President-elect Joe Biden tapped a businessman and lobbyist with ties to Chinese Communist Party-run technology firms to help lead a trade agency review team.
Ted Dean joined Biden’s agency review team for the Office of the United States Trade Representative in November. A former Obama administration bureaucrat, Dean also worked for multiple organizations that dealt with the business and technology arms of the Chinese Communist Party. Dean served as the principal and president of a large Chinese tech consulting firm, as well as the chairman of a China-friendly business lobbying organization.
From 1999 to 2013, Dean held leadership roles at BDA China Limited, a company focused on "advising on investments in China’s consumer sector," according to the company’s website. BDA scrubbed details from its site describing how the company was founded following a conference hosted by the Chinese government. While BDA has not publicly disclosed its Chinese clientele, a 2016 New York Times report said BDA helped raise capital for state-owned enterprises including China Unicom, China Telecom, and China Mobile. China Unicom and China Telecom were named in April as companies that are vulnerable "to the exploitation, influence, and control of the Chinese Communist Party," according to Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai. Congress moved Tuesday to punish China Mobile for its noncompliance with American regulatory policies.
The Biden transition team did not respond to requests for comment about Dean's business activities.
Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.) panned Dean’s selection, saying it indicates a Biden administration would take a less aggressive approach to America's chief geopolitical rival.
"There are already several potential appointees whose coziness with China would disqualify them from working in a normal administration. But this administration’s stance towards China isn’t normal," Banks said. "Joe Biden is poised to undo consensus U.S. foreign policy which treats China as our foremost global adversary. Why? I’m not sure. But I do know Biden’s financial ties to China predate his recent cabinet picks and involve people a lot closer to Joe Biden than any cabinet appointee."
BDA hired multiple other figures with links to the Chinese Communist Party and tech giants during Dean's tenure, which ended when he joined the Obama administration in 2013. Duncan Clark, the chairman and founder of BDA, touted his association with Jack Ma, a Chinese Communist Party member and founder of Chinese e-commerce supergiant Alibaba. Clark wrote a fawning biography of Ma and his approach to Chinese industry titled Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built, published in 2016. BDA managing director Lei Shi joined the consulting firm by way of Chinese telecom giant Huawei in 2008. At Huawei, Shi worked on projects in the Middle East and China. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Huawei and other Chinese companies "Trojan horses for Chinese intelligence" in February. Several Western nations have banned Huawei from operating within their borders because of national security concerns.
BDA did not respond to requests for comment.
Dean’s ties to China do not end with BDA. He was appointed chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in the People’s Republic of China (AmCham China) in 2011. AmCham China is an influential lobbying organization working to promote commercial ties with China and foreign investment in Chinese industry. Its efforts helped bring billions of dollars in American capital to China.
"China continues to represent one of the best opportunities for the U.S. to expand exports," Dean said in 2011. "A healthy bilateral economic relationship between the U.S. and China is good for AmCham-China member companies and good for the U.S. economy."
Derek Scissors, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said unfettered trade and investment in China is one of America’s most grave national security threats. He estimates that American private and public investment in China likely exceeds $1 trillion, with much of the capital being funneled to institutions that challenge American security.
"This is China’s peak time," Scissors said. "If [the Chinese Communist Party is] subsidizing a sector that’s either a threat to us or in direct competition with us and our money is going over there to take advantage of those subsidies, we’re undermining congressional allocations, the competitiveness of our own industries, and the national interest."
The selection of Dean, an Obama administration appointee, could be a measuring stick for how Biden sets his own trade agenda. According to Scissors, if the Biden administration repeats the policies of the Obama years, it could lead to ruin.
"Xi Jinping took over early in the second term of the Obama administration, they knew what he was like, and they wanted no part of responding," Scissors said of Obama’s China team. "I’m suspicious of the Biden administration because of their track record."