In Backing Disgraced Treasurer, John Liu Sticks Close to Beijing

August 20, 2013 Updated: August 22, 2013

NEW YORK—In the midst of a hotly contested race for mayor, Comptroller John Liu publicly spurned an aide guilty of breaking campaign finance laws, while showing loyalty to his campaign treasurer, who was found guilty of the same offenses. With that loyalty Liu has demonstrated his fealty to the vast system in Chinatown that’s under the influence of the Chinese regime—including its state-run media, its township associations, and its agents of influence. 

Liu made his stance clear the day that Xing Wu (Oliver) Pan and Jenny Hou were sentenced.

At his May 2 evening press conference, Liu reiterated that Jenny Hou was a good, capable person. Asked about Pan, Liu coldly replied, “I said what I said about Jenny.”

On May 16, both Liu and Pan attended a celebration hosted by one of Chinatown’s associations, the Fujian Fuqi Association. During the event, neither Liu nor any members of the association would speak to Pan, who left halfway through with tears in his eyes. 

According to sources in Chinatown, Pan had lost trust because he was the one who introduced Liu to an undercover FBI agent.

In backing Jenny Hou, Liu is affirming his ties to her father, Hou Jianli, president of the Beijing Township Association, which has close ties to the Chinese regime.

Associations Come Courting

Township associations play pseudo-governmental roles in Chinese communities around the world. They are often divided between those that support Taiwan and those that support the Chinese regime.

The Chinese regime has two government branches dedicated to winning over the associations: the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, and the United Front Work Department. After winning them over, the regime uses them to govern and control Chinese communities.

Leaders of Chinese associations, under the regime’s influence, often use trips to China as a way to bring people into the regimes orbit.

Liu personally met with the vice president of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, Xu Yousheng, during a trip he took to China in 2007, when he was still a City Council member.

One of Liu’s six escorts on that trip was Jenny Hou’s father. The others included Lu Chenrai, chairman of the Shandong Township Association and the U.S. Shandong Chinese Chamber of Commerce; Xu Jiashu, Chairman of New York Chinese Chamber of Commerce; and Zhuang Zhenhui, former chairman of New York Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce.

Photographs show Liu with Xu Yousheng, and the other leaders of Chinese associations from New York.

Agent of Influence

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange described how the Chinese regime develops agents of influence in an Oct. 5, 2009, article announcing the release of an internal report from the U.K. Ministry of Defense.

“The process of being cultivated as a ‘friend of China’ (ie. an ‘agent’) is subtle and long-term,” states Assange’s summary of the report.

It states that when a person of interest is brought to China, agents of the regime will try to exploit the person’s interest in Chinese culture, flatter them, and use food and alcohol to “soften” the process. Then the offers will come.

“Under cover of consultation or lecturing, a visitor may be given favours, advantageous economic conditions or commercial opportunities,” it states. “In return they will be expected to give information or access to material. Or, at the very least, to speak out on China’s behalf (becoming an `agent of influence’).”

To bring people under the Chinese regime’s influence, its agents try to exploit four weaknesses in human nature: fame, profit, lust, and anger.

In the case of John Liu, who has his whole office stand and greet him each morning as “Mr. Comptroller,” the regime has been playing on his love of fame.

During his 2007 trip, Li was given the “Grand Award to Chinese that influence the world,” and since then has enjoyed almost daily coverage by the regime’s state-run media—including in broadcasts throughout mainland China.

Chinese Votes and Dollars

Many people in Chinese communities are on visas, live in the United States illegally, or have families back in China who could be threatened—factors the regime’s entities use to keep tight control over the communities.

The Overseas Chinese Affairs Office focuses on public opinion in foreign countries. It controls the overseas Chinese media, maintains databases on Chinese people living overseas, and penalizes Chinese people who step out of line.

The United Front Work Department builds a “frontline” in Chinese communities by recruiting the influential people in each community—leaders of Chinese hometown associations, scholars, and business owners.

Many of Liu’s top promoters in Chinese communities in New York have direct ties to either the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office or the United Front Work Department.

The Beijing Township Association, founded by Hou’s father, is one of the leading groups in New York City that supports the Chinese regime and its policies.

In Flushing, the main Chinese community in Queens, one of John Liu’s key supporters is Michael Chu, chairman of the New York branch of the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Unification (CCPPR).

Volunteers for Chu’s organizations have been known to work part-time spreading propaganda from the Chinese regime, and part-time promoting John Liu’s mayoral campaign.

The CCPPR is under the United Front Work Department. The head of the CCPPR is Jia Qingling, who until recently served as one of the nine leaders of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee—the group of high ranking officials that controls the Chinese Communist Party.

In Brooklyn’s Chinatown, one of Liu’s key supporters is Chen Shanzhuang, chairman of the Fuzhou Lang Qi United Association.

When Liu announced his mayoral campaign, Chen Shanzhuang organized 10 buses of people to support Liu at City Hall.

Chinese media also reported that Chen Shanzhuang was the first person to officially raise the People’s Republic of China’s flag in New Jersey and in Flushing. After the United States accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, Chen Shanzhuang organized a protest march.

Oliver Pan also brought with him important connections in the Chinese community.

Oliver Pan is the executive vice director of both the Fukien American Association and the United Fujianese American Association.

The Fukien American Association was one of the top fundraisers for Liu’s comptroller campaign, and Liu frequently attended their events.

By July 2, 2008, the Fukien American Association had raised $70,000 for Liu’s comptroller campaign, according to Chinese state-influenced newspaper World Journal.

With three weeks to go until the mayoral election, John Liu polls at less than ten percent, the least of the five originally considered major candidates. If his campaign had a chance to take off, its prospects seem to have been sunk by the campaign finance scandal.

The smart move on Liu’s part would seem to have been to throw Jenny Hou under the bus, to condemn her as having betrayed him and to deny any association with her. But John Liu could not condemn Hou without condemning the township associations and the regime officials who have pushed Liu forward. 

With no independent base as a political candidate, John Liu’s only option has been to continue serving the system based in Beijing.

Follow Joshua on Twitter: @JoshJPhilipp