Why the Biden family’s business in China matters

7 min readNov 3, 2020

Since the New York Post revelations broke, detailing Hunter Biden’s unethical dealings in Ukraine and China, I have come to the conclusion that many if not most Biden supporters simply don’t care about this news.

For the purpose of this piece, “unethical” doesn’t necessarily mean illegal. Rather, I mean it in the sense of betraying the American interest for personal interest.

Vice President Biden meeting with Xi Jinping at the White House in 2012.

To those of you who think I have somehow failed to realize that Donald Trump’s behavior frequently qualifies as “unethical” under this definition (eg, grifting nearly $1 million of taxpayer money on behalf of his hotel business), save your comments. My argument is that the Biden family’s unethical dealings pose more of a threat to America and American foreign policy than the Trump Family’s.

Some people I talk with are still skeptical of the fact that Hunter was given a board seat and an extremely generous salary at Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma, despite having no experience in natural gas nor Ukraine. This fact is not up for debate. It is in the public record. But for some, acknowledging a fact that is reported on 10x more in Fox News than in the New York Times brings a certain amount of discomfort.

Other people I talk to take the news about Trump paying taxes in China as proof that “Biden and Trump are equally compromised on China.” Here is the crux of the story:

The Chinese account is controlled by Trump International Hotels Management L.L.C., which the tax records show paid $188,561 in taxes in China while pursuing licensing deals there from 2013 to 2015.

There are three things to note. First, these taxes were paid before Donald Trump became President Trump, or Candidate Trump, for that matter. A businessperson with a global brand paying taxes in China is as unremarkable as the sun rising each morning. Second, paying taxes in China does not indicate a person’s level of support for the Chinese government and its policies (I’ve paid taxes in China and I hate what Xi Jinping has done to the country). Third, the amount paid is paltry. An average of $63,000 in taxes per year indicates that the LLC in question had very little business in China.

In the lexicon of glib punditry, this story is a “nothingburger.”

There are people who point out that the Industrial Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) is (or was) Trump Tower’s largest tenant. ICBC is a Chinese state-owned bank, making it an extension of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It also happens to be the largest bank in the world in terms of assets. Trump’s dealings with ICBC are certainly worth our attention, insofar as a business relationship like this one may influence Trump’s posture towards China. But in this case, too, the financial dealings go back to at least 2012, well before Trump took office. Moreover, as far as I can tell, nobody has suggested that ICBC was overpaying for its space in Trump Tower, which would indicate a potentially legal but undoubtedly shady influence peddling arrangement. In other words, if ICBC was not renting the space for $1.5 million per year, it would have been another company.

Contrast this with Hunter Biden. Hunter did not have a $300 million property to rent. His relationship with cocaine led to termination of his post with the U.S. Navy Reserve in 2014. Without the family name, Hunter may have been unemployed — and would certainly not have been making $50,000 month as a director at a natural gas firm in Ukraine or untold millions as a partner at Bohai Harvest RST (funded by the state-owned Bank of China). The surname Biden is his primary asset.

This leaves a question that you have to think about: What were these Ukrainian and Chinese businesses buying in return for their generosity towards Hunter? Certainly, the board seats and extravagant salaries were not offered out of charity.

And still there are people who bring up the trademarks that Ivanka Trump was awarded in China as evidence that Trump is using the presidency to enrich his family. This is bad. No need to mince words. But it is orders of magnitude less dangerous and less compromising than doing massive investment deals with state-owned banks.

Given the apparent parallels between the Biden and Trump families’ dealings in China, I can see why people are tempted to throw their hands up in the air and say both candidates are equally compromised on China. This allows them to ignore the “China issue” altogether and focus on areas in which Biden is clearly a better pick than Trump.

But this is a mistake. China is and will continue to be America’s primary geopolitical rival in the 21st century. It would be like Americans in the 1960s deciding to ignore the “Soviet Union” issue.

Although Trump and his family have business interests in China, what ultimately matters are the policies that have been adopted during his administration’s tenure: telecoms giant Huawei has been constrained by American sanctions. Pompeo’s global blitz against Huawei has led to more and more democracies rejecting the company’s 5G technology. The trade war is slowly chipping away at China’s position as the world’s factory. Confucius Institutes are closing their doors as the administration ramps up its pressure on Chinese influence operations in America. US-Taiwan ties are closer than they’ve been in over 40 years, a process Trump set in motion before he even took office.

Whatever Trump’s business interests in China may be, his government has put more pressure on the CCP than any administration in recent history.

By contrast, while Hunter Biden was bringing in capital from Chinese state-owned banks, China was building and militarizing islands in the South China Sea. If a war were to break out between the US and China, naval dominance in the South China Sea will be critical. Allowing China to fortify positions in this region was a massive strategic blunder. Approximately half of the 67 Confucius Institutes in America were established during the Obama-Biden administration. During the Obama-Biden years, the US did little to end China’s practice of forced technology transfers and industrial espionage.

By all measures, the Obama-Biden administration created a more permissive environment for China’s expansionism than Trump’s has. In light of this fact, the Biden family’s dealings in China simply cannot be ignored.

Many people who are fairly hawkish on China but supportive of Biden say that the past is the past — whatever Biden used to think about China, whatever business dealings his family may have had there, the world’s perception of China has changed and so has Biden’s. He recognizes the need to constrain some of the PRC’s more harmful behaviors and, given that he is much more likable and presidential than Trump, will do a better job at corralling America’s allies to join the cause.

I am less optimistic. In 2019, Biden seemed not to have woken up to the threat that the PRC poses to open democracies.

“China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man!” he said in the speech in Iowa last year. “They’re not competition for us!”

I’ve said this before and I will say it again: if you think China is not competition for America, then you are either a white supremacist (a real one), an idiot, ignorant about China, or have ulterior motives.

If the verdict on China’s intentions was still out at the time Biden gave the above speech, then after the coronavirus outbreak, which started with a cover-up by the PRC government, there should be no more room to question.

Nonetheless, Biden still insists that China is not America’s biggest threat and can be turned into a healthy competitor through properly managing the relationship.

Wang Dan, a survivor of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, a political liberal, and one of the best-known Chinese dissidents, criticizes the naiveté of Biden’s posture:

Biden says: “I’m gong to make China respect the norms of international society.” In saying this, he perfectly encapsulates the reason I oppose him. The Chinese Communist Party has never once respected international norms. If Biden had a means of making them, then what was he doing for eight years as VP? Moreover, the CCP doesn’t ever plan to begin respecting international norms. A politician who doesn’t understand this is either dumb or playing dumb. Biden’s claims about what he’s going to make China do is a perfect reflection of the American left’s one-sided goodwill towards China under the CCP. It’s delusional.

There has always been an idea among America’s elite and ruling classes that engagement and trade will result in a more open China. In 2000, Clinton famously said of the internet, at the time a budding new telecommunications tool that looked poised to change the world:

We know how much the Internet has changed America, and we are already an open society. Imagine how much it could change China. Now there’s no question China has been trying to crack down on the Internet. Good luck! That’s sort of like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.

As someone who recently left China over censorship and safety concerns, let me tell you, the Chinese government has all of the nails, and all of the Jell-O is on the wall.

In Biden’s comments about China not being competition for the US, about changing the CCP’s behavior through strategic engagement, I see a man ready to make the same mistakes that Clinton, Bush, and Obama made from 1992 to 2016.

In the most generous interpretation, perhaps Joe Biden believed that his son’s business activities in China were in service to the greater good. If you believe, with an almost religious level of unshakability, that trade and engagement is the only path towards a free and open China, then perhaps you can convince yourself that allowing your son to secure billion dollar investment deals there is helping America. Perhaps it’s even possible to convince yourself that your son deserves an exorbitant salary because his business activities in China are helping to build the bridge that will bring our two nations together. A classic win-win situation.

But this is a pipe dream. China under the CCP’s control is not our friend, nor is it ever likely to be. If you can’t understand this, then I do not want you leading my country.

In a more critical interpretation, the Bidens’ business in China made the former Vice President incapable of taking a hawkish stance towards America’s greatest geopolitical challenge of the 21st century, because his pocket book depended on it.

Whatever the outcome of this election and whatever your political leanings, I ask you to insist that our elected leaders maintain the pressure campaign on the Chinese Communist Party that began when Trump took office.

Happy Election Day.




Lover of languages. 中文 / 日本語 / español. Hoping for a better future for US and China.