If you (like me) thought that revelations about the corrupting funding practices of leading American think tanks couldn’t get any worse, we’ve been proven wrong in a jaw-dropping article in FOREIGN POLICY by contributing writer Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian.
Thanks to the author’s work, it’s now known that many of these organizations – on which U.S. policy-makers rely heavily for information and analysis that’s portrayed as the result of dispassionate research – not only receive contributions from a number of foreign governments. They receive contributions from an organization “bankrolled by a high-ranking Chinese government official with close ties to a sprawling Chinese Communist Party apparatus that handles influence operations abroad, known as the ‘united front.’”
The organization is a Hong Kong-based non-profit called the China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF), and was founded in 2008 by Tung Chee-hwa, the former Hong Kong leader who strongly supported maintaining close ties with China following the city’s handover to the People’s Republic in 1997.
According to Allen-Ebrahimian, Tung “currently serves as the vice chairman of one of the united front’s most important entities — the so-called Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which is one of China’s two rubber-stamp assemblies. The body is one of Beijing’s most crucial tentacles for extending influence.”
In addition, CUSEF “has cooperated on projects with the the People’s Liberation Army and uses the same Washington public relations firm that the Chinese Embassy does.”
Allen-Ebrahimian’s entire article is well worth reading – and essential to keep in mind in evaluating any China-related research or analysis from these organizations. But two other related points are well worth mentioning. First, CUSEF is a foreign agent registered with the Justice Department. In other words, it lobbies, which means that organizations accepting its donations arguably should be required to register, and identify themselves as lobbies, too – which think tanks so far haven’t done. Even those who think it’s perfectly for the leaders of an increasingly belligerent China to be perfectly should be free to buy influence in America’s policy-making process would surely agree that Chinese government sponsorship should be displayed front and center on these efforts.
Second, one of the D.C. lobbying mainstays the Foundation had hired to influence Congress on U.S.-China relations was the Podesta Group, which closed down last month after being connected with Donald Trump’s former presidential campaign chair Paul Manafort’s indictment for breaking American lobbying law.
The Podesta Group was founded and run by Tony Podesta and his brother John, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign chair. And the Senate Intelligence Committee is investigating John Podesta’s possible involvement in the Democratic National Committee’s decision to pay for opposition research on Trump based partly on Russian sources.
So Allen-Ebrahimian’s article is a timely reminder that the Washington, D.C. swamp constantly attacked by President Trump and others entails many actors other than the standard industry lobbyists, that it’s totally bipartisan, and that Russia isn’t the only potentially dangerous foreign country that’s been swimming in it under the radar.