BEIJING FEARS ANTI-CHINA SENTIMENT
The political hysteria sweeping Washington over allegations of Russian meddling in the presidential election is reverberating in China. The communist government is worried that a similar wave of anti-China sentiment will take hold in the United States.
According to China watchers in and out of government, what Beijing fears most is that special counsel Robert Mueller, the former FBI director, will add White House dealings with China to his investigation of Russian election meddling.
One main effort of the Chinese government is trying to tamp down the fallout from news reports that first surfaced in March revealing a company owned by the family of President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was planning to sell a stake in a Manhattan skyscraper to the Chinese state-connected insurance company Anbang for $400 million.
The proposed sale of 666 Fifth Ave., reported by Bloomberg and The New York Times, has all the trappings of a Chinese influence operation designed to boost China’s access to Mr. Kushner, considered one of the president’s most influential foreign policy advisers and among those who favor conciliatory policies toward Beijing.
The proposed deal would give Anbang a piece of the property reportedly valued at $2.8 billion, considered high for New York real estate. The purchase plan called for Anbang to eventually take a controlling stake in the building and refurbish it with a $4 billion loan.
In November, Mr. Kushner was treated to an expensive dinner by Anbang Chairman Wu Xiohui at the Waldorf Astoria, bought by Anbang in 2014 for $2 billion. The sale put an end to the storied hotel’s use as a residence for visiting American presidents over concerns about Chinese electronic spying.
Mr. Kushner has recused himself from the dealings of the company, Kushner Cos., in November, and sold his interest to a blind trust, according to a spokeswoman. But the proposed Kushner-Anbang deal has not lessened speculation about conflicts of interest.
Mr. Wu is one of China’s “princelings,” as the offspring of wealthy elite Communist Party leaders are called. He is married to the granddaughter of the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. In China’s system, such connections often produce vast wealth.
The controversy deepened last week when Mr. Wu suddenly disappeared from public view. Anbang issued a statement June 13 tersely saying Mr. Wu “is temporarily unable to fulfill his role for personal reasons.”
American China specialists say the action against Mr. Wu appears aimed at avoiding a political backlash against the perceived Chinese influence operation directed at the Trump White House.
Unlike Russia’s election operation that involved hacking and the dissemination of stolen emails, Chinese influence operations in recent years are aimed at American policymakers through the use of former officials, like former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and former senior military officers, like retired Adm.
Bill Owens, a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Mr. Trump met with Mr. Kissinger, who is said to be close to Mr. Kushner, in the White House on May 12 — coincidentally the same day the president met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russia’s U.S. ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.
Published leaks from the meeting with the Russians alleged that Mr. Trump disclosed classified information about Islamic State plots to use laptop computers as aircraft bombs. It was during that meeting that Mr. Trump also reportedly referred to fired FBI Director James B. Comey as a “nut job.”
The proposed sale of a stake in 666 Fifth Ave., a Manhattan skyscraper owned by Kushner Cos., to the Chinese state-connected insurance company Anbang has officials in Beijing concerned about fallout.