Bulls in a China Shop: How Beijing Cultivated Wall Street’s Giants

In this extract from their new book, Clive Hamilton and Mareike Ohlberg chart the Chinese Communist Party’s wooing of the giants of finance in Wall Street and Europe.

By Clive Hamilton and Mareike Ohlberg and cross-posted from South China Morning Post.

In November 2018 Peter Navarro, the White House trade adviser who at the time was intimately involved in President Trump’s trade war with Beijing, launched a scathing attack on what he called the “globalist billionaires” of Wall Street.

He accused the “self-appointed group of Wall Street bankers and hedge fund managers” of engaging in their own “shuttle diplomacy” with the Chinese side and attempting to sabotage US trade negotiations by putting enormous pressure on the White House to give way to Beijing. Navarro further accused the financial elite of being “unregistered foreign agents” acting as part of Beijing’s influence operations in Washington.

It was strong stuff, but was there any foundation to it?

Beijing has been working on Wall Street for a long time. When Prime Minister Zhu Rongji visited the United States in 1999, he holed up in New York’s Astoria Hotel and spent days in back-to-back meetings with business leaders. “Zhu seems never to tire of courting Corporate America,” reported The New York Times.

The titans of US finance have for decades been guiding the nation’s China policy. Whenever presidents Clinton, Bush or Obama threatened to take a tougher stance on China’s trade protectionism, currency manipulation or technology theft, Wall Street chiefs used their influence to persuade them to back off. And it was pressure from Wall Street that proved decisive in the Clinton White House’s decision to support China’s admission to the World Trade Organisation, despite China’s serial violation of trade rules.

Twenty years later, The New York Times was writing: “In Washington, on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms, Beijing has used the country’s size and promise for decades to quell opposition and reward those who helped its rise.” Financial institutions have been Beijing’s most powerful advocates in Washington

The finance sector – the big banks, hedge funds and investment vehicles – is thus in the centre of the map of power in the US, and occupying pride of place is Goldman Sachs. No organisation has been more important to the CCP’s campaign to penetrate US elites, or more willing. For the CCP, titans of finance are easy targets, as there’s a concordance of interests. Wall Street executives, anticipating an Eldorado when Beijing opens up its vast finance markets to foreigners, have been advising Chinese companies about which American companies to buy and lending them the money to do it, taking a cut from the sales. In the words of a senior White House official, “people who like making deals really like the Chinese Communist Party”

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