Joe Biden Says China's EV Dominance Is a Problem. His Son Hunter Helped Beijing Gain a Foothold in the Industry.

(cropped from Andy Wong/AFP via Getty Images)
May 14, 2024

President Joe Biden on Tuesday imposed sweeping tariffs on China's aluminum and electric vehicle sectors, vowing to stop Beijing's effort to "dominate these industries." His son, Hunter Biden, brokered deals that helped China gain a foothold in those sectors while his father was vice president.

Hunter Biden was a founding board member of the Beijing-based BHR Partners and served on the company's board when the firm brokered a Chinese state-owned firm's purchase of a Congolese cobalt mine in 2016. China's acquisition of the mine, which had been owned by an American company, gave Beijing a crucial supply of raw materials used to make batteries for electric cars. That same year, BHR Partners bought and sold a stake in Chinese electric vehicle battery maker CATL, the New York Times reported.

Previously unreported emails from Hunter Biden's laptop show that BHR Partners tried to broker a deal in 2015 between the American subsidiary of Chinese company Zhongwang and American aluminum maker Aleris. Zhongwang said the $2.3 billion deal would "strengthen Zhongwang's leadership in [the] aluminum extrusion industry." The Trump and Biden Justice Departments have since indicted Zhongwang and its owner for a scheme to evade tariffs levied against Chinese aluminum makers.

Hunter Biden's work with BHR could prove awkward for his father, who said Tuesday he is "determined to ensure America," not China, "leads the world" in the electric vehicle, aluminum, steel, and semiconductor industries. To reach that goal, Biden imposed a 25 percent tariff on Chinese aluminum and 100 percent tariff on Chinese-made electric vehicles.

The tariffs have already opened Biden up to allegations of political opportunism, with the Republican National Committee calling the tariffs a "last-minute election year ploy to gaslight voters into thinking he is tough on China." A recent Gallup poll showed that just 38 percent of Americans have confidence in Biden's handling of the economy, compared with 46 percent who said they trust Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

With Hunter Biden as a board member and major investor, BHR Partners tried to help China gain dominance in some of those very same fields.

BHR Partners, which Biden cofounded in 2013, facilitated China Molybdenum's $2.65 billion purchase of a cobalt and copper mine from the American company Freeport-McMoRan, the Times reported. In 2021, the Biden administration warned that the Chinese government could use its foothold in the cobalt industry to stymie American electric car makers.

Hunter Biden owned a 10 percent stake in BHR Partners until 2019, but he has claimed he never received a payout from the firm. He transferred ownership of his stake to Hollywood lawyer Kevin Morris, who has paid millions of dollars to cover Biden's legal fees amid the first son's indictment on tax evasion and gun charges. Biden's BHR Partners investment has caused a political headache for Joe Biden, especially amid revelations that Hunter Biden introduced his father to BHR Partners founder Jonathan Li during a vice presidential trip to China in 2013.

In March 2015, BHR Partners executives updated Hunter Biden and his associates on Zhongwang's interests in purchasing Aleris. Paul Yang, a BHR Partners executive, said the firm was in talks with Zhongwang about the purchase of Aleris, which the Chinese firm saw as a "strong strategic fit." Yang said BHR Partners had "a very successful 2nd meeting" with Zhongwang about the deal.

Yang also suggested Zhongwang wanted to keep its interest in the purchase a secret from Aleris and allow BHR Partners to serve as the lead negotiator.

"Zhongwang specifically pointed out that, at this stage they prefer its name not to be disclosed to Oaktree, and prefer BHR to be in direct negotiation with … Aleris," Yang wrote.

Other emails show the BHR Partners consortium held conference calls and board meetings to discuss the potential Zhongwang-Aleris deal. In November 2015, a Hunter Biden associate said in an email that BHR Partners said Aleris was "still an attractive target."

Zhongwang announced a $2.3 billion bid for Aleris in August 2016, though it is unclear if BHR Partners was involved in the final deal. A bipartisan group of lawmakers opposed the proposed deal and urged the Obama administration to block it out of concerns that Zhongwang's purchase of Aleris "would directly undermine our national security" by "jeopardizing" the manufacture of sensitive technologies and "further imperiling U.S. defense interests."

Zhongwang dropped the bid in November 2017 after failing to win approval from the U.S. government's Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. The Trump Justice Department in July 2019 indicted Zhongwang, its owner, and affiliated companies for scheming to avoid paying $1.8 billion in tariffs on aluminum products.