Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) last week quietly accepted a lifetime achievement award from a foundation with deep ties to a Chinese Communist Party front group.
The George H.W. Bush Foundation for U.S.-China Relations honored Feinstein for her commitment to "a robust and mutually beneficial U.S.-China relationship." The group is heavily funded by the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation, a Hong Kong-based think tank considered a key player in the Chinese Communist Party's united front propaganda system. Axios reported last week that the Exchange Foundation gave the Bush foundation a five-year, $5 million grant in 2019 to promote ties between the United States and China.
U.S. officials have expressed concern that the Exchange Foundation serves as an influence agent for the Chinese government. CIA director William Burns testified at his February confirmation hearing that he ended a partnership with the group when he served as president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, citing the think tank's influence activities. Feinstein attended that hearing as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Feinstein has come under scrutiny for China-related matters before. She said last year that China was "growing into a respectable nation" and cautioned against holding China accountable for the coronavirus pandemic. Feinstein also employed a suspected Chinese spy as a congressional aide for nearly two decades. She supported expanded trade relations with China while her husband sought business deals in the country.
Feinstein's office did not respond to a request for comment.
Founded by Neil Bush, a son of George H.W. Bush, the Bush China Foundation also gave a lifetime achievement award to former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.
Neil Bush has faced criticism for his pro-Beijing views and business dealings in China. In an interview with Chinese state media in December 2019, Bush suggested that the U.S. government was stoking pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
"It makes you wonder whether there's something driving this movement, because people aren't out on the streets in some educated way, as far as I can tell," he said in an interview with CGTN, a state-controlled Chinese TV network.
Other Chinese outlets have used Bush's commentary to peddle propaganda to American news organizations. The Wall Street Journal published an article from Communist Party-controlled China Daily in which Bush criticized U.S. tariffs against China and accused Donald Trump of hijacking the Republican Party.
Neil Bush said Feinstein and Kissinger played a prominent role in shaping key U.S. legislation related to China.
"Like my father was, they have long been powerful and effective advocates for the idea that America's vital interests are best served by a U.S.-China relationship that is functional, constructive, results-oriented, mutually beneficial and politically sustainable," Bush said in a statement.
"We need more people-to-people contact to show how our nations can get along, and I look forward to continue working toward that goal," Feinstein said in a statement accepting the award.
The China-U.S. Exchange Foundation was founded by Tung Chee-hwa, the vice chairman of a Communist Party advisory panel. The group has spent years cultivating relationships with American think tanks and universities as part of its efforts to shape perception of China in the United States.
The group's strategy is laid out in a consulting agreement it signed in 2010 with BLJ Worldwide, a public relations firm. According to the agreement, BLJ said it would initiate a campaign in the United States to "influence key constituencies," including politicians and academics, regarding China's controversial policies toward Tibet.
BLJ also said it would "leverage" outside spokespeople in order to "effectively disseminate positive messages" about China to the media, key policy influencers, and opinion leaders. The lobby shop arranged trips to China for prominent American journalists in order to obtain favorable coverage about the country.