China's biggest law firm is partnering with a top Democratic lobbying practice, which has sent at least 11 alumni to senior positions in the Biden administration.
Albright Stonebridge Group, an advisory agency with deep ties to the Biden administration’s foreign policy team, announced it will partner with multinational law firm Dentons, which operates the largest legal firm in China, to build a new joint venture in international commerce called Dentons Global Advisors. Dentons Global Advisors will focus on "commercial diplomacy" and government relations worldwide, but likely will capitalize on its founders' foothold within the Biden administration.
Included among Albright Stonebridge alumni are several of President Joe Biden's top advisers on national security matters. Before joining the administration, U.N. ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield led the firm's Africa shop, while Vice President Kamala Harris's national security adviser Philip Gordon worked as a senior adviser for the organization. Controversial State Department appointees Victoria Nuland and Wendy Sherman also worked for Albright Stonebridge during the Trump administration.
The firm, which was founded by Clinton administration secretary of state Madeleine Albright, will likely not just have access to officials close to the White House but also strong connections to Chinese business. One of Dentons's subsidiaries is Dacheng, a powerhouse Chinese law firm acquired in 2015.
Dacheng is considered by scholars to be a part of the "iron triangle" in the Chinese justice system, where the courts, lawyers, and law enforcement work together to advance the interests of the Chinese Communist Party. The Chinese law firm formed its own Communist Party committee at one point, and several senior partners have assumed positions of responsibility within local party structures.
Neither Albright Stonebridge nor Dentons responded to requests for comment.
Before partnering with Dentons, Albright Stonebridge touted its own ties to Chinese enterprise, leveraging the political experience of its many staffers in Democratic White Houses. Albright Stonebridge cochair and former secretary of commerce Carlos Gutierrez was quoted by Chinese state media in 2019 as a chief critic of the Trump administration's trade policies, urging the former president to "put the trade war behind us."
The firm's work on China closely follows Gutierrez's sentiments. In one instance, Albright Stonebridge scrubbed its website of consulting work done in close cooperation with the Chinese government to secure market entry for a U.S. company into China. During the entry process, Albright Stonebridge said one of its prime objectives was to "generate goodwill within the Chinese government" for the client company.
As the Biden administration moves forward in setting its own agenda with Beijing, Albright Stonebridge still appears fixated on growth in its China shop. The China practice at the lobbying firm remains the largest branch of any in the company. Albright Stonebridge senior adviser Kenneth Jarrett said last week that he does not expect U.S. companies to leave the China market even during a period of heightened tensions.
"It's important to understand that even within an overall dynamic of competition, there is still room for cooperation," Jarrett said. "The majority of U.S. companies are successful in China and see that success as an important contributor to their global performance. ... They are not looking to exit the China market."
Albright Stonebridge's close ties with China and the Biden administration mirror those of a similar advisory firm whose alumni have become White House foreign policy mavens. The Washington Free Beacon reported in December 2020 that WestExec Advisors, another top consultancy, came under scrutiny during the nomination process for Secretary of State Antony Blinken for scrubbing its site of China-related work. Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines also worked for WestExec.
Jack McEvoy contributed reporting for this article.