After months of buildup, Secretary of State Antony Blinken will outline the Biden administration’s China strategy on Thursday. His venue: an event hosted by a group friendly to the Chinese Communist Party.
Blinken will give his much-anticipated speech at an event hosted by the Asia Society, a U.S.-based nonprofit that aims "to build bridges of understanding between Americans and Asians." The speech comes as the administration weighs whether to relax Trump-era tariffs imposed on China and prepares for diplomatic talks in Asia.
The event could undermine the Biden administration’s attempt to talk tough on China. Several Chinese state-owned companies—including the China Investment Corporation and State Grid Corporation of China—are part of the Asia Society’s global corporate network, which helps members engage with "corporate leaders, policymakers, and influencers." One of the Asia Society’s trustees is Ning Gaoning, a Chinese Communist Party official whose company, Sinochem, has been blacklisted by the United States government over its ties to the Chinese military.
The Asia Society also has ties to the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda machine. It helped establish dozens of Confucius Institute classrooms across the country. U.S. government officials have warned that the Chinese government uses Confucius Institutes to disseminate pro-Beijing propaganda at American colleges and high schools. Another Asia Society board member is an official with the China-United States Exchange Foundation, a think tank that directs the Chinese Communist Party’s overseas influence activities.
"It's unclear why Blinken chose Asia Society as a host," said Anders Corr, an intelligence analyst and publisher of the Journal of Political Risk. Corr said Asia Society’s "soft-on-China reputation" and financial ties to state-controlled companies means it "should be avoided by U.S. government officials at any cost."
Blinken is not expected to announce any major policy shifts toward China at the event, which he postponed earlier this month after contracting COVID-19. His speech comes amid intense debate in the Biden administration and business community over Trump-era tariffs against Chinese companies. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and officials on the National Security Council want to maintain tariffs while Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and others want to ease some in order to lower prices amid high inflation, the New York Times reported. Blinken is not expected to explicitly address how the administration should handle tariffs, according to the Times.
The Asia Society and many of its corporate sponsors support a rollback of tariffs. Anna Ashton, an official with the Asia Society Policy Institute, recently said the Chinese government had exercised "a great deal of patience" in hoping that American policymakers "would come to their senses" about the economic relationship between Washington and Beijing.
The State Department and Asia Society did not respond to requests for comment.