US lobbyists reevaluate ties: Shedding Chinese clients amid heightened oversight

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US lobbyists reevaluate ties: Shedding Chinese clients amid heightened oversight

Legislators seeking to increase scrutiny are prompting lobbying companies in Washington to quickly withdraw their clients from China. The drive follows rising worries about China’s influence and a recent spike in Chinese lobbying. The goal of legislators is to stop the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from surreptitiously advancing agendas that undermine the interests of the American people by using legal loopholes. Senator John Cornyn, a Republican, told VOA’s Mandarin Service that senators are almost done working on legislation that attempts to solve the issue. Members of the House have filed a bill to expose the exposing Foreign Influence in Lobbying Act, which was approved by the Senate last year. Cornyn co-sponsored the Senate legislation.

The evolving landscape of US-China relations

“Although there has been some opposition, we will keep working because it’s critical to know who is genuinely influencing these legislators,” Cornyn stated. Ensuring that individuals register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act has been the main priority. As you are aware, there have been several issues raised by persons failing to declare their lobbying agreements with foreign governments. Legislators are attempting to enact legislation that would close loopholes in the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 (LDA) and the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 (FARA) in order to require greater transparency regarding foreign governments and political parties that engage in the organization, management, control, or supervision of lobbying efforts, whether or not they have received financial contributions.

Scrutiny intensifies on lobbying practices

According to Cornyn, China presents a special difficulty. He remarked, “The Chinese are unique in that they are forced to share information with the PLA and with their intelligence agencies; they do not have a true solely private sector.” Thus, I would suggest that there should always be care when working with Chinese-owned businesses. The LDA, which mandates disclosure of domestic lobbying, and the FARA, which mandates disclosure of lobbying and other kinds of influence by foreign governments and political parties, control lobbying in the United States. But in 1995, FARA was changed to exclude people or firms representing foreigners if their activity isn’t meant to help a foreign government or political party. Lobbyists consequently registered under the far less transparent LDA, which led to a sharp decline in FARA registrations.

Lobbyists navigate complex legal and ethical terrain

The U.S. Department of Defense released the 1260H list, a list of “Chinese military companies” that operate directly or indirectly in the United States, in late January. This move prompted efforts to increase the inspection of China’s lobbying operations. After that, lawmakers said that they were thinking of passing a bill that would make it illegal for lobbyists representing businesses on the list to meet with members of Congress, not even to address issues on behalf of their American clients. A chart that listed several Chinese enterprises, including some military firms, along with the names of their lobbying firms and whether or not they were included on the 1260H list started to circulate on Capitol Hill after the 1260H list was released. According to Robert Sutter, a professor of international affairs practice at George Washington University’s Elliott School, Chinese military organizations’ lobbying operations have traditionally been vague, and enforcement has been lax.

Rising concerns over reputation and risk

As of late February, at least five American lobbying companies had lost Chinese business. Steptoe LLP and BGI, a Shenzhen biotech company, have ended their business relationship. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld ended its partnership with Xiaomi, a Chinese electronics business not on the 1260H list, and filed cease-and-desist filings to halt advocating for Hesai Group, a Chinese manufacturer of LiDARs. 

Additionally, the Vogel Group has ceased lobbying on behalf of Complete Genomics, a division of BGI, a genetic technology business, and DJI, a Chinese drone manufacturer. Hesai and DJI are both included in the 1260H list. While its former parent firm, BGI, is on the list, Complete Genomics is not. While it is challenging to enact legislation that forbids Congressmen from meeting with anybody, Republican Senator Marco Rubio told VOA that certain congressional offices have made the decision to forgo meetings with lobbying firms that represent Chinese defense businesses.

In conclusion, Chinese business lobbying in Washington was virtually nonexistent until a few years ago, according to Craig Singleton, a senior researcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, but that all changed when the US government started pursuing Huawei. According to Singleton, there is room for improvement in the Department of Justice’s involvement in limiting the CCP’s negative lobbying effect on Capitol Hill. The Department of Justice is in charge of implementing and upholding FARA.

Research Staff

Research Staff

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