Rockefeller Foundation Bankrolls COVID-19 Commission Led by Beijing Sympathizer

Jeffrey Sachs has downplayed the Uyghur genocide and criticized U.S. foreign policy

Columbia professor Jeffrey Sachs / Getty Images
May 11, 2021

One of the largest charitable foundations in the country has contributed $300,000 to a coronavirus commission formed by a Columbia University economist who advised a Chinese government planning commission and called the United States the "greatest threat" to global peace.

The Rockefeller Foundation is one of two backers of the Lancet COVID-19 Commission, a collaboration between the British medical journal and Jeffrey Sachs, a prominent liberal economist who progressive groups pushed for a spot in the Biden administration.

The commission says its goal is to develop recommendations for fighting the virus and addressing the economic fallout from the pandemic. But the pro-Beijing views of Sachs and others involved could make it possible for China to influence the commission as it plans to advise governments and United Nations institutions.

The commission brings together some of the most significant players on the global health stage. With its $5 billion endowment, Rockefeller funds numerous global health initiatives, and Lancet is considered one of the world’s premier medical journals. Sachs maintains ties to the World Health Organization and United Nations, where he served as an adviser through 2018.

The commission also receives funding from the Nizami Ganjavi International Center, an Azerbaijan-based think tank that a Chinese ambassador has praised for its "close cooperation" with Beijing.

Sachs, who also serves as chairman of the commission, has a long history of criticizing U.S. foreign policy and defending China.

A network of advocacy groups sent a letter to Columbia University president Lee Bollinger in February accusing Sachs of downplaying China’s genocide against Uyghur Muslims and criticizing democracy movements in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Sachs had accused the United States in an interview of trying to "stir unrest" by promoting democracy protests in Hong Kong.

The groups said that Sachs’s comments were "in line with PRC state propaganda."

Sachs, who was an adviser to China’s State Development Planning Commission from 2001-2002, has appeared numerous times on China’s state-controlled media outlets to criticize the United States. He has accused conservatives of waging an "unholy crusade" against China. In 2018, he called the U.S. government the "greatest threat" to international law and global peace after officials pushed for an international investigation against Chinese tech giant Huawei.

Sachs sounded off against the United States at an event about the pandemic hosted in September by the Nizami Ganjavi International Center and the China Public Diplomacy Association, a group formed under China’s ministry of foreign affairs to promote Beijing’s soft diplomacy efforts.

"I do not believe that China is the root of the current problems; I believe that the tensions have arisen mainly from the United States side," said Sachs, who also accused conservatives of seeking a cold war with China.

The Rockefeller Foundation, which was founded by oil baron John D. Rockefeller in 1913, has a long history in China dating back to the organization’s early days. The charity created the China Medical Board in 1914 to fund medical research at universities in China.

A separate charitable foundation affiliated with the Rockefeller family, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, bankrolls multiple Chinese environmental groups with links to the Chinese Communist Party. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund also donates to the isolationist Quincy Institute, whose fellows have denied the Uyghur genocide and parroted anti-Semitic talking points.

Richard Horton, the editor of Lancet, has also developed ties to Chinese officials and its state-run media outlets.

Horton was the 2015 recipient of a friendship award from China’s State Administration of Foreign Affairs Experts, a front group for the Chinese Communist Party. He also said last year that China is owed a "debt of gratitude" for its handling of the pandemic and that former president Donald Trump committed a "crime against humanity" by threatening to pull U.S. funding for the World Health Organization.

Horton’s remarks in a May 2020 interview with CGTN, a state-controlled media outlet, were featured in an ad that the agency published on Facebook last year.

Horton and Sachs announced the formation of the COVID-19 Commission in a Lancet article on July 9.

An adviser to the Lancet commission, Peter Daszak, was the only American to serve on a team of WHO scientists who visited Wuhan, China, earlier this year to investigate the origins of the coronavirus.

Daszak and others on the WHO team have downplayed the possibility that the virus emerged as a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Daszak was accused of having a conflict of interest because he received millions of dollars in grants from the U.S. government for work with the Wuhan lab.

In February 2020, Daszak recruited a group of scientists to sign a letter published in Lancet that called the lab leak hypothesis a "conspiracy theory." He has continued to scoff at the lab leak theory, even as the Biden administration has called for an investigation into the hypothesis.

Sachs has also disputed the lab leak theory. In a column for CNN last May, he said that Republicans were being "reckless and dangerous" by suggesting that the virus started in the Wuhan lab.

Since then, officials in both the Trump and Biden administrations have said that the lab leak theory warrants further investigation.

The Rockefeller Foundation and Sachs’s office did not respond to a request for comment.