A Look Back at the Biden Family’s China Business Ties

October 22, 2020 Updated: October 22, 2020

Democratic Party presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden has long championed more engagement with China, dating back to when he was a U.S. senator representing Delaware.

Meanwhile, his son Hunter Biden was involved with a Chinese state-backed private equity firm that made a range of investments in Chinese firms, some of which have close ties to the regime in Beijing.

These business activities have gained attention amid Joe Biden’s run for president.

In recent weeks, emails obtained by the New York Post and a report by two U.S. Senate committees revealed that the younger Biden also had business deals with Chinese executives at an oil conglomerate that has ties to the Chinese military.

One email obtained by the Post, dated May 2017 and subsequently verified by one of its recipients, outlines a proposed deal with the now-bankrupt Chinese oil giant CEFC, in which Hunter Biden would be “Chair/Vice Chair depending on agreement with CEFC.” Equity in the new company would be distributed as “20” for “H” and “10 held by H for the big guy?”

Tony Bobulinski, a former business associate of Hunter Biden and recipient of that email, said “big guy” was a reference to Joe Biden.

Hunter Biden’s China dealings have raised questions about whether they influenced any policies while Joe Biden was vice president or if it would affect a Biden presidency’s handling of China.

The Biden campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment on the allegations by press time.

Joe Biden has said that he’s never spoken to his son about those business activities.

Stance on China

After Washington and Beijing established full diplomatic relations in December 1978, Joe Biden was among a group of U.S. senators who visited China in April the following year.

During the trip, he met with Deng Xiaoping, who was China’s vice premier at the time. Deng later became the regime’s paramount leader.

While speaking at the opening session of the U.S.–China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in May 2011, the elder Biden said he witnessed “China’s remarkable transformation” during the 1979 trip.

“As a young member of a Foreign Relations Committee, I wrote and I said and I believed then what I believe now: That a rising China is a positive, positive development, not only for China but for America and the world writ large,” Biden said.

He was also among those who urged Washington to normalize trade relations with Beijing.

“I would like to point out that my support for permanent normal trade relations with China is based not just on an assessment of the economic benefits to the U.S., not just on the prospects for political reform in China, but also on the impact on our national security,” Biden said on the Senate floor in September 2000.

Former President Bill Clinton signed a bill extending permanent normal trade status to China in October 2000, which paved the way for Beijing to join the World Trade Organization in December the following year.

In August 2001, Biden took another trip to China, where he met with then-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Jiang Zemin in Beidaihe, a resort town located in China’s Hebei Province. According to Chinese state-run media, Biden said at the meeting that “the United States wants China to be developed and powerful, which serves the interests of the two countries.”

During this year’s presidential campaign, Biden has grown more vocal in criticizing the regime, particularly over its human rights violations.

Wanxiang Group

While Biden was vice president from early 2009 to early 2017, his second son, Hunter, began developing business deals in China.

A year prior, in 2008, Hunter Biden founded a consulting firm called Seneca Global Advisors, along with Chris Heinz, the stepson of former Secretary of State John Kerry, and others.

One of Seneca’s clients was a Chicago-based company called GreatPoint Energy. In May 2012, GreatPoint inked a $1.25 billion partnership deal with Chinese company Wanxiang Group to build a large-scale plant that converts coal into natural gas in the Gobi desert, in China’s far-western Xinjiang region. It’s unclear if Hunter Biden was directly involved in securing this deal.

The energy agreement came three months after Vice President Biden met with Xi Jinping, who was China’s vice chairman at the time, in Los Angeles. Xi is now the Chinese leader.

Wanxiang, an automotive components conglomerate that’s based in Hangzhou, China, is a publicly traded company with strong ties to the CCP. In 1997, the company was one of 120 companies chosen by China’s cabinet-like State Council to be “pilot business groups,” meaning that these companies received special government financial support.

The conglomerate’s late founder, Lu Guanqiu, was for many years a delegate of China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress, until his death in 2017. His son, Lu Weiding, is Wanxiang’s current president and Party secretary.

The younger Lu, in a speech at the company in July, said Wanxiang “listens to the party and follows the party.”

According to Wanxiang’s website, Joe Biden met with Wanxiang officials in the United States in July 2014, while he was VP, and again in September 2018, after he left office. During the 2014 meeting, Biden said he had a “good relationship” with Xi.

Wanxiang has successfully acquired two U.S. companies even as lawmakers raised some concerns. Both companies had received loans from the U.S. government, meaning that American taxpayer money was used to fund the technology obtained by the Chinese conglomerate.

In December 2012, Wanxiang won an auction to acquire the bankrupt A123 Systems, a U.S.-based maker of electric car batteries, with a winning bid of $256.6 million. The acquisition was eventually approved by Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the U.S. agency that screens foreign investments for national security risks; A123’s defense division, a Pentagon supplier, was sold to another company.

A123 was awarded a $249 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy in 2009, which the company used to open a factory to mass-produce batteries for electric vehicles.

An A123 client, Fisker Automotive, was bought by Wanxiang in a bankruptcy auction in February 2014, according to Reuters. Five years earlier, in 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy announced a $528 million loan to Fisker to develop hybrid vehicles.

According to Fisker’s bankruptcy filing in November 2013, “Robert Hunter Biden” (Hunter’s full name) was among a long list of the company’s creditors.

BHR Partners

Hunter Biden co-founded the U.S. investment and advisory firm Rosemont Seneca Partners in 2009 and the company was incorporated in Delaware in 2013. It was one of four founding shareholders of a private equity firm called Bohai Harvest RST Shanghai Equity Investment Fund Management (BHR Partners), which was formally incorporated in Shanghai on Dec. 16, 2013.

BHR Partners’ other shareholders were Chinese asset management companies—Bohai Industrial Investment Fund and Harvest Fund Management—as well as the Massachusetts-based investment advisory firm Thornton Group. Bohai Industrial Investment is the private equity arm of Bank of China International Holdings (BOCI), itself a subsidiary of state-run Bank of China.

In July 2014, The Wall Street Journal reported that the fund had a fundraising target of $1.5 billion, citing a BOCI spokesperson. BHR Partners hasn’t said if it met its goal.

Just days before BHR Partners was officially registered, Hunter Biden joined his father on an official visit to China; the younger Biden’s spokesman and a former BHR Partners employee told the Journal that the firm’s formation was negotiated for many months before the China trip, and its shareholders applied to register the business a month before the trip.

They described the timing as a coincidence.

Since the firm’s founding, Hunter Biden has been an unpaid member of its board. He later became a shareholder in October 2017, after the senior Biden’s term as vice president ended, the Journal reported.

It’s unclear exactly what role the younger Biden played in securing BHR Partners’ deals.

Hunter Biden continues to hold an interest in the company. According to a July report by The Daily Caller, citing Chinese business records, he holds a 10 percent equity stake in BHR Partners through his business, Skaneateles LLC.

BHR’s Investments

BHR Partners has invested in Chinese companies that have come under close scrutiny by the U.S. government.

In September 2015, BHR Partners and AVIC Automotive, which is a subsidiary of China’s state-owned defense company AVIC, jointly acquired Michigan-based Henniges Automotive. According to Rubber & Plastics News, AVIC Automotive acquired 51 percent of the auto parts manufacturer and BHR Partners the rest.

According to data from Chinese research firm Zero2IPO Group, BHR Partners has also invested in state-owned China General Nuclear Power Corp. (CGN). In August 2017, Ho Szu-hsiung, a naturalized U.S. citizen and nuclear engineer employed as a consultant by CGN, was sentenced to two years in prison for helping China develop its nuclear programs, in violation of the Atomic Energy Act.

Both CGN and AVIC were among 20 Chinese companies named by the Pentagon in June as either owned or controlled by the Chinese military, the People’s Liberation Army.

In November 2017, Chinese state-run media reported that Megvii Technology, a Chinese facial recognition and artificial intelligence company, raised $460 million in an investment round, from a range of investors that included BHR Partners.

Megvii was one of 28 China-based entities blacklisted by the U.S. Department of Commerce in October 2019 for its role in violating human rights in Xinjiang, where an estimated 1 million Uyghur ethnic minorities are being detained in internment camps.

One of BHR Partners’ investments involves mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which has in recent years has faced scrutiny over child labor allegations.

In April 2017, Canadian firm Lundin Mining announced that it sold its 24 percent interest in Tenke Fungurume Mining S.A., one of the DRC’s largest copper and cobalt producers, to BHR Partners for $1.136 billion. BHR made the purchase through a holding company called BHR Newwood DRC Holdings Ltd.

In January 2019, BHR Newwood DRC Holdings was then sold to China Molybdenum Co. Ltd., allowing the Chinese miner to boost its stake in the Tenke mine to 80 percent, according to Reuters.

China Moly, which is based in Luoyang, a city in Henan Province, has close ties to the CCP. According to its website, the Chinese miner invited a professor named Zhao Jiaguo from the local Party school to give a lecture in December last year to the company’s more than 200 Party members—including company Party secretary Wang Huajun and deputy general manager Jin Shigun.

In September 2014, BHR Partners made two separate investments in China’s state-owned oil giant Sinopec.

According to an archived version of BHR’s website, it invested 4 billion yuan (about $600 million) in Sinopec Chemical Commercial Holding, a subsidiary of Sinopec. Another subsidiary, Sinopec Marketing, received a 6 billion yuan (about $900 million) investment from BHR Partners.

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer