The U.S. Heartland China Association, an American-based trade group that pushes for Chinese investment in the United States, regularly works with a Chinese group that Joe Biden’s Office of the Director of National Intelligence has now named as part of the Chinese government’s influence operations.
The National Counterintelligence and Security Center, part of the ODNI, warned last week that Chinese President Xi Jinping “has increasingly sought to exploit … China-U.S. subnational relationships to influence U.S. policies.” The NCSC warned that “there are also many quasi-official entities or proxies involved in united front work and foreign influence operations whose ties to the [Chinese Communist Party] or [People’s Republic of China] government may be hidden.” The intelligence office specifically named the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries as one of those “PRC influence actors” — a group that USHCA regularly partners with, including in a U.S.-China forum as recently as March.
The USHCA was not named directly in the new intelligence bulletin, but the report was on “protecting government and business leaders at the U.S. state and local level from People’s Republic of China influence operations.”
The report by the Biden intelligence community office comes after the Biden White House’s ties to the USHCA were exposed.
Reta Jo Lewis, Biden’s confirmed nominee to run the Export-Import Bank, and Mitch Landrieu, picked by Biden to be a senior White House adviser and the infrastructure czar to oversee $1.2 trillion in spending, were listed as “strategic advisers” for the U.S. Heartland China Association on its website. Lewis spoke at USHCA events with its leadership and Chinese officials.
The White House denies Landrieu was a strategic adviser for USHCA despite the website saying he was and the group’s executive director describing his alleged role with the group last year.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) slammed the Biden administration for its ties to the USHCA after the information was released.
“The Chinese Communist Party is working at every level to influence decision makers in the United States,” Rubio, the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the Washington Examiner. “The U.S. Heartland China Association plays a vital role in that effort. It is alarming the Biden Administration continues to hire individuals connected to the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department and United Front-adjacent groups, which are tools of its foreign influence operations.”
Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) also called on the Biden administration to take action in light of the new intelligence report.
“The NCSC’s warning demonstrates that united front work and the CPAFFC pose a concrete threat to national security, especially through its ability to leverage domestic actors such as the U.S. Heartland China Association,” Gallagher, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told the Washington Examiner. “While the Biden administration was willing to overlook Mitch Landrieu and Reta Jo Lewis’ ties to United Front organizations before, the time for action is now. President Biden should heed his own administration’s warning and immediately remove these individuals from their posts.”
A White House official told the Washington Examiner that Landrieu had not been a strategic adviser for USHCA and had not had a role with the group and that the organization removed him from their website and apologized for a miscommunication. When asked how something such as this was miscommunicated, the official said to ask USHCA. The official directed questions about Lewis to the Ex-Im Bank, which has not responded to a request for comment about her role.
It was reported by the Free Beacon in November, however, that “Landrieu is an unpaid adviser” to USHCA, “according to” the group’s executive director, Min Fan, who told the outlet that USHCA’s advisers “are all Gov. Holden’s friends who agreed to be consulted when we need their advice.” Former Missouri Democratic Gov. Bob Holden is the chairman and CEO of USHCA. The outlet said Fan insisted “that she is not aware of Landrieu’s providing any advice” to USHCA.
The USHCA did not respond to the Washington Examiner’s questions about Landrieu.
Lewis, nominated in September and confirmed in February over some Republican opposition, spoke at USCHA events before being picked to run the Export-Import Bank.
During a USCHA panel in June 2020, Lewis said that “to be able to work on the first one — meaning the U.S.-China subnational engagement agreement — was just a high honor for me.” In June 2021, USHCA said that Lewis “discussed her work with the U.S. State Department on subnational level issues” at a China-related event for Missouri Girls State.
Lewis’s biography on the USHCA website touted her role as the “principal negotiator between the U.S. and China on the establishment of the first U.S. Governor’s Forums” in 2011 while at the Obama State Department.
The new intelligence bulletin cited the U.S. government’s conclusion that “CPAFFC’s actions have undermined the Governors Forum’s original well-intentioned purpose.” Lewis argued the forum should be reinstated in 2021.
Landrieu, the former mayor of New Orleans, was picked by Biden in November.
The Biden intelligence office repeated a U.S. government warning saying the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries “has sought to directly and malignly influence state and local leaders to promote the PRC’s global agenda.”
This comes after the USHCA “co-hosted” a U.S.-China agriculture forum in March with the CPAFFC.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted the participation of numerous Chinese government officials in the USHCA roundtable on promoting agriculture between the two countries.
The USHCA’s press release about the event dubbed it “PLANTING PEACE” and said the U.S. and Chinese sides “agreed to plan follow-on high-level dialogues to continue the momentum of collaboration.”
David Meale, deputy chief of mission of the U.S. Embassy in China, spoke at the USHCA-CPAFFC event, as did Jason Hafemeister, acting deputy undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture.
USHCA has also partnered with the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation and the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, both of which have CCP connections.