Rockefellers Bankroll China-Based Nonprofits with Ties to Communist Government

Chinese flag flutters in front of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing
January 15, 2021

A Rockefeller family nonprofit is sending millions in cash to China-based entities, many of which have strong ties to China's communist government.

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) identifies China as a "pivotal place" for grantmaking opportunities.  As part of their investments, the Rockefellers fund numerous environmental groups in the region that are linked to Chinese Communist Party members or bolster multibillion-dollar government initiatives that critics say are trapping countries in debt spirals.

"With innovative government policy, a vibrant marketplace, and growing public participation, China has the potential to lead the world in sustainable approaches to development," the group's 2019 tax forms state. The RBF established its China-focused grantmaking program in 2005 to assist efforts "by engaging with and fostering collaborations among the government, business, civil society, and academia."

According to a review of the group’s most recent tax forms, RBF devoted $750,000 to the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development, which has a "direct channel" to China's State Council, the highest administrative authority of the Chinese government. It is chaired by high-ranking CCP official Han Zheng, the vice-premier of the State Council. In addition, the foundation donated $100,000 each to the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Lancang-Mekong Environmental Cooperation Center, both of which are controlled by the Chinese government.

The RBF has also awarded thousands of dollars to nonprofit groups that are led by Chinese Communist Party members and ex-government officials. Nearly $400,000 went to the China Environmental Protection Foundation, a nominally independent nonprofit that is spearheaded by senior Chinese Communist Party members. The foundation also gave $600,000 to the Guangdong Harmony Foundation, another CCP-linked nonprofit.

Other grant recipients carry water for the Chinese Communist Party even if they are not directly controlled by the government. China Youth Climate Action Network, which received $200,000 from the RBF, hosts its flagship youth conference under the guidance of the Ministry of Ecology and the local Communist Youth League.

Still other recipients support the Chinese government's Belt and Road Initiative, a multibillion-dollar infrastructure project in developing countries. China Global Philanthropy Institute, Greenovation Hub, and China Dialogue Trust are all linked to the project and collectively received more than $800,000 in RBF funds.

The Belt and Road Initiative has faced its fair share of controversy, including accusations that the infrastructure projects saddle developing countries with huge debts that leave them beholden to Chinese creditors. Sri Lanka had to give up a port on its island to China after the former defaulted on its debt, giving China a crucial maritime base in the Indo-Pacific. Belt and Road projects have also caused environmental destruction that should be anathema to the green-minded Rockefeller Brothers Fund: Analysts said the projects have led to an "environmental disaster" in South East Asia, the region that receives the bulk of Belt and Road funding.

RBF did not respond to a request for comment on the China-based entities.