Top Biden Allies Worked for Group With Close Ties to Chinese Communist Party

Experts worry National Committee on U.S.-China Relations could impact Biden administration policy

Jacob Lew / Getty Images
July 5, 2021

Top Biden allies including former Treasury secretary Jacob Lew and National Security Council official Kurt Campbell have done work for a nonprofit funded by companies like Facebook and Disney that is known for working closely with Chinese officials and Communist Party front groups.

Campbell, whom President Joe Biden tapped to run Asia policy at the National Security Council, was a director at the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations through May 2020. Lew, who served as Treasury secretary during the Obama-Biden administration, took over in January as chairman of the National Committee, which bills itself as an educational nonprofit that seeks open dialogue between Beijing and Washington. Lew, an early endorser of Biden's presidential campaign, reportedly met with Biden's team in 2020 to discuss economic policy.

One intelligence analyst who studies China's influence efforts in the West said that the National Committee's "soft-on-China" position helps open Chinese markets to the National Committee's corporate donors, a group of more than 50 companies that includes firms like BlackRock, Blackstone, Citigroup, and Mastercard. The National Committee is also likely to have access to the Biden administration, where it could advocate for closer economic ties to China.

"The National Committee is more that of a business league for U.S. companies in China [and] PRC companies in the U.S.," said Anders Corr, an intelligence analyst and editor of the Journal of Political Risk.

He said the group operates more as "a two-way unregistered foreign agent networking venue than strictly as a U.S. nonprofit organization."

Officials from the organization have met with and spoken to Biden administration officials, according to a spokesman for the National Committee. The spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon that the organization's officials have met with all presidential administrations dating back to its formation in 1966.

The National Committee has faced accusations that in its push to develop closer ties to China, it glosses over China's human rights abuses and foreign influence efforts. The National Committee's conciliatory approach to China is evidenced in several recent events and media interviews.

Lew hosted an event in February for a Chinese official, Yang Jiechi, who called on the United States to "stop meddling" in China's affairs by criticizing Beijing over its actions in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong. Another National Committee official, former U.S. trade representative Carla Hills, criticized the Trump administration's China trade policy at a Jan. 26 event convened by the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation, a think tank suspected of working as a front group for the Chinese Communist Party. During the event, Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, defended a controversial national security law that was recently used to arrest pro-democracy journalists.

Neither Lew nor Hills pushed back against the rhetoric from their Chinese counterparts.

Stephen Orlins, the president of the National Committee, also spoke at the event hosted by the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation. He spoke on a panel with the president of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, a top organization in the Communist Party's united front system.

Orlins heaped praise on Biden's Asia policy team during an interview with Chinese state-run television network CGTN on Jan. 23. Orlins listed Campbell as a "terrific" China expert in the administration who he expects to help repair the "four-year nightmare" in U.S.-China relations left over by the Trump administration. Campbell has come under scrutiny over his ties to China. The Free Beacon reported that Campbell was also vice chairman of the U.S.-China Strong Foundation, another corporate-backed nonprofit with links to Chinese influence groups.

Another Biden administration official, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, has close ties to the National Committee. She gave a keynote speech at a 2017 event funded by three of the National Committee's corporate donors where she criticized Trump but praised China's leaders as "exceptional," the National Pulse reported. The State Department awarded the National Committee a three-year, $530,000 grant in 2018 to fund a diplomatic exchange program.

The National Committee spokesman denied that the organization's officers are influenced by Chinese or U.S. officials. The spokesman said that its officers often raise concerns about China's human rights record during private dialogues it hosts with Chinese officials.

But China watchers have long asserted that American companies must toe the Chinese Communist Party line in order to do business in China. The New York Times recently published an exposé on concessions made by tech giant Apple to the Chinese government in order to maintain a foothold there. Disney, which has a senior vice president on the National Committee's board, recently came under fire for thanking the Communist Party in the credits of Mulan. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly gave his employees copies of Xi Jinping's book as the company seeks to overcome a ban on doing business in China. Zuckerberg also reportedly approached Xi during a White House event in 2015 about naming his unborn child.

U.S. officials have increasingly warned American companies doing business in China that they could be targets for influence operations.

"To achieve its strategic goal of displacing the U.S. as the preeminent world power, China is coercing and co-opting U.S. business, shamelessly stealing our technology, and trying to influence U.S. policy through both legal and illicit means," Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, told the Free Beacon.

Nunes recently opened an investigation into China's use of American companies to influence U.S. policy.

One example of how the National Committee's corporate backers have conformed to Communist Party edicts is found in Chubb, an insurance conglomerate that contributed between $250,000 and $1 million to the National Committee in 2019.

Chubb said in a statement announcing an equity investment in the state-owned People's Insurance Company of China in 2017 that its investment would fall "in line with the Chinese government's drive to promote" its international trade initiatives, including the controversial Belt and Road Initiative. The Chinese government has used Belt and Road to increase its influence in underdeveloped countries.

Ray Dalio, a hedge fund titan and longtime donor to the National Committee, recently downplayed human rights concerns in China, saying they would not prevent him from investing in the country.

"I don't really understand, and I don't study the human rights issues. I follow what the laws are on those particular things," Dalio told the Wall Street Journal in May.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the National Committee organized visits for members of Congress and staffers to China to meet with Chinese officials and business leaders. The all-expenses-paid junkets brought the lawmakers in contact with Chinese government officials, and officials from China-U.S. Exchange Foundation and other front groups.

The National Committee hosted the events with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Aspen Institute, and Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which has also cultivated ties with the Chinese government.

CIA director William Burns testified in February that he severed ties with the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation when he was president of the Carnegie Endowment out of concerns that the group was an influence agent for China.