Texas’ education apparatus was successfully infiltrated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and their presence also became established in our agricultural sector.
The third area this hostile foreign government successfully penetrated was our state’s political system, as well as a number of our local governments.
“I’m going to throw out something maybe a little bit explosive here. It’s just because we have people at the top. We have our old friends who are at the top of America’s core inner circle of power and influence. … For the past 30 years, 40 years, we have been utilizing the core power of the United States.”
These words were spoken in November 2020 by Di Dongsheng, vice dean of the School of International Relations at China’s Renmin University. Located in the nation’s capital of Beijing, Renmin is categorized as a low-risk security threat, according to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. At one time, however, the U.S. government had banned exports to it.
For the past few weeks, Texas Scorecard’s investigation of the CCP’s infiltration of the Lone Star State illuminated their presence in education and agriculture land holdings.
But when it comes to politics, Dongsheng’s words suggest there’s also a CCP infiltration of America’s halls of government.
Then-U.S. Director of Intelligence John Ratcliffe sounded his own alarm not long after Dongsheng’s speech:
China is our greatest threat and it’s not even close. … No other country has the capability of essentially taking away the American dream, and a specific plan to do so, and the intelligence is clear.
Congressman Lance Gooden (R–TX) gave a glimpse into one way this CCP infiltration manifests itself.
“Experts believe there are numerous foreign governments backing American think tanks and nonprofits, and that the Chinese Communist Party and Russian government are among those who seek to influence U.S. policymakers in this way,” Gooden stated in a March 2021 press release. “For too long, left-wing think tanks have influenced American politics while taking money under the table from the CCP and other foreign adversaries.”
In an interview with Texas Scorecard, Gooden drew a connection between benefits for the CCP and the push for unreliable green energy. “There’s this campaign in our country to get everyone using electric vehicles, and get away from energy produced here at home,” he said. “You need rare minerals to produce some of these batteries and this green technology, and China happens to be the one that either has all the rare minerals, or they have the mines.”
In October 2020, Gooden asked Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for “a swift and thorough investigation into foreign influence, financial involvement, and election interference” by environmental groups. Gooden named the Sierra Club, Sea Change Foundation, and the Sunrise Movement as among the groups he wanted investigated.
“Many 501(c)(4)s receive foreign funding for research or programming, but the environmental groups in question are not acting as mere think tanks or research organizations. These groups actively lobby Congress for legislative action, support political affiliations, and promote policy. They have also been known to organize and pay operatives to disrupt American energy operations and election processes,” Gooden wrote to Wheeler. He has yet to receive an answer.
While Transparency USA found no data on two of the above organizations acting in Texas, they do have records of the Sierra Club’s activity. Since 2015, the Sierra Club Political Committee of Texas has spent more than $578,000 in Texas. They have donated to Democrat lawmakers like State Reps. Erin Zwiener (Driftwood), Ana-Maria Ramos (Richardson), and Victoria Neave (Dallas). They also have donated to Dallas City Councilmember Adam McGough.
As our investigation continued, we found clear evidence of CCP political effort in Texas.
CCP Targeting State and Local Governments
“Chinese influence operations against the United States target not only the federal government, but also political and social organizations at the state and local levels,” wrote Michael Cunningham, a visiting fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center. “States are unprepared for the magnitude and persistence of China’s influence operations, which far surpass those of previous geopolitical rivals, such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.”
Cunningham outlined how this threat manifests itself:
[CCP] agents cultivate aspiring politicians, business elites, and academics early in their careers and use these relationships to influence policymaking decades later, largely unbeknownst to their victims. State and local policymakers—particularly state legislators—need a far greater understanding of the threats they face and how to respond to them.
He notes Chinese President Xi Jingping himself highlighted how important state governments are to the CCP with his visit to the third U.S.-China governor’s forum in 2015. Xi visited American state governors in attendance at this forum before meeting with then-President Barack Obama.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also raised alarms about the May 2019 U.S.-China Governors Collaboration Summit held in Lexington, Kentucky. It was hosted by the National Governors Association and The Chinese People’s Association for Friendship With Foreign Countries, which Pompeo warned is the “public face of the Chinese Communist Party’s official foreign influence agency, the United Front Work Department.”
When it comes to their attempt to infiltrate Texas and her local governments, the CCP apparently succeeded.
On September 9, 2014, the “Invest in China” forum was held in Beijing. It was sponsored by the Texas state government and the China International Contractors Association. Attendees included former Gov. Rick Perry (R) and Assistant Minister of Commerce Zhang Xiangchen. Both signed a “memorandum of cooperation” between the Lone Star State and Chinese provinces.
According to a CCP Ministry of Commerce press release about the event, Zhang said “economic and trade cooperation between provinces and states is the fundamental and important content of China-U.S. economic and trade relations.” It also states, “China has become the fourth largest export market and the second largest import source of Texas, and China’s direct investment in Texas has been about US $10 billion.”
According to the release, Perry said that “Texas enjoys close economic and trade relations with China” and mentioned that Tianjin Steel had put up factories in the state. Perry reportedly expected that more Chinese businesses would come to Texas “to invest and start business.”
The release also reported Perry admitting the high trade imbalance between the two, as state exports to China in 2013 reached $10.8 billion, while imports were $42.8 billion.
Trade imbalances with China are not unique to Texas alone, but they are seen throughout the whole of the United States. Over time, it has become worse. Information from the U.S. Census Bureau reports that, for 2021, America had a total trade deficit of more than $353 billion. We had exported more than $151 billion to China but imported more than $504 billion.
As of the latest available data this year, America’s current total trade deficit with China is more than $200 billion. We have exported more than $71 billion, compared with imports of more than $271 billion.
This imbalance is not by accident, and it affects American jobs.
In a 2018 interview with The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro, former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper discussed how when China was allowed into the World Trade Organization, they were allowed “unfettered access” into Western markets. Meanwhile, the West was restricted to selling where, when, and how much the CCP allowed.
“Economists will say a poor country like China is bound to have trade imbalances with the United States. But it’s not bound to get bigger as China gets more wealthy, which is what is happening,” Harper said. “This is because you have a bad deal that provides grossly unequal access, and the consequence has been the outflow of millions of jobs from the United States, from Canada, to China with no discernible benefits to our population.”
As a conservative, you don’t sign deals like that.
Yet back in 2015, state officials reaching out to China seemed a normal part of life. Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller (R) went to China for 11 days that year, stopping in multiple cities, including Beijing. “The goal of the Texas Department of Agriculture’s visit to China is to increase trade opportunities for Texas producers, which translates into dollars added to the Texas economy,” the commissioner said in a statement.
Miller has since become highly critical of the CCP-dominated country.
Influencing the Texas Legislature
There is a paper trail of money flowing from China into efforts to influence state senators and representatives.
Transparency USA provided Texas Scorecard with records of China-based donations from January 2015 to February 2022.
The largest donations are to Huntsman LLC PAC (more than $6,000 from one “David Richard Ming” and “David R Ming”), and Vinson & Elkins Texas PAC ($9,350 from Gary Kotara, James Cuclis, and Jay Kolb).
Ming is listed as an employee of Performance Products Apac, while the donors to Vinson & Elkins Texas PAC are listed as employees of Vinson & Elkins LLP.
Huntsman LLP PAC is still active today. Since 2015, they have received more than $336,000 in contributions, made more than $305,000 in expenditures, and have more than $115,000 cash on hand. The PAC’s top donors include Peter Huntsman, Brynn Huntsman, and David Stryker. Peter Huntsman is the Chairman and CEO of the Huntsman Corporation (a chemical company).
In 2008, Huntsman announced that they were opening their Asia Pacific Technology Centre in Shanghai. “The new Centre will initially accommodate research and technical experts from Huntsman’s Polyurethanes and Performance Products divisions, with the number of specialists expected to expand rapidly over the next few years.”
The Huntsman LLC PAC has contributed to both Democrat and Republican candidates alike. Since 2015, their top donations include Republican Congressman Dan Crenshaw ($5,500 this cycle) and Democrat Congressman Adam Schiff ($5,000). They’ve also donated to Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer ($5,000).
Vinson & Elkins LLP, on the other hand, is a multinational law firm. Locations of their offices include Austin, Houston, London, Tokyo, Dubai, and Los Angeles. The firm boasts of their “Women’s Initiatives,” and “Racial and Social Justice Initiatives.” They also boast of their internal work in developing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, and delivering Environmental, Social & Governance “solutions for our clients and ourselves, and we look forward to continuing the work.”
Like Huntsman, the Vinson & Elkins PAC has donated to both Democrats and Republicans. The receivers of their contributions since 2015 include Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht (R), and Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis (D). Texas Scorecard previously reported how Ellis is at the center of the spider web of power in Harris County.
They have also donated to State Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D–Laredo) and former Speaker of the Texas House Joe Straus (R).
However, when it comes to further infiltrating America, the CCP is not just focused on state governments. “In recent years, China-US local cooperation and exchanges are displaying a new boom. Both sides have established 43 pairs of sister provinces/states and 200 pairs of sister cities,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the “People’s Republic” of China stated about the 2015 U.S.-China Governor’s Forum.
In short, the CCP is going local too.
A 2020 Axios report, in which they spoke with an FBI official, gives a clear threat assessment. “China’s malign influence activities are global in scope and reach all the way to local governments, even town councils in some cases,” it reads. “China is particularly focused on people-to-people interactions. Chinese delegations to U.S. cities and states, carefully choreographed trips to China for U.S. government officials and business leaders, and offers of lucrative investment projects and business deals may provide the initial hook.”
According to a November 2021 press release from the CCP Embassy in America, the 50th anniversary of the U.S.-China Ping Pong Diplomacy was held in Houston, where many big names were present. Among them were Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Qin Gang; U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D–TX); Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner; and Neil Bush, founder and chair of the George H.W. Bush Foundation for U.S.-China Relations.
For Houston, this is a pattern.
In 2019, the fourth U.S.-China Innovation Summit was held there. Consul General Li Quanmin was in attendance, as was Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Houston’s Chief Development Officer Andy Icken, and, again, Neil Bush.
In 2017, the city sent a delegation to China to “deepen ties.” The CCP propaganda arm China Daily said Mayor Sylvester Turner’s goal was to explore new opportunities for cooperation in “energy, life sciences, manufacturing, logistics, real estate, business development and tourism.” The article stated that trade between Houston and China was at more than $18 billion in 2016, and there were 16 Chinese firms running 18 subsidiaries in Houston in 2017 (to name a few, “COSCO, CNOOC, Honghua Group and TPCO”).
China Daily reported that during the trip “possible collaboration in the fields of healthcare, energy, engineering, education, finance, aeronautics and other key areas was [sic] explored. A series of official memoranda of understanding expressing specific plans to widen commerce with China were signed.”
Dallas also seems to be in the CCP’s crosshairs.
This May, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson announced he’d met with Ambassador Qin, who was visiting cities like Austin and Houston while on a tour throughout Texas. When he was a state representative, Johnson visited China in 2016.
“The mayor mentioned that China is already the Dallas region’s largest trading partner, but he also said he would like to see Dallas increase its exports to China,” the press release read. “The Ambassador said he believed in the need to establish and expand people-to-people exchanges, including exchanges of students. He said he was optimistic that such exchanges will increase in the future and added that tourism has a strong chance of quickly growing back to pre-pandemic levels.”
Qin mentioned how the Chinese city of Tianjin had been a “historically close Friendship City” with Dallas,” but that had gone cold of late and he’d like to renew it. “The mayor and ambassador agreed that their respective staffs would explore the renewal and revitalization of this city-to-city relationship.”
The CCP Embassy in America published its own press release about Qin’s meeting with Johnson this year. “Ambassador Qin spoke highly of Dallas’ economic prosperity and dynamism. He said that with China’s huge market and strong consumer demand, the opportunity and potential of cooperation between China and Dallas is huge.”
Not satisfied there, Beijing appears to want deepen its tentacles into the capital of Texas, as well. The embassy published a press release of Qin’s meeting with Austin Mayor Steve Adler.
“Mr. Adler welcomed Ambassador Qin for his first visit to the city, and said that he had visited China twice as mayor to promote a sound cooperative relationship between Austin and Chinese cities, including Beijing, Changsha and Chengdu,” the release said.
“[Qin] emphasized that his visit was aimed at renewing the bond between China and the United States at the subnational level and reinforcing local ties. He hoped that Austin would deepen its pragmatic exchanges and cooperation with Chinese cities in the fields of economy, trade, people-to-people exchanges, culture, aviation, and city governance, so as to inject more positive energy into China-US relations.”
This is just a brief history of the CCP’s infiltration into Texas politics. In Part 2, we’ll take a closer look at their work to influence the Texas Legislature.
This article has been updated since publication.