A top State Department official is set to deliver the keynote address at a gala hosted by a pro-China group that wants to give the country a free pass on human-rights abuses.
Jose Fernandez, the undersecretary for economic growth, energy, and the environment, will speak at the U.S.-China Business Council gala on Thursday about the Biden administration’s bilateral approach to China. Chinese ambassador Qin Gang will also speak at the event, which is sponsored by the council’s corporate donors.
The council is one of Beijing’s most effective allies in Washington. The group, which represents hundreds of American companies that do business in China, has lobbied Congress and the White House to soften language on bills that would sanction China over human-rights abuses against Uyghurs, according to Politico. The Washington Post reported that council officials took part in a conference call this week with Chinese officials who urged American companies to continue their support for the Olympic Games in Beijing. Calls to boycott the games have grown following the disappearance of a Chinese tennis professional who alleged she was raped by a Chinese Communist Party official.
Fernandez’s address to the pro-China trade group comes as the Biden administration and congressional Democrats signal a willingness to ignore China’s human-rights record in order to win cooperation on climate change. The White House has pressured lawmakers to kill a bill that would restrict imports on goods made in Xinjiang, where the Chinese government is carrying out genocide against Uyghurs. Senate Democrats quietly excluded the bill from consideration on Wednesday, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
Fernandez has been far less vocal about China’s human-rights record than his predecessor, Keith Krach. The Twitter account for the undersecretary for economic growth, energy and the environment has not mentioned China since Jan. 20, 2021. A review of the account shows Krach frequently criticized the Chinese Communist Party and China’s repression of Uyghurs.
Some of the country’s biggest companies—JPMorgan Chase, Boeing, Ford, and GM—are sponsoring the gala. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon was forced to apologize last week after he joked that his company will likely outlast the Communist Party in China. The NBA, another gala sponsor, has come under fire for turning a blind eye to China’s human-rights record.
The council has partnered with progressive and isolationist groups to thwart anti-China bills. According to Politico, the council collaborated with the antiwar group Justice is Global to urge Congress to oppose legislation that might undercut climate negotiations with China. In February, the council’s chief lobbyist, Anna Ashton, took part in a discussion with a Justice is Global cofounder and a then-senior fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, an isolationist group funded by Charles Koch and George Soros.
The Quincy Institute fellow, Rachel Esplin Odell, joined the State Department in August. The Free Beacon reported that Odell has downplayed China’s national security threat to the United States and has criticized efforts to hold Beijing accountable for the coronavirus pandemic.
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment about Fernandez’s participation in the gala.