maintain cooperation with Beijing on climate change.
Hachigian has criticized the Chinese government at times over its human rights abuses and aggression toward Taiwan and Tibet. But she has also repeatedly urged American leaders to take a soft approach to China, while downplaying the threat Beijing poses to the West. She called on Americans to "embrace China" in a 2007 opinion piece, in which she acknowledged that "China’s growth will cause some Americans to lose their jobs or get paid less." She opposed a Western boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympics over China’s human rights record, calling on American leaders to "resist the attempt to hold the Olympics hostage." That same year she said that China was "a security partner," and "not a threat," in areas such as terrorism, North Korea, Iran, and pandemics.
Intelligence officials have raised national security concerns over the organizations Hachigian worked with as a think tank scholar and city official. CIA director William Burns expressed alarm over the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation’s covert influence activities during a hearing last year. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said this summer the CCP uses the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries "to directly and malignly influence state and local leaders" to promote China’s global agenda.
Hachigian met in October 2017 with the president of the organization, Li Xiaolin, to discuss "the exchange and cooperation in areas such as sister city, environmental protection and youth." The director of national intelligence says the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries "exploit[s]" sister city agreements to get American state and city leaders to soften their stances toward China or embrace Beijing-friendly policies. Hachigian’s meeting with Xiaolin was arranged through the State Legislative Leaders Foundation, a nonprofit group that worked with Hunter Biden to advance his Chinese business interests.
Hachigian was part of a Center for American Progress delegation that met in 2013 with the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation to discuss diplomatic solutions to the U.S.-China relationship. Hachigian accompanied Center for American Progress founder John Podesta, while the Chinese side was represented by the founder of the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation, and officials from the People’s Liberation Army’s Academy of Military Science and the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, which operates under China’s intelligence service.
One participant was Yuan Peng, the head of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, which the CIA says is a "Soviet-style intelligence organ" for the Chinese government whose leaders "share lengthy and shadowy careers in the intelligence service." Hachigian collaborated with Peng for her 2014 book on the United States-China relationship. Peng said in 2007 that "almost all enemies of the United States are China's friends," the Weekly Standard reported.
According to a report of the Center for American Progress dialogue with the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation, both sides urged closer ties between the two countries’ militaries in order to foster "more understanding and a more mature relationship." The American delegation said the exchanges should involve "low-ranking officers and students" in order to "build trust as they move through their careers in their respective countries."
The delegations also called for more cooperation at the "subnational level" in order to serve as a "ballast" in the U.S.-China relationship, a preview of sorts for the same issues Hachigian will now handle at the State Department.
A State Department spokesperson said the agency has "full confidence" in Hachigian.
"Amb. Hachigian’s background will be integral in engaging local partners and fostering collaboration on many of the Department’s key priorities—including the priorities surrounding our competition with the PRC," the spokesperson said.