Should voters be concerned that a President Joe Biden would let China influence his policy decisions?
In the final stretch of the 2020 election, President Donald Trump and fellow conservatives have been attempting to paint former Vice President Joe Biden as financially beholden to China.
Biden continues to hold a substantial lead in the polls and early voting, and the accusations are murky at best. While polls can be deceptive and there could be a late surge of Republican voters to balance out the early voting, what few undecided voters still remain are expected to vote for Trump regardless of the China story.
Yet, even if it is merely a calculated political hit, Biden’s ties with China are of genuine concern, particularly if he wins. As president, Biden would play a major part in guiding the diplomatic and economic alliance between China and the United States, one of the most important geopolitical relationships in the world.
Hunter Biden’s China emails
Over the last couple of weeks, Trump has repeated, “If Biden wins, China wins.” He has used this line in interviews on Fox and during campaign events, while also alleging China “will own the United States” in the event of Biden’s victory.
This latest line of attack is related to the Hunter Biden email scandal that originated when The New York Post published a series of articles that were alleged to include uncovered emails from Biden’s son, Hunter. The veracity of the emails and the laptop upon which they were found are still being investigated by the FBI, so all details contained within them remain alleged.
In the second of two consecutive stories, the Post published emails that appeared to detail a business arrangement between Hunter, his business associates and CEFC China Energy Co. Ltd., a now-bankrupt company with ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). CEFC’s chairman is Ye Jianming, who has not been seen in public since 2018 after being taken into custody by the Chinese government.
One email from Hunter discusses “consulting fees” for him and his family, which some have concluded refers to his father, Joe Biden. However, that is never explicitly stated in the released emails and it is known that Hunter does business with Joe’s brother, Jim Biden.
In one email, Hunter refers to the “Big Guy,” which is alleged to be a reference to his father. The emails relating to the China deal are from 2017, after Joe Biden was no longer serving as vice president.
The Biden family in China
Biden family spokespeople have denied the former vice president had any connection to the business dealings of his son. During the final presidential debate on October 22, when questioned about this matter, Joe Biden stated, “I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life.”
Following the debate, Tony Bobulinski, a business associate of Hunter, released a statement in which he challenged Biden’s denials. Bobulinski claimed, “I’ve seen Vice President Biden saying he never talked to Hunter about his business. I’ve seen firsthand that that’s not true, because it wasn’t just Hunter’s business, they said they were putting the Biden family name and its legacy on the line.”
Bobulinski said he witnessed the Bidens “aggressively” leverage the family name “to make millions of dollars from foreign entities even though some were from communist controlled China.” Both Hunter and Jim Biden have previously been accused of using their connections to Joe Biden to personally profit, though there has never been any evidence the former vice president and senator was directly involved.
In a lengthy interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Bobulinski stated he believed Joe Biden’s ties to Hunter’s business dealings in China could “influence” him as president. Bobulinski was also interviewed by the FBI and handed over phone records, but the details of that interview are unknown.
While far-right media sources are claiming Joe and Hunter Biden were using the vice president’s position as far back as 2011 to make deals in China, so far no conclusive evidence of such deals has been released to the public.
On his campaign website, Joe Biden has released all of his tax returns since he left office. In 2019, the taxable income of Joe and his wife, Jill, was US$944,737, on which they paid US$299,346 in taxes. From 2017 to 2019, Biden earned US$16,603,421 in adjusted gross income, the majority from his memoir, “Promise Me.” There is no record of income from China in the tax returns.
Would Joe Biden be influenced by China?
There is little evidence Joe Biden, who has been a private citizen since 2017, broke any laws, even if he did use his name to secure lucrative business deals in China. The concern, as Bobulinski suggested, is that his financial ties to China could influence his decisions as president. It is alleged Biden might seek to protect his business interests.
Likely adding to that speculation is a recent Newsweek report that found hundreds of CCP-linked groups were looking to influence opinion and policy in the US. The article says China has been using a variety of methods – from social media accounts to business and academic organizations – to seed pro-China (and pro-CCP) views in the US.
While the Newsweek report says there is little evidence China is directly trying to influence the presidential election in the way Russia has, there is some indication Chinese President Xi Jinping would be happy to see Trump lose.
According to a statement by the National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina in August, “[NCSC] assess that China prefers that President Trump – whom Beijing sees as unpredictable – does not win reelection.” (In the same statement, Evanina states, “We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden.”)
The running theme in Chinese media is also that Biden is preferred to Trump by the CCP because he would be a more predictable and recognizable leader. The Newsweek reports adds, “The Biden ranks include many people from the previous two Obama administrations, during which China made great strides on the world stage and experienced little opposition.”
Since the spread of COVID-19 outside of China, there has been a considerable rise in anti-China sentiment, stoked in part by Trump. China perhaps hopes that Biden would return the US to the foreign policy of the Obama administration, which coincided with unprecedented growth for China and its rise to global economic dominance.
In July, TMS reported on China’s burgeoning disinformation campaign, noting at the time that few people seemed to consider it a serious issue. China’s efforts at social media manipulation have been mostly lackluster, which has led to some dismissing China as a serious disinformation threat.
There is an indication that Biden’s policy toward China, if president, would be tougher than that of the Obama administration. Biden’s campaign rhetoric related to China has been aggressive and, at times, critical. This has been seen as either an attempt to match Trump’s tough tone on China or a practical recognition of China’s growing global influence and human rights violations.
Trump’s ties to China
During the presidential debate on October 22, after Biden denied ever taking money from foreign sources, he added, “[President Trump] has a secret bank account with China, does business in China.” This was a reference to a recent New York Times investigation into Trump’s taxes that uncovered a Chinese bank account owned by Trump that had not been previously revealed to the public.
The revelations of the report include the fact that Trump had paid nearly US$190,000 in taxes to China from 2013 to 2015, far more than Trump allegedly paid in US taxes over the first two years of his presidency.
Both prior to taking office and since being president, Trump and his family have regularly done business in China. That includes opening multiple Trump-branded hotels throughout China, the importation of Chinese-made goods for his US properties, and his daughter, Ivanka Trump, receiving 18 CCP-approved trademarks for her businesses while serving as an official White House adviser.
Have a tip or story? Get in touch with our reporters at [email protected]