Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday 29 December 2020



Beijing’s Bigger Honey Trap

Eric Swalwell and Hunter Biden are only the tip of the Chinese influence iceberg.

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What do Eric Swalwell and Hunter Biden have in common?

Both are highly connected, Mr. Swalwell as a member of the House Intelligence Committee and Mr. Biden as the son of the incoming president. Both have made news for their dealings with China, Mr. Swalwell for his relationship with a Chinese spy named Christine Fang, and Mr. Biden for business deals made with enterprises connected to the Chinese Communist Party. Both also benefit from a U.S. press corps uninterested in getting to the bottom of their stories.

When the New York Post published emails in October raising doubts about Joe Biden’s claims he’d never discussed his son’s business dealings, many dismissed the story as “Russian disinformation”—and some suppressed it. As for Mr. Swalwell’s China connection, the New York Times still refuses even to mention it.

But it isn’t just the Biden and Swalwell stories the press is missing. Their cases are only a microcosm of what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo complains is an all-out Chinese Communist Party effort “to make Americans receptive to Beijing’s form of authoritarianism.” China does this on multiple fronts, often masquerading under the banner of “friendship” associations. But the agenda is always the same: to use whatever tools it has to mute opposition to China.


For the business sector, the pitch is simple: Come, there’s money to be made—so long as no one brings up human rights.

Consider Disney. In 1997, the company angered China by releasing “Kundun,” a positive film about the Dalai Lama. CEO Michael Eisner called the film a “stupid mistake” and vowed that Disney would “prevent this sort of thing” going forward. When Robert Iger took over, he made a priority of getting back in China’s good graces, and his achievements include Disney’s theme park in Shanghai in partnership with the government, through the state-owned Shendi Group. In addition, the studio filmed parts of this year’s live-action “Mulan” in Xinjiang province, home to Chinese concentration camps holding more than a million Muslim Uighurs.

Now Mr. Iger’s name is being floated as Joe Biden’s ambassador to Beijing.

In a September speech to state legislators, Mr. Pompeo cited Roger Roth, president of the Wisconsin Senate, as another Chinese target. Mr. Roth received an email from Wu Ting, wife of the Chinese consul general in Chicago, that asked him to “consider adopting a resolution expressing solidarity with the Chinese people in fighting the coronavirus.” She helpfully included a draft. He sent back a one-word response: “Nuts.”

Such actions help explain why Mr. Pompeo recently shut down five “cultural exchange” programs that allowed congressional staffers to travel to China on trips paid for by Beijing. Because in reality China isn’t interested in genuine exchange; it wants opportunities to develop relationships with these staffers and use them for China’s purposes.

Or take China’s theft of data and intellectual property, including research on Covid-19. This columnist, who worked in the George W. Bush White House, had his personal information stolen by China in a 2015 hack of the Office of Personnel Management. In July, FBI Director Christopher Wray said China has “pioneered an expansive approach to stealing innovation through a wide range of actors—including not just Chinese intelligence services but state-owned enterprises, ostensibly private companies, certain kinds of graduate students and researchers, and a whole variety of other actors working on their behalf.”

American campuses are a particularly soft target. In 2019 Columbia President Lee Bollinger presented himself as a champion of free speech in a Washington Post op-ed in which he declared, “No, I won’t start spying on my foreign-born students.” But he said nothing about Columbia’s Confucius Institute, an institution Mr. Pompeo calls “part of the Chinese Communist Party’s global influence and propaganda apparatus,” or reports that Columbia’s Global Center in Beijing has canceled talks that might upset Chinese officials. Or the likelihood that China is spying on Columbia’s Chinese students.

The is the missing backdrop to the Hunter Biden and Eric Swalwell cases. Mr. Swalwell isn’t accused of any wrongdoing, but does anyone believe he is the only U.S. politician (or staffer) compromised by a Chinese honey trap? As for Mr. Biden, even without criminal charges, shouldn’t a press corps so eager to report the false but salacious charges about Donald Trump at least consider the possibility that China may have incriminating evidence on the new president’s son?

Next July marks the 50th anniversary of Henry Kissinger’s secret trip to China. China has changed much since then, and so has its approach to America. Joe Biden might be tempted to think his son’s case and that of Mr. Swalwell will pass. But they won’t, because they are part of a much larger and more sinister China story to which Americans are only now waking up.

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