A Case Study: The Chinese Communist Party Works to Influence Oregon

In 2010, Oregon's state legislature resolved to encourage Confucius Classrooms
December 13, 2018 Updated: December 18, 2018

The first time something is done is often viewed as especially revealing. According to China’s state-run media, Oregon was the first place in the world to pass legislation to set up Chinese-language courses and Confucius Classrooms to promote Chinese-language study.

On Feb. 24, 2010, the Oregon Senate passed Joint Resolution 50. At the center of the effort to get this legislation passed was an Oregon citizen originally from mainland China named Lan Jin and an Oregon legislator named Dennis Richardson.

Lan serves as a kind of semi-official bridge between China and Oregon. When an email was sent to Chinese-Americans in Oregon inviting them to an event in downtown Portland on Sept. 17 to “welcome China’s new consul general Wang Donghua to Oregon,” the host organization of the event was the Oregon China Sister State Relations Council (OCSSRC).

The president of OCSSRC is Lan, who is also the principal of a business consultant company called Octaxias.  Although the company boasts of having “helped thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs access the Chinese markets,” no names of business clients are mentioned on its website.

What are listed on the company’s “Latest News” page are all big names in politics, such as “Iowa Governor and US Ambassador,” “Oregon Speaker of the House Tina Kotek,” “Vice Premier Liu Yandong [of China],” and so on.

There are numerous reports in the Chinese-language press about Lan, notably at the website of People’s Daily, the CCP’s most important propaganda outlet.

One report portrays Lan as a “legend” in the business community, and says:

“Lan Jin has two business cards. One of them has his title as ‘The principal of Octaxias Company in the United States,’ whilst his title on another card is ‘Overseas Observer-Representative of the First Session of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), President of the Oregon-China Sister State Relations Council.’ For the latter, Lan Jin said it was a ‘volunteer’ role.”

Screenshot of People’s Daily’s exclusive interview with Lan Jin, who describes the Oregon legislation about Confucius Classrooms as one of two “unique measures” by Oregon. (Screenshot/People’s Daily)

People’s Daily refers to CPPCC as “an organization of the patriotic United Front of the Chinese people.” According to China expert Xia Yiyang, the CPPCC was established before the People’s Republic of China. Its initial mission was to give the CCP the legitimacy to govern the country. After the National People’s Congress was established, the CPPCC lost its function and was regarded by many as a “flower vase,” an institution whose purpose is decorative.

However, Xia said the CPPCC is not a completely useless “flower vase” as understood by the outside world. Its main function remains to carry out “United Front” work for the CCP. Its role is still very important, and that’s why the chairperson of the CPPCC has to be a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the CCP’s Central Committee, the highest ranking CCP leaders.

A recent U. S. government report, “China’s Overseas United Front Work- Background and Implications for the United States,” defines the CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD) as “the agency responsible for coordinating these kinds of influence operations—mostly focuses on the management of potential opposition groups inside China, but it also has an important foreign influence mission.”

Through the United Front the Chinese regime uses organizations in other countries to advance its interests, sometimes without those groups knowing they are serving the regime’s goals.

The report gives reference to Liu Yandong multiple times as “Council of Confucius Institute Headquarters Chair; former State Council Vice-Premier; former Politburo Standing Committee Member; former UFWD Minister.”

At the Home page of OCSSRC, a photo of Lan Jin and a smiling Liu Yandong is featured as a lead photo, coupled with another one featuring Lan Jin introducing Oregon Senator Bill Hansell to Liu Yandong at Zhongnanhai, the Chinese Communist Party’s central compound, during the Oregon Legislative Trade Mission to China in October, 2015.

On his company website, Lan lists the following as one of his main achievements:

“In 2011, Jin Lan facilitated the Honorable Mme Liu Yandong, the State Councilor of China, to visit Oregon. She is the highest Chinese official ever to visit State of Oregon in history.”

Xia said that from what he knows through his decades-long study of China, two things are certain. If Lan Jin could facilitate as high profile a figure as Liu Yandong to visit Oregon, he must either have a very close personal relationship with Liu, or be a core member of the CCP’s UFWD.

Being able to be so close to Liu was an opportunity that many overseas Chinese community leaders would fight for. Not everyone could easily get it.

If someone is involved with the national level of the CPPCC, he must be either a key member of CCP’s UFWD, or an important person that the UFWD wants to win over.

Given Lan Jin’s background and situation, he may well belong to the former group, according to Xia.

Lan was born in China in the 1960’s. He graduated from the Beijing Institute of Foreign Trade (now the University of International Business & Economics) in 1983. After that he came to the United States to study at Portland State University and received a B.S. degree.

According to the People’s Daily article, ever since the 1990’s, Lan has been traveling back to China at a frequency of every two months. He started his own business in 1996, and has been “bridging the gaps” between the United States and China.

According to Lan’s company website, he has “helped arrange for President and Mrs. Bush’s trip to the Great Wall Of China,” “facilitated Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski’s 2008 successful visit to China; Oregon Speaker Dave Hunt’s 2009 visit to China; Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber’s 2011 visit to China; and Oregon Co-Speaker Bruce Hanna’s 2011 visit to China, Co-Speaker Arnie Roblan’s 2012 trip to China and Speaker Tina Kotek’s 2014 Legislative Mission to China,” alongside many other things.

These achievements would seem to be ones appropriate for Lan’s other roles as overseas observer-representative of the CPPCC or as president of the OCSSRC.

Promoting Confucius Classrooms

Another People’s Daily report on Nov. 19, 2015 entitled “U.S. Oregon Politicians Discuss How to Enhance Relations with China” says:

“The Legislative Assembly of the State of Oregon passed legislation in 2010 to have public schools in Oregon set up Chinese-language courses and Confucius Classrooms to promote Chinese-language study. This was the first in the United States, or even in all the English-speaking countries globally. This initiative was first introduced to the Legislative Assembly by the Joint Committee on the Fujian Sister State. ”

Chinese paramount leader Xi Jinping (R) and Vice Premier Liu Yandong (L) arrive at the opening ceremony of the 6th China-U.S. Security and Economic Dialogue and 5th round of China-U.S. High Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange at Diaoyutai State Guest House on July 9, 2014 in Beijing, China. (Feng Li/Getty Images)

Another exclusive interview with Lan by People’s Daily quotes him as saying, “The Legislative Assembly of the State of Oregon has adopted two measures unique in the United States. One is that it passed a state law in 2010 to have public schools set up Chinese-language courses and Confucius Classrooms. Another is that it passed state legislation in 2006 to establish a sister-state relationship with China.”

Confucius Institutes operate in colleges and universities; Confucius Classrooms operate in grammar and high schools. Both are part of the same initiative.

According to an August 2018 report by U.S.-China Economic Review Commission:

“Confucius Institutes are CCP-sponsored education organizations that teach Chinese language, culture, and history at the primary, secondary, and university level around the world. However, they also advance Beijing’s preferred narrative and subvert important academic principles such as institutional autonomy and academic freedom. Significantly, Confucius Institutes are funded by the CCP Propaganda Department—formally affiliated with the UFWD—and are also overseen by personnel based in Chinese embassies and consulates, according to Richard Fadden, former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. The Confucius Institute program has longstanding and formal ties to the UFWD, as Liu Yandong—a former Chinese vice-premier and Politburo member—was the head of the UFWD when she launched the program in 2004.”

The public record shows that Lan was listed as a member and the “Executive Director” of the Joint Committee on Fujian Sister State, which takes the credit for pushing the legislation to introduce Confucius Classrooms into Oregon’s public schools.

Richardson’s Role

During the exclusive interview with People’s Daily, when Lan is asked about how to improve relationships with the American people, he “winks his eyes and suggests, ‘The simplest way, is get to know an American friend, the kind that can be put onto your Emergency Contact List.’”

Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson. (courtesy office of Oregon Secretary of State)

Perhaps Dennis Richardson, the current Oregon Secretary of State, and a former state representative, a member of the Joint Committee on Fujian Sister State, and the registered agent for OCSSRC, has been such a friend for Lan.

According to Richardson, the Joint Committee on Fujian Sister State “was established and members chosen as specified by Section 3 of HB 2066 (2007).”

The 2009 Regular Session of Joint Committee On Fujian Sister State had 18 members. Apart from two co-chairpersons, two senators and two House representatives, there were 12 “additional members.” 7 out of the 12 members have a Chinese surname, and Lan is listed as the Executive Director.

Richardson declined to comment or give information about Lan’s role and responsibilities in the committee as the executive director, and asked The Epoch Times to “talk directly with Mr. Lan regarding any questions about his participation and activities.”

The Epoch Times did manage to reach Lan via his phone. However, as soon as he heard the call was from The Epoch Times, he immediately hung up without giving the reporter any chance to ask any questions.

Senator Betsy Johnson, one of the two lawmakers of the Joint Committee on Fujian Sister State who are still in office, confirmed for The Epoch Times that Richardson was the main lawmaker who had worked hard, and traveled to Fujian many times, to push things forward.

Johnson said she had resigned from the committee later, to give place to others who were eager to join in, and who could put more energy into the Committee’s work.

A Voice of America report in 2010 discusses briefly a controversy surrounding the funding source of Confucius Classrooms in Oregon, and puts this as the caption for the photo of Richardson in its report:

“Dennis Richardson (right) hopes to convince other lawmakers that the Confucius classroom program offers a way to make Mandarin language lessons more widely available in state schools.”

Another paragraph says, “Richardson is among several Oregon lawmakers who have been pushing their colleagues to fund more Chinese-language education in Oregon’s public schools. While a handful of districts do offer it, efforts to expand the classes have fallen flat in the legislature, in part due to concerns over cost.”

At the “about us” page of OCSSRC’s website, the following are listed among the OCSSRC’s “milestones”:

“The first Confucius classroom in North or South America established in Medford, Oregon at St. Mary High School in 2008.

“Oregon was the first state in the U. S. to pass legislation to expand Mandarin education in all public schools (2010).”

The passing of the resolution seems to have had an effect.

Dozens of Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms sprang up in Oregon. Portland State University alone has 36 affiliated Confucius Classrooms.

On April 15, 2011, about one year after the passage of the Oregon legislation about Confucius Classrooms, Liu Yandong was invited to Portland to unveil the plaque for 12 Confucius Classrooms in Oregon. This piece of news was published by Hanban, the governing body of Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms, as one of its many achievements.

Since 2010 the reputation of Confucius Institutes has changed. They are now recognized by those who follow closely these issues as part of the CCP’s “soft power” machine.

For instance, Rachelle Peterson, policy director of the National Association of Scholars, in an April 2017 article titled “Outsourced to China: Confucius Institutes and Soft Power in American Higher Education” states: “Confucius Institutes are part of the Chinese government’s overseas propaganda efforts. They educate a generation of Americans to know little more of China than the regime’s official history.”

The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act bars the Pentagon from funding Confucius Institutes.

Nonetheless, average Americans are likely to have little idea how the Confucius Institutes or Classrooms are run or funded. In Oregon grammar schools, one can see in Chinese classrooms quotations from Chairman Mao, which some Chinese would compare to hanging up a quotation from Hitler.

Postscript: Richardson’s Trip to China

The activities of registered agent Richardson with OCSSRC have drawn criticism as being ethically suspect.

Under the “Photo Stories” on OCSSRC’s website, there are a lot of happy photos of a smiling Richardson, featuring him leading a trade delegation to China in 2017.

A screenshot of the website of Oregon China Sister State Relations Council showing the 2017 trade mission to China. Dennis Richardson is in the front row with white hair, Lan Jin stands to Richardson’s right. (Screenshot/ Oregon China Sister State Relations Council)

A report by the Oregonian, a daily newspaper in Portland, revealed that Richardson’s trade mission was partly paid for by China.

According to the report, Richardson “gave The Oregonian/OregonLive three different explanations of how his travel costs will be paid.”

“He first said participating businesses would pay his costs.” Then he said that Lan Lin would have his “expenses covered,” as this was the condition for his participation. The third version was, “the costs would be paid by the national and provincial divisions of the Chinese government.”

The report also revealed that Richardson would not disclose which companies would accompany him to China without Lan’s permission.

The Oregonian/OregonLive report was published on Sept. 27, 2017. On the same day, Richardson released a newsletter stating that:

“OCSSRC is an Oregon non-profit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization dedicated to promoting the mutual interests of Oregon and China. I helped organize the OCSSRC in 2004 and remain the Registered Agent. Although I haven’t had much involvement since 2012, OCSSRC graciously offered to pay my transportation expenses to and from China, but to avoid any appearance of undue-influence, I will be paying for the round-trip economy fare from the Secretary of State travel budget. Since I have Type 1 Diabetes and blood circulation health considerations, I will be upgrading my seat on the 12-hour flight using my own funds. Once in China, as part of their international outreach budgets the local Chinese government organizations cover the costs of American officials. Thus, other than the cost of the airfare ($523) for an economy seat, my expenses for this delegation will not be paid from Oregon public funds.”

This confirms that “local Chinese government organizations cover the costs of American officials.”

In “Notes from Secretary Richardson” published on Nov. 7, 2017 on the Secretary of State’s website, one day before Richardson’s trip to China, under a subtitle “DEEPENING RELATIONS,” it is stated that, “Because our Chinese hosts value family participation, two of my grandsons will accompany me at their own expense.”

A list of the participants shows that Richardson’s 12 member “delegation” had only himself as an Oregon official. Four in the delegation were OCSSRC members including Lan Jin. Five were local business people selected by Lan Jin, including two Chinese; other two were Richardson’s grandsons.

A report at the “News” section of OCSSRC’s website entitled “OCSSRC November 2017 Trade Mission Led by Oregon Secretary of State” confirms that OCSSRC arranged Richardson’s mission to travel to “seven cities and three provinces” in China:

“Oregon China Sister State Relations Council (OCSSRC) carried out a successful November 2017 Trade Mission to China, led by Secretary of State Dennis Richardson. The itinerary spanned seven cities and three provinces, including 16 official meetings, numerous tours and four official ceremonies.”

“OCSSRC President Lan Jin explained, ‘OCSSRC has organized this trade mission to China.’”

The Oregonian report calls these arrangements “unconventional.”

“Nearly every aspect of the trip’s planning is unconventional, according to current and former business development officials, and raises ethical concerns,” the Oregonian report says.

“State agencies follow certain protocols when conducting trade missions. Trips led by the governor are well-staffed, and businesses that are part of the delegation are publicly identified and vetted through a competitive process.”

According to Terry Cooper, professor of government ethics at the University of Southern California, “none of” Richardson’s arrangements “are ethically sound, including having Lan organize previous China trips for Oregon legislators, including excursions Richardson took part in, having the national and provincial divisions of the Chinese government pay Richardson’s travel costs, and having Lan’s company choose which firms would accompany Richardson to China.”

Cooper said, “In China, there’s a lot that goes on that’s corrupt. You really have to be careful.”

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