The Left's Largest Nonprofits Funneled $39 Million to China in 2021, Filings Show

Bill and Melinda Gates and Ford Foundations funded projects at Chinese universities, government agencies

Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates and then-Chinese premier Li Keqiang in 2017 (Thomas Peter/AFP via Getty Images)
January 23, 2023

Two of America's largest liberal nonprofits, the Bill and Melinda Gates and Ford Foundations, funneled $39 million to China in 2021—money that in some cases went to Chinese government agencies and universities that conduct military research.

The Gates Foundation, according to its latest IRS disclosure, sent nearly $30 million to Chinese organizations in 2021, including $2.5 million to the communist nation's National Health Commission and $1.4 million to its Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. The Ford Foundation, meanwhile, sent $9.3 million to China in 2021—recipients included three public universities that are overseen by the Chinese government's defense industry agency.

Both the Gates and Ford Foundations have long boasted of their work to influence policy and advance technology in China. But the foundations' partnerships with Chinese Communist Party-controlled entities—including some that work with China's military—is raising eyebrows among U.S. lawmakers and China experts, who argue that the CCP's iron grip on the nation means the party is likely to hijack data that advances its interests.

"If the last few years have taught us anything, it's that we need to heavily scrutinize every American dollar that goes to CCP-affiliated entities," Rep. Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.), who is set to chair a House select committee tasked with countering China, told the Washington Free Beacon. "Any American foundation contributing to causes that advance CCP-aligned interests in the developing world has serious questions to answer."

Neither the Gates nor Ford Foundations returned requests for comment.

While both foundations appear committed to continue funding Chinese projects, many U.S. researchers are reevaluating their work in the communist nation over fears of aiding China's military. American and German scientists, for example, partnered with researchers at China's Peking University to release a 2020 study on robotic fish. Such robots can be used militarily as underwater unmanned vehicles, Newsweek reported last week, and two of the study's co-authors work with the Chinese research facility tasked with developing hypersonic weapons. The Gates and Ford Foundations combined to send Peking University more than $1.7 million in 2021, tax filings show.

The Gates Foundation labeled most of its grants to Chinese government agencies and universities—including the $2.5 million it sent to China's National Health Commission—as supporting "global health and development public awareness and analysis." The Ford Foundation's Chinese grants cover a wider range of issues, such as climate change, education, and finance. One $150,000 Ford Foundation grant to Beijing Normal University funds research on Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative, a CCP tool to subjugate foreign nations through direct infrastructure investment.

While the two foundations' Chinese grants largely differ in purpose, both nonprofits sent funding to public universities that are tied to China's military and national defense industry. The Gates and Ford Foundations, for example, combined in 2021 to give nearly $3.5 million to Peking University, Tsinghua University, and Shanghai Jiao Tong University—universities that the Australian Strategic Policy Institute designates as "high risk" or "very high risk" due to their "high level[s] of defense research" and alleged involvement in foreign cyber attacks. All three universities, according to the institute, are under the supervision of China's State Administration of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense, which aims to deepen university involvement in the defense sector. 

The foundations in 2021 also sent nearly $500,000 to Beijing Normal University, which has worked with the Chinese government to develop military vehicles, according to a 2021 Foundation for Defense of Democracies report. The university in June 2021 also hosted a two-week military training session.

For American Foreign Policy Council fellow Michael Sobolik, the Gates and Ford Foundations' China grants "work directly against America's national security interests."

"The Ford Foundation is funding research for Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative, the Party's strategy to overtake America. Meanwhile, Bill Gates funded global health projects inside China while protecting the CCP from accountability," Sobolik told the Free Beacon. "It is simply unacceptable for Americans to aid our adversary, yet this embarrassing behavior remains persistent and pervasive—from professional sports and universities to Wall Street and wealthy foundations."

This is not the first time Gates has faced criticism for partnering with questionable Chinese entities. From November 2018 to March 2019, Microsoft—the tech giant Gates cofounded in 1975—published three papers with researchers at China's National University of Defense Technology, which the Chinese military controls. One of those papers described a new artificial intelligence method to "recreate detailed environmental maps by analyzing human faces, which experts say could have clear applications for surveillance and censorship," Financial Times reported

Gates also vehemently defended China's response to the coronavirus pandemic, which saw the communist nation cover up the virus when it first emerged in Wuhan in December 2019. For Gates, any criticism of that cover up was "a distraction," and "unfair." "China did a lot of things right at the beginning," the billionaire said during an April 2020 CNN interview.

Beyond the millions of dollars the Gates and Ford Foundations sent to China, the two nonprofits are known for their staunch support of liberal dark money groups. The foundations in 2021 combined to send more than $85 million to left-wing nonprofits managed by Arabella Advisors, a Washington, D.C., consulting firm that oversees a massive dark money network. That network pumped tens of millions of dollars into the 2020 election to help Democrats, money that came from anonymous liberal megadonors.