Biden Think Tank That Housed Classified Docs Also Hosted Event That Pushed Greater Engagement With China

January 24, 2023

The Biden think tank at the University of Pennsylvania where the president stashed classified documents didn't just have lax security—it also hosted events in partnership with organizations that promoted closer engagement with China, the Washington Free Beacon has learned.

The Penn Biden Center hosted a two-day "bootcamp" for congressional staffers in June that encouraged closer ties with China on issues like green energy and academia, according to a source. One of the organizing groups has an advisory board member who served as spokesman for the controversial Chinese tech giant Baidu. The event was held as anonymous donors from China have poured millions into the University of Pennsylvania.

There were no posted security officials at the Penn Biden Center during the June conference—just regular Penn staffers—and attendees were able to walk around the center unmonitored and make use of unused rooms for phone calls and other private work during the conference.

The news raises questions about security at the Penn Biden Center following revelations that classified documents from Joe Biden’s vice presidency had been improperly stored at the think tank in Washington, D.C., and at his home in Wilmington, Del. Biden has pushed back against notions that he mishandled information, describing the Penn Biden Center as a place where his lawyers "set up an office for me—a secure office in the Capitol, when I—the four years after being vice president, I was a professor at Penn."

The events also raise questions about the extent of the Biden team’s involvement in the University of Pennsylvania’s opaquely funded China initiatives, which ramped up in recent years as millions of dollars in Chinese donations poured into the university. The university has denied that the contributions have any connection to the Penn Biden Center, and a spokesman told the Free Beacon that no foreign donations were specifically earmarked for the think tank.

Rebeccah Heinrichs, a national security expert and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, said the news that outside groups hosted events at the Penn Biden Center while classified documents were stored at the office was 'incredibly alarming."

'The fact that [the documents] were not secured, [were] open and uncared for, and also that you had this other activity going on inside this facility, with individuals that may not have the best interests of the American people at heart, is shocking," said Heinrichs.

'I would like to know more about … who was going in and out of these specific workshops, these discussions, who has been through this facility," Heinrichs added. 'The American people deserve a full accounting of who may have had easy access to these documents."

The University of Pennsylvania did not respond to a request for comment on the event.

The two-day "congressional bootcamp," which was held at the Penn Biden Center in D.C., was co-organized by the university’s Center for the Study of Contemporary China, the Penn Project on the Future of U.S.-China Relations, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, according to the university's website.

A dozen fellows from the Penn Project on the Future of U.S.-China Relations spoke at the congressional bootcamp, according to the website. The project is financed by Penn’s China Research and Engagement Fund, which is "designed to stimulate and support activity in China" and engagement with the Penn Wharton China Center but does not disclose its individual donors.

The Penn Project on the Future of U.S.-China Relations’s advisory board includes Kaiser Kuo, the former spokesman for Chinese tech giant Baidu, who is now editor at large of a news outlet called SupChina. Members of Congress have been probing SupChina—which recently changed its name to the China Project—for potentially acting as an unregistered agent for China, Semafor reported in October.

The allegations are based on a sworn statement a former SupChina reporter, Shannon Van Sant, filed with the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission that month.

In the complaint, Van Sant claimed Kuo said during an editorial meeting that the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong were organized by the U.S. government.

"He said, ‘the United States government is orchestrating the protests in Hong Kong through funding and training provided by the National Endowment for Democracy,"’ she wrote. "Kuo said the U.S. government was responsible for the unrest in Hong Kong, forcing China to impose national security legislation to protect the city."

Van Sant said the outlet’s leadership pushed writers to adopt a pro-Beijing slant and consulted with Chinese Communist Party entities on story ideas. One of SupChina’s funders, financial consultant Clarence Kwan, was also a board member of the China Overseas Exchange Association, a group that works under the Chinese government’s United Front foreign influence department, according to Semafor.

Kuo was not listed as a speaker at the congressional bootcamp, according to a conference schedule obtained by the Free Beacon. Speakers included Penn professor Jacques deLisle, China studies chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Jude Blanchette, and former Obama administration China adviser Ryan Hass.

Panel topics included "China’s Climate and Energy Policies," "Beijing’s Evolving Strategy on Taiwan," and "Public Opinion in China: What Do We Know?" The two-day conference closed with a reception at Bistro Bis, a restaurant at the nearby Kimpton George Hotel.

Published under: China , Feature , Joe Biden