US Business and Political Elites Are Putting America Second to China: Author

“Should the U.S. government try to overthrow the [Chinese Communist] Party?” asks Isaac Stone Fish in his new book, “America Second: How America’s Elites Are Making China Stronger.” Stone Fish, CEO of China-focused consulting firm Strategy Risks, as well as a former Beijing correspondent for Newsweek magazine, writes, “The Party poses an existential threat to the American-managed system.”However, as Stone Fish outlines in his exposé of the Chinese Communist Party’s influence in the United States, there has been a decades-long trend of American businesspeople, lobbyists, and politicians putting America second to financial interests linked to totalitarian China. In a March 29 book talk hosted by Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), a Philadelphia-based think tank, Stone Fish noted that this trend saw a dramatic reversal during the Trump administration, which took a hardline approach towards a range of threats posed by Beijing, including the organized influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the United States. “Until 2016, or even arguably 2018, it was U.S. policy to strengthen China. And what people were doing was following the norms, both written and unwritten, that a strong and stable China is beneficial for the United States. And so we are now in a different policy reality,” Stone Fish said during the talk. While Stone Fish takes a generally critical view of the Trump administration in his book, he gave credit to the Trump administration for its tough stance on China. “The Trump administration definitely got things right on China, and there’s a lot of really good policy, debate, and promulgations,” he said. “I don’t want to downplay what they did. And I’m glad that a lot of these issues are being raised. I think that’s incredibly important.” At a time when American politics have become remarkably polarized, Stone Fish writes that “China is the only true area of bipartisan agreement” between Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate, which concur on “the need to counter Beijing’s aggression.” “It is very shocking that if you do a blind taste test with say, Chuck Schumer and Ted Cruz or Nancy Pelosi and Marco Rubio, they sound almost exactly the same when it comes to China, which is very, very striking in our current political environment,” Stone Fish said during the book talk. The author warned, however, that in other sectors of the United States, including business, lobbying, academia, think tanks, and journalism “some people have been slow to pivot” to a stronger stance against the CCP’s influence “because they disagree” or “because pivoting is hard.” “Things are changing so rapidly, and some people haven’t gotten the memo,” he said. Business and Lobbying In his book, Stone Fish details how many government representatives and officials in the United States have followed a “model of living in a revolving door between government and China lobbying,” starting with former Secretary of State and national security advisor Henry Kissinger. Kissinger, who met with CCP leaders Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai in the 1970s and played a key role in the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the United States and communist China, went on to found Kissinger Associates in 1982, a consulting firm through which he opened doors of power in China for his clients. Stone Fish writes that Kissinger brought the then-CEO of JPMorgan William B. Harrison Jr., one of his clients, to Beijing in 2003. At the time, JPMorgan wanted to advise and underwrite the initial public offering of the state-owned China Construction Bank, one of China’s largest banks. During a meeting in Beijing with China’s state councilor Tang Jiaxuan, Stone Fish notes, Tang told Kissinger and Harrison Jr. to oppose Taiwanese independence, a reminder to them that supporting the CCP’s political agenda is expected in order to successfully operate in the Chinese market. Detailing Kissinger’s dealings with China in his book, Stone Fish writes, “The most accurate way to describe Kissinger, from the time he started his consulting company in 1982 to the present, is as an agent of Chinese influence.” A representative of Kissinger, in response to a query from Stone Fish, denied that Kissinger was an agent of Chinese influence and called the allegation libelous. While Kissinger features most prominently in “America Second” among U.S. government officials who have engaged in major China-linked lobbying, there are numerous others that Stone Fish writes about, including former Secretaries of State Al Haig and Madeleine Albright, former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft, former Defense Secretary William Cohen, and Prescott Bush Jr. and Neil Bush, a brother and son respectively of former U.S. President George H. W. Bush. One striking detail highlighted in the book is that former Defense Secretary Cohen reportedly founded his consulting firm, the Cohen Group, only days after leaving office in January 2001. “We left the Pen

US Business and Political Elites Are Putting America Second to China: Author

“Should the U.S. government try to overthrow the [Chinese Communist] Party?” asks Isaac Stone Fish in his new book, “America Second: How America’s Elites Are Making China Stronger.” Stone Fish, CEO of China-focused consulting firm Strategy Risks, as well as a former Beijing correspondent for Newsweek magazine, writes, “The Party poses an existential threat to the American-managed system.”

However, as Stone Fish outlines in his exposé of the Chinese Communist Party’s influence in the United States, there has been a decades-long trend of American businesspeople, lobbyists, and politicians putting America second to financial interests linked to totalitarian China.

In a March 29 book talk hosted by Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), a Philadelphia-based think tank, Stone Fish noted that this trend saw a dramatic reversal during the Trump administration, which took a hardline approach towards a range of threats posed by Beijing, including the organized influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the United States.

“Until 2016, or even arguably 2018, it was U.S. policy to strengthen China. And what people were doing was following the norms, both written and unwritten, that a strong and stable China is beneficial for the United States. And so we are now in a different policy reality,” Stone Fish said during the talk.

While Stone Fish takes a generally critical view of the Trump administration in his book, he gave credit to the Trump administration for its tough stance on China.

“The Trump administration definitely got things right on China, and there’s a lot of really good policy, debate, and promulgations,” he said. “I don’t want to downplay what they did. And I’m glad that a lot of these issues are being raised. I think that’s incredibly important.”

At a time when American politics have become remarkably polarized, Stone Fish writes that “China is the only true area of bipartisan agreement” between Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate, which concur on “the need to counter Beijing’s aggression.”

“It is very shocking that if you do a blind taste test with say, Chuck Schumer and Ted Cruz or Nancy Pelosi and Marco Rubio, they sound almost exactly the same when it comes to China, which is very, very striking in our current political environment,” Stone Fish said during the book talk.

The author warned, however, that in other sectors of the United States, including business, lobbying, academia, think tanks, and journalism “some people have been slow to pivot” to a stronger stance against the CCP’s influence “because they disagree” or “because pivoting is hard.” “Things are changing so rapidly, and some people haven’t gotten the memo,” he said.

Business and Lobbying

In his book, Stone Fish details how many government representatives and officials in the United States have followed a “model of living in a revolving door between government and China lobbying,” starting with former Secretary of State and national security advisor Henry Kissinger.

Kissinger, who met with CCP leaders Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai in the 1970s and played a key role in the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the United States and communist China, went on to found Kissinger Associates in 1982, a consulting firm through which he opened doors of power in China for his clients.

Stone Fish writes that Kissinger brought the then-CEO of JPMorgan William B. Harrison Jr., one of his clients, to Beijing in 2003. At the time, JPMorgan wanted to advise and underwrite the initial public offering of the state-owned China Construction Bank, one of China’s largest banks. During a meeting in Beijing with China’s state councilor Tang Jiaxuan, Stone Fish notes, Tang told Kissinger and Harrison Jr. to oppose Taiwanese independence, a reminder to them that supporting the CCP’s political agenda is expected in order to successfully operate in the Chinese market.

Detailing Kissinger’s dealings with China in his book, Stone Fish writes, “The most accurate way to describe Kissinger, from the time he started his consulting company in 1982 to the present, is as an agent of Chinese influence.”

A representative of Kissinger, in response to a query from Stone Fish, denied that Kissinger was an agent of Chinese influence and called the allegation libelous.

While Kissinger features most prominently in “America Second” among U.S. government officials who have engaged in major China-linked lobbying, there are numerous others that Stone Fish writes about, including former Secretaries of State Al Haig and Madeleine Albright, former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft, former Defense Secretary William Cohen, and Prescott Bush Jr. and Neil Bush, a brother and son respectively of former U.S. President George H. W. Bush. One striking detail highlighted in the book is that former Defense Secretary Cohen reportedly founded his consulting firm, the Cohen Group, only days after leaving office in January 2001. “We left the Pentagon on Saturday and opened for business on Monday,” Cohen boasts in a quote cited by “America Second.”

When asked about U.S. political elites’ contribution to the problem of making China stronger at America’s expense, Stone Fish said that former officials and politicians going into consulting and business, and then acting as if they’re disinterested when advocating for deals or policies beneficial to China is a major factor. He said that there are strict conflict of interest rules on Wall Street and in the legal sector, but that equivalent rules have not been developed in the foreign policy space.

Academia and Think Tanks

Stone Fish sees U.S. universities and think tanks as posing a special problem with respect to the ways that they have made China stronger at America’s expense because they are perceived as unbiased purveyors of honesty and truth, even if that’s often not the reality when it comes to China.

“Political and business elites, we’re used to them censoring, prevaricating. That’s what businesses do and that’s what politicians do. It’s not a big stunner to have a politician to be found to have lied, or a corporation to be found to have lied, but think tanks and especially universities have a much higher standard of truth,” Stone Fish said, noting that funding is a key issue. “A lot of think tankers spend a lot of time fundraising, and that influences your output … that changes the way you write, it changes the conclusions that you have.”

In his book, Stone Fish cites as an example a report published in October 2017 by the Brookings Institution, an American think tank, that praised the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. The report was funded by Huawei, which has long been considered by officials and experts as a national security threat.

An issue that Stone Fish notes in his book regarding universities—which often receive substantial funding through Chinese students’ tuition fees—is that “Chinese students and faculty sometimes spy on other Chinese students and, to a lesser extent, American professors” as part of China’s intelligence and overseas influence operations. Stone Fish writes in his book that a Chinese Ph.D. graduate of a U.S. university told him that she was approached when she was a graduate student at a Chinese university and asked if she wanted to work for China’s Ministry of State Security, the regime’s top intelligence agency, since she had an offer to attend an American university.

“I think it behooves universities to figure out, ‘how do we not hire PLA [People’s Liberation Army] colonels? How do we work to discipline or expel students … who are spying on other students?’” Stone Fish said. “I think there’s a lot of cases whereby American universities don’t put the same level of due diligence on Chinese students or on Chinese professors they do elsewhere, or that they’ll take what they say at face value … People realize that they can get away with a lot because they don’t get checked.”

Loss of academic freedom and self-censorship linked to China are also problems that universities face. “If you have a class with five Chinese students, and you’re worried that one of them is going to rat out the other four, and you want to have a debate about Xinjiang, what do you do? Do you have a full-throated debate or do you self-censor because you feel like that’s important to defend your students?” Stone Fish asked.

The moderator of the book talk, Jacques deLisle, director of the Asia program at FPRI and a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, offered a hypothetical scenario that Western academics might confront.

“I can sit around with my colleagues and say, ‘Well if we do this, which is the right thing to do in terms of free inquiry and … if we had a branch campus [in China] to go to, we’re going to talk about the ‘Three T’s,’ Tibet, Taiwan, and Tiananmen [Square Massacre] without fear or favor, even though it’s going to blow everything up [because it would anger the CCP].’ That would be a hard sell,” deLisle said.

Journalism

Having worked as a journalist, Stone Fish also writes about journalistic self-censorship that is helpful to the CCP and, in an effort to drive positive change, is open about being guilty of this practice himself.

“There were plenty of times where I censored myself as a journalist and people would always ask me, they’d say, ‘Oh you work for Newsweek in China, does that mean that you’re censored all the time?’ And I would always say ‘no,’” Stone Fish said. “And I guess in some ways it was true, because I was the one who was doing the censoring.”

In the book, Stone Fish writes, “I self-censor. Sometimes I temper my criticisms to avoid offending people more supportive of the Party. I’ve also taken money from organizations linked to the Party and consulted for corporations that strive to maintain access to China … my worst crimes were sins of omission rather than commission. What key stories did I shy away from because I wanted to preserve my access? What truths did I not uncover out of fear or greed? What crucial questions didn’t I ask powerful people because I feared offending them?”

Stone Fish gave an example, saying, “I was back in Shanghai in 2019, saw Bloomberg Businessweek [magazine] and was wondering, ‘Oh, I wonder how much they censor to be in the Chinese market.’ But I’d been doing Bloomberg [TV] hits, and I was worried about defending Bloomberg and jeopardizing those hits, so I didn’t buy the magazine and I didn’t look into it.”

He added, “I can say, ‘Oh, well, that’s not censorship, that’s just being practical.’ But then I’m lying to you and I’m lying to myself.”


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Adam Michael Molon is an American writer and journalist. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University and undergraduate degrees in finance and Chinese language from Indiana University-Bloomington.