The Biden administration last month warned of a Chinese Communist Party front group that seeks to "co-opt" state leaders as part of Beijing’s sprawling foreign influence operation. Emails from Hunter Biden’s laptop show the first son and his business partners helped the organization gain a foothold in the United States while his father was vice president.
In 2015, Biden’s partners lobbied the State Department to publicly approve a partnership between the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries and State Legislative Leaders Foundation, a nonprofit group that hosts forums for state legislators and corporate leaders. Hunter’s team portrayed the initiative as a boon for U.S.-Chinese relations.
But emails show they hoped the U.S. government’s recognition of the partnership would help the foundation establish an office in Beijing. It is not clear why the partnership—or the Obama administration’s blessing of it—would have helped Hunter Biden’s business prospects. What is clear is that he and his colleagues believed it would: Biden associate James Bulger wrote in a July 17, 2015, email that the Beijing office would be "a great business driver" for a joint venture they sought with Harvest Fund Management, a Chinese investment firm led by Henry Zhao, a businessman and reported member of the Chinese Communist Party.
The lobbying campaign proved wildly successful on all fronts. After a September 2015 meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping, President Barack Obama endorsed the partnership between State Legislative Leaders Foundation and the Chinese group. Months later, Hunter Biden’s company finalized its multimillion-dollar deal with Harvest Management.
Biden’s emails, which have not been previously reported, show how the younger Biden helped a Chinese Communist Party influence outfit that his father’s administration now views as a national security threat. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said last month that the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries seeks "to directly and malignly influence state and local leaders to promote the PRC’s global agenda."
On April 28, 2015, Bulger told Hunter Biden that State Legislative Leaders Foundation president Stephen Lakis wanted to meet to discuss a path forward to setting up a SLLF office in China and creating a partnership between his organization and the Chinese organization.
"Whatever you need on this just let me know and I'll make it work," Biden replied.
Between April and July 2015, Biden’s longtime friend and business partner Eric Schwerin arranged meetings between the State Legislative Leaders Foundation and State Department officials to help advance the partnership with the Chinese group. Schwerin, who had dozens of White House meetings with members of then-vice president Joe Biden's office, was "instrumental" in arranging the State Department sessions, according to an email from Bulger.
The Biden group’s primary goal was to have Obama reference the collaboration between the State Legislative Leaders Foundation and the Chinese group in his upcoming meeting with Xi Jinping. On May 11, 2015, a foundation adviser wrote Evan Ryan, who then served as assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, that a reference by Obama would help them gain "top level approval" from Chinese officials to set up a foundation office in Beijing.
Ryan, who now serves as White House cabinet secretary and is married to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, appears to have played a major role in midwifing the partnership. Schwerin noted in an email to Biden that Ryan had "helped with" the effort to officially acknowledge the foundation's work with the Chinese group. Other emails show Biden and Schwerin in frequent correspondence with Ryan on other matters.
The U.S. intelligence community has increasingly warned that Beijing uses American businessmen and nonprofit groups—often through "deceptive and coercive" means—to promote China’s political agenda in the West. Republicans have said Hunter Biden would have been a prime target for such an influence operation, given his extensive dealings in China and his access to policymakers in Washington. Biden, who is under federal investigation over his taxes and foreign business dealings, earned millions of dollars from a deal with CEFC China Energy, whose chairman was suspected of having ties to Chinese military intelligence. Biden also provided legal services to a CEFC executive whom he referred to as "the fucking spy chief of China" and who was convicted for trying to bribe African officials for oil rights.
The Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries and State Legislative Leaders Foundation have hosted five "Cooperation Forums" in Honolulu, Las Vegas, Wuhan, and Shijiazhuang since 2015, providing the Chinese influence group access to dozens of state legislative leaders and American business executives. While the U.S. government has not publicly scrutinized the forums, the State Department in 2020 pulled out of a forum between the Chinese group and the National Governors Association due to the former's efforts to "spread Beijing’s malign influence in the United States."
Biden’s associates began lobbying the U.S. government as a ploy to land a lucrative investment from Harvest Fund Management, one of China’s largest asset managers. Biden allegedly touted his family’s political connections in seeking a $5 million investment from Harvest founder Henry Zhao, the Washington Free Beacon reported. Zhao is believed to be a Chinese Communist Party official, according to the New York Post.
The Biden team had worked with the State Legislative Leaders Foundation before. The foundation helped Biden and his associates at the private equity firm BHR Partners in 2015, when Hunter’s team helped the Aviation Industry Corporation of China purchase Michigan auto parts maker Henniges Automotive, the Free Beacon reported earlier this year.
The Biden emails provide a detailed roadmap of how the State Legislative Leaders Foundation, the Biden team, and Zhao sought to use an official blessing from the U.S. government to advance their business interests. In a September 2014 email, Lakis, the foundation president, told Zhao he was a "shareholder" in Bulger’s company. He urged Zhao to consider an investment in the Biden joint venture, saying he had "every confidence that such a partnership will be beneficial to all parties."
Back in China, Zhao was "working with the Chinese Governments [sic] counterparts in Beijing" to have the foundation's efforts mentioned during the Obama-Xi summit in September 2015, Bulger told Biden in a July 17, 2015, email. Having the initiative mentioned in an official document for the summit "would be a huge boost to [Zhao’s] effort in China." That in turn "would be a great business driver for Burnham/Harvest," referring to their joint venture, said Bulger. Bulger, a relative of mobster Whitey Bulger, also wrote that Zhao wanted Biden’s "help with this matter."
The emails do not detail what steps Biden took to help the initiative, but he cheered the partnership between the foundation and the Chinese group in a November 2015 email to Zhao. Biden wrote he was "very happy to hear that the State Legislative Leaders Foundation matter was worked out and was highlighted during President Xi’s State Visit in September."
Burnham and Harvest finalized the joint venture in March 2016, according to emails Biden sent to Zhao.
"This is an exciting milestone and I look forward to helping building [sic] a cross border institution that helps investors in our respective countries across the globe," Biden wrote Zhao on March 18, 2016.
While Biden had high hopes for the partnership with Zhao—he said his company had "no greater partner" than the Chinese businessman—the joint venture went south in May 2016 after another Biden partner, Devon Archer, was indicted on fraud charges.
It is unclear whether President Biden was aware of his son’s activities, though Hunter has kept his father in the loop on several of his other business ventures. Joe Biden met in 2017 with Michael Lin, a longtime Hunter business partner who advised the State Legislative Leaders Foundation on its first foray into China, the Free Beacon reported in May 2021.
None of Biden’s associates—Schwerin, Lakis, or Bulger—have registered with Congress as lobbyists, despite their outreach to the State Department. None returned requests for comment. Biden’s attorney and the White House also did not respond to requests for comment.