A scion of the Bush family is lending his influence and family name to boost a Chinese government contractor blacklisted by the U.S. government for its links to the Chinese military.
Neil Bush, the son of President George H.W. Bush, is a cosponsor of the International Symposium on the Peaceful Use of Space Technology that begins Nov. 18 in Beijing. Three co-chairmen of the forum are executives with the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), a state-controlled contractor that builds China's military and space equipment. A subsidiary of CASC reportedly developed a hypersonic missile that the Chinese military tested in August. American officials called the nuclear-capable missile a "national security crisis" because of its ability to evade detection.
Bush's sponsorship of the space symposium adds a veneer of respectability to the event amid growing concerns about China's increasingly aggressive military and space activities. The Trump and Biden administrations have prohibited American companies from doing business with CASC because of its position in the Chinese military-industrial apparatus. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which tracks China's military activities, rates CASC a "very high risk" to foreign nations' security because of its links to China's military and intelligence services.
Bush has extensive business ties in China and has worked closely with some of the country's propaganda organizations. He chairs the George H.W. Bush Foundation for U.S.-China Relations, which is cosponsoring the space symposium. The Bush Foundation received $5 million in funding in 2019 from the China-United States Exchange Foundation, a leading think tank in the Communist Party's propaganda network. Bush's business partner, the Chinese real estate investor Wang Tianyi, is executive chairman of the space symposium.
"Bush is basically a power broker. He's an access point for the Chinese to leverage," said Brandon Weichert, a space security analyst and author of the book Winning Space.
Weichert said the space symposium follows "the classic Chinese model" of using academic and business forums to recruit experts and investors in the West.
"One of their big missions is to get Western talent and investment to come to China to do cutting-edge research and development," Weichert told the Washington Free Beacon.
A spokeswoman for the Bush-China Foundation said they are not concerned by CASC's links to the Chinese military, saying that the symposium will focus on the development of space technology for use in the health care industry.
"We are not concerned because it is not relevant to the content of this particular conference, which is unrelated to China's military and is instead focused on global space technological advancements and rules-setting," said Leslie Reagan, the communications director for the Bush-China Foundation.
Reagan said that Bush does not have a financial interest in the space symposium and that neither he nor the foundation are paid to take part in the event.
Bush is also linked to China-focused think tanks with ties to business leaders and the Biden administration. In 2019, Bush served as an honorary vice chairman of the annual gala for the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, a think tank that facilitates dialogue between American and Chinese leaders. High-level Biden officials—including CIA director William Burns, National Security Council official Kurt Campbell, Ambassador Nicholas Burns, climate envoy John Kerry, and State Department deputy secretary Wendy Sherman—served as vice chairs for the gala alongside Bush.
American policymakers disagree about whether the United States should collaborate with China on space exploration, with critics expressing concern that China would steal technology from their American counterparts. Some in President Joe Biden's orbit have urged cooperation between the United States and China on space research, including NASA administrator Bill Nelson.
"We should collaborate, no doubt about it," Bush said about the space symposium in a recent interview with the Center for China and Globalization, a Communist Party-linked think tank.
There is some indication that the organizers of the space symposium concealed the CASC officials' links to the organization. An itinerary for the symposium lists the officials' affiliations with various international space organizations. But a review conducted by the Free Beacon shows the officials—Wu Yansheng, Yuan Jie, and Yang Baohua—serve as chairman, president, and vice president of CASC, respectively.
The China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics, a CASC subsidiary, reportedly launched a hypersonic missile in August, the Financial Times reported. Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the test "very concerning" and said it shows China is "expanding rapidly in space, in cyber and then in the traditional domains of land, sea and air." The Chinese missile, which surpasses American technology, cannot be detected by radar. It has raised concerns in some circles that China is developing war plans, or may use its military might to invade Taiwan.
"We do not have at present either the capability to reliably track that attack or to put up a reliable defense against a Chinese hypersonic attack," Weichert, the space security expert, told the Free Beacon.
In addition to his business interests in China, Bush has been one of Beijing's biggest defenders against allegations of human rights abuses. Chinese state-controlled media have used some of his remarks in their propaganda efforts, such as his criticism in 2019 of Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests. Bush dismissed protesters' complaints about a Communist Party-backed national security law and questioned whether the U.S. government was propping up pro-democracy demonstrations. The Chinese government has since used the law to arrest dissenters and shut down news organizations that criticize it.
An organizer for the event did not respond to questions.