Eric Garcetti, President Joe Biden’s nominee for ambassador to India and former Los Angeles mayor, met with several members of alleged Chinese Communist Party (CCP) front groups on multiple occasions, including on U.S. soil, a Daily Caller News Foundation investigation found. Moreover, the DCNF also found that a mayoral fund set up by Garcetti nearly a decade ago received well over $1 million in donations during Garcetti’s tenure from two wealthy individuals tied to alleged CCP influence and intelligence fronts.
Garcetti’s nomination has been held up in the Senate for over 20 months in the wake of allegations he helped cover up a sexual assault during his time as Los Angeles’ mayor. However, as the Senate is expected to take up Garcetti’s nomination in the coming days, experts on Chinese influence and intelligence operations are raising red flags about the former mayor’s ties to alleged CCP front groups.
Then-Mayor Garcetti met and headlined events with members of multiple alleged front groups serving the United Front Work Department (UFWD), a CCP agency which “coordinates and conducts influence operations,” according to a report from the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC). Furthermore, over the years, the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles, which Garcetti created in 2014, received multiple donations from the foundation of business magnate Walter Wang and East West Bank, where Dominic Ng serves as president and CEO.
At the time of their donations, Wang, who runs American pipe manufacturer JM Eagle and is on the board of Taiwan’s Formosa Chemicals, and Ng were listed as “executive directors” of two groups China experts have identified as CCP influence and intelligence fronts — the China Overseas Exchange Association (COEA) and the related China Overseas Friendship Association (COFA). The DCNF determined this by matching Wang and Ng’s Chinese names with the alleged front groups’ archived rosters.
A 2013 archived version of COEA’s website features several photos of both Wang and Ng meeting in Beijing with COEA’s leadership as well as members of related organizations and the CCP, the DCNF found.
Here's a nice high-resolution photo showing Dominic Ng, CEO of @EastWestBank, Walter Wang of @JMEaglePipe, and other members of @Committee100 meeting with leaders of the #CCP, #CPPCC, COEA and COFA on November 1, 2013 pic.twitter.com/gnLvNefEYI
— Philip Lenczycki 蔡岳 (@LenczyckiPhilip) March 11, 2023
Garcetti, Wang and Ng did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
“Large donations from philanthropists with ties to United Front organizations funding political campaigns are a huge red flag,” Ina Mitchell, a Chinese intelligence expert and the co-author of “The Mosaic Effect: How The Chinese Communist Party Started A War In America’s Backyard,” told the DCNF.
An East West Bank spokesman previously claimed that CEO Ng merely served in COEA in an “honorary” position at the “executive-director level,” claiming Ng left the organization in 2014 due to “non-participation.” East West Bank also said Ng “was later invited to join” COFA, but “declined the invitation and was not aware his name was listed as a member on the association’s website until revealed by the recent media coverage,” according to a statement from the bank.
‘We want to influence the government leaders’
In 2014, Garcetti founded the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles, a nonprofit which accepted donations from major Los Angeles city contractors for civic projects. The nonprofit could solicit funding outside the bounds of campaign finance laws, sparking concerns about potential ethical violations and corruption, according to The Los Angeles Times.
The Walter and Shirley Wang Charitable Foundation began donating to the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles shortly after its formation, including a $200,000 donation in July 2014 and a $1 million donation in 2020, according to multiple media reports.
One of Garcetti’s senior aides reportedly visited JM Eagle’s office in 2014, which Wang allegedly regarded as an opportunity to “forge bonds with Garcetti” and influence government policy, according to The Los Angeles Times.
“We need to have relationships with government leaders,” Wang reportedly said at the time. “We want to influence the government leaders to make the right decisions so that we can be more competitive.”
Garcetti claimed that Wang “never asked for anything in return, nor should he expect anything,” according to the Times. Wang also personally donated $1,400 to Garcetti’s 2017 mayoral reelection campaign, records reveal.
Garcetti’s mayoral fund also received a $20,000 donation in May 2014 from East West Bank, according to the Times.
President Biden appointed East West Bank’s CEO, Ng, to represent the U.S. at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in April 2022. Ng has since come under fire from Republicans after the DCNF revealed his ties to alleged Chinese influence and intelligence front groups.
The Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles lists either Dominic Ng or East West Bank as financial “supporters” during all but two years of Garcetti’s tenure, archived records reveal. Likewise, the DCNF also found that either Walter Wang or JM Eagle are listed as “supporters” of the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles each year during the same time period.
In addition to their positions at COEA and COFA, both Wang and Ng have also attended the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) national committee meeting as “overseas representatives,” according to the official website of the Chinese government’s Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council, as well as multiple reports from Chinese state-run media outlets, which include photos.
The CPPCC is the “highest-ranking entity overseeing the United Front system,” according to the U.S.-China Economic Security and Review Commission (USCC), and it is considered a central organ in the CCP’s overseas influence campaigns.
Alex Joske, former Australian Strategic Policy Institute expert on Chinese intelligence, has argued that the CPPCC is merely a “way for the CCP to falsely claim that it represents the full breadth of Chinese society” through a phony system of “political consultation.”
Yet, it remains unclear the degree to which Wang and Ng are affiliated with the CPPCC beyond attending the agency’s Beijing meeting.
Revelations concerning Wang and Ng’s ties to alleged CCP front groups come on the heels of the NCSC’s heightened warning about CCP influence campaigns targeting local politicians.
“Beijing has adjusted by redoubling its efforts to build influence at the state and local level to shift U.S. policy in China’s favor because of Beijing’s belief that local officials are more pliable than their federal counterparts,” the NCSC’s recent assessment warned.
These revelations also emerge just days before the Senate is slated to take an initial vote on Garcetti’s nomination on Wednesday, according to Politico.
Although Biden nominated Garcetti to serve as ambassador to India in July 2021, Garcetti’s confirmation has remained in political limbo following reports that the former Los Angeles mayor concealed sexual assaults allegedly committed by his former aide, Rick Jacobs, who also reportedly served as board member and treasurer for the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles, according to The Los Angeles Times.
On the trip, the former CPPCC vice chairman, Xu Kuangdi, who was also listed as an adviser to the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC) as recently as 2019, held a banquet for Garcetti, during which they reportedly discussed climate change and other matters, according to CPAFFC’s archived records.
The State Department designated CPAFFC as a UFWD “affiliate” in 2020, describing it as a “Beijing-based organization tasked with co-opting subnational governments” that has “sought to directly and malignly influence state and local leaders to promote the PRC’s global agenda.”
“CPAFFC is part of the CCP’s united front bureaucratic structure,” Mitchell told the DCNF. “While they claim to function as a non-profit with benign business interests and people-to-people diplomacy objectives, it’s really a front for deceptive foreign influence operations in the U.S.”
‘Playing the long game’
In addition to his role in CPAFFC, Xu is also honorary adviser to the China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF), the organization’s records reveal.
CUSEF is registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act and was founded by Tung Chee-hwa, whom USCC identified as “clearly associated with the United Front” in 2018. Including Tung, eight of CUSEF’s core leaders have served in the CPPCC, while Chinese military personnel, members of the CCP and former government officials are also listed among the group’s advisers, according to its website.
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz characterized CUSEF as a “pseudo-philanthropic foundation” in a 2018 letter to the University of Texas, writing that “CUSEF’s ties to the CCP are an issue of grave concern.”
“The CCP’s United Front is playing the long game,” Mitchell told the DCNF. “They will donate to a politician and draw upon their well-established network of others who are compromised in the U.S. political establishment to help further the career of that politician in a direction that they can optimize — sometimes this is done over decades.”
East West Bank’s CEO, Ng, also took part in Garcetti’s November 2014 China trip, according to city records.
While in Shenzhen at an event commemorating the opening of an East West Bank branch, Garcetti participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Ng on Nov. 18, 2014, footage from the bank’s YouTube channel shows.
Just a few months after meeting with alleged UFWD leaders in China in November 2014, Garcetti received CPAFFC’s president, Li Xiaolin, at City Hall in Los Angeles in February 2015, according to an archived announcement on CPAFFC’s website.
As with Xu, in addition to her role as CPAFFC’s president, Li was also CUSEF’s vice chairwoman at that time, the organization’s records reveal.
“The ambassador would be considered leveraged and available for manipulation that favored CCP strategies against India. These could include gaining trust and targeting key entities for exploitation,” Scott McGregor, a Chinese intelligence expert and the co-author of “The Mosaic Effect,” told the DCNF. “Geopolitically speaking, the efforts made by the U.S. in India could be undermined and countered by China.”
CUSEF came under intense scrutiny during CIA Director William Burns’ February 2021 confirmation hearings, when Senator Marco Rubio questioned the Biden appointee about CUSEF’s ties to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which Burns then led.
During both Garcetti’s 2014 and 2015 meetings with CPAFFC, the former mayor reportedly discussed strengthening exchanges with the UFWD “affiliate,” according to the organization’s records.
CPAFFC primarily serves the UFWD by exploiting “city-to-city partnerships” between the U.S. and China, according to the NCSC.
“U.S. localities that participate in these formal agreements may be pressured by the PRC or CPAFFC to sever ties to foreign governments, cities and people whom the PRC regards as problematic,” the NCSC stated in its recent assessment, citing a June 2006 instance where a sister-city agreement caused the southern Californian city of Irvine to formally recognize Taiwan as a part of communist China.
‘For the betterment of China’
Moreover, the DCNF found multiple additional instances of Garcetti interacting with alleged UFWD front group members including attending events with CUSEF representatives.
Garcetti traveled to China in 2009 and 2016 with the Center for American Progress and met with CUSEF representatives such as founder Tung and senior fellow, Fu Ying, to reportedly discuss economics and climate issues.
Likewise, in 2013, Garcetti attended the CUSEF-sponsored “U.S.-China 2022” event at the Asia Society in New York concerning “bilateral cooperation” which Tung attended, according to CUSEF’s online publication.
“Once a politician is in the vice grip of the CCP, it doesn’t matter that the ambassador is a patriotic American or that they go into it with the best of intentions,” McGregor told the DCNF.
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