Anatomy of a Chinese Influence Operation

How China conspired with a Republican financier to force the repatriation of a dissident Chinese billionaire

“We cannot only fight conventional wars or battlefield wars. We must be flexible —
in whichever way others hit us, we will hit. We will give tit for tat and
defeat them by surprise moves. We cannot have others lead us by the nose.
We cannot hold up the larger strategic picture because of tactical rigidity.”
— Xi Jinping, speech to National Propaganda and Ideology Work Conference, August 2013

By Bill Gertz

Last updated July 26, 2023, 6:19 pm PDT

On January 19, 2021, a day before he would leave office, President Donald Trump issued an unconditional pardon to Elliott Broidy, a financier and former Republican Party fundraiser who months earlier had been convicted of conspiracy to serve as an unregistered agent of Communist China. “I hereby grant full and unconditional pardons to the following named persons for those offenses against the United States individually enumerated and set before me for my consideration,” Trump stated in the grant of executive clemency to 28 people. Among those pardoned was former White House Strategist Steve Bannon who drew the most public attention, prompting the normally news-straight Associated Press to report that the pardons represented a final move by the outgoing president to “defy convention and explicitly aid his friends and supporters.”

The pardon of Broidy represented one of the worst actions of the president who until that day had revolutionized American foreign policy toward China by imposing tariffs, curbing disastrous trade policies that damaged American security and identifing Beijing as an adversary for the first time in nearly 40 years.

Federal prosecutors laid bare the facts of Broidy’s conspiracy that had been disclosed earlier in hacked emails showing that the Los Angeles financier had workd with several confederates to travel to Shenzhen, China, in May 2017. There he met with Sun Lijun, the extremely powerful vice minister of public security, and Low Taek Jho, a Malaysian fugitive. Sun told Broidy during the meeting that he wanted a dissident billionaire living in exile in New York City to be returned to China. The police minister agreed to pay Broidy millions of dollars “to use his influence with high-ranking United States government officials to advocate for [Guo’s] return to the PRC,” a court document in the case states. Sun also asked Broidy and the others with him to arrange meetings with high-level Trump administration officials during Sun’s upcoming visit to Washington.

Broidy was never indicted for the conspiracy charges. Instead he negotiated with the Justice Department to agree to accept a criminal information suggesting he was cooperating with authorities. He pleaded guilty in October 2020 to conspiring to violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act by lobbying the Trump administration to forcibly repatriate Guo and to halt the probe into Malaysian bank corruption.

Disclosure of the case had a negative impact on Sun Lijun, who would be arrested and placed under investigation by Xi Jinping for what state media called “severe violations of party discipline and law.” In reality, the sacking and impending imprisonment were punishment for his failure to repatriate or silence Guo.

Guo Wengui was no ordinary Chinese dissident. The exiled billionaire real estate mogul owns a residence that takes up an entire upper floor of a luxury hotel on the southeast corner of New York’s Central Park. After leaving China in 2015, Guo is now the target of a global influence and disinformation campaign by the Chinese Communist Party to force him to return to China “The feng shui here is excellent,” Guo says, noting Central Park’s southeast corner is known in real estate circles as the Golden Triangle and one of the most sought after locations in Manhattan. Feng shui is the Chinese belief that certain geographical positions provide the most harmonious energy between people and places. Guo triggered the ire of Communist Party leaders after he began spilling secrets he learned from close ties to the seniormost Party nomenklatura.

For months, beginning in early 2017, Guo began revealing on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook details of high-level Chinese corruption. By autumn, he was ready to go public. On October 3, Guo departed New York aboard a private Gulfstream jet for the short 30 minute flight to Washington, DC. The exiled tycoon is worth around $28 billion and had prepared for weeks for his Washington debut and his first public appearance since speaking out online. Among his revelations were explosive details revealing corruption by Wang Qishan, head of the Party’s all-powerful Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the organ behind the purge over the previous four years of thousands of officials—including high-level Party members, military “tigers,” and run-of-the-mill bureaucrats who were viewed as potential rivals to the unchecked power of Xi.

Based on access to information from within the Chinese system, Guo disclosed that since the early 2000s Wang Qishan has been more than just a running dog behind Xi’s political purge. Wang inside China had become China’s secret financial czar, the most powerful Chinese leader, largely controlling all economic and financial dealings behind the scenes. Until 2017, Wang had been on the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, the collective dictatorship headed by Xi that rules China with an iron fist. But instead of retiring because he had reached the age limit of sixty-seven, several of the Communist financial kingpins linked to the ruling families of late leader Deng Xiaoping, and former leaders Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, convinced Xi to keep Wang in a position of power. He was appointed vice president.

For Guo, Wang and several other high-ranking Party leaders exemplified the mafia-like system he calls a Communist Party kleptocracy, which stole billions of dollars from the Chinese people in order to enrich the elite ruling class and the clans of the senior Party leaders. In the case of Wang, the vice president controls a family fortune worth billions of dollars.

Guo actively announced in daily video broadcasts his plan to overthrow the ruling Chinese Communist Party. On June 4, 2020 — coinciding with the anniversary of the 1989 Chinese military massacre of unarmed pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square — he launched a new political movement called the New Federal State of China. A key figure in supporting Guo in the movement was former Trump strategic adviser Steve Bannon, the bete noir of the political left in the United States.

Guo’s drive to replace the Chinese Communist system came to an abrupt halt in March 2023. The U.S. district attorney in the notoriously left-wing Southern District of New York, Damian Williams, announced on March 15, 2023, that Guo had been arrested at his New York City penthouse. He was charged in a 11-count federal grand jury indictment with wire fraud, securities fraud, bank fraud, and money laundering in an alleged conspiracy totaling $1 billion. Guo pleaded not guilty but was denied bail and is now a prisoner in a New York City jail, where he remains vulnerable to Chinese Communist Party assassination agents.

The message from the administration of President Joe Biden, that Republican critics say has weaponized the U.S. Justice Department for targeting political opponents, is that if your are a friend of someone close to former President Donald Trump such as Steve Bannon, you will be destroyed.

For Guo, the prosecution appeared to have all the trappings of a successful Chinese government pressure campaign on President Biden. Congressional investigators say the president received some of the millions in payments from China through his son Hunter Biden’s questionable dealings. China’s communist leaders made repeated requests of the U.S. government to directly repatriate Guo. The 2023 prosecution that could put Guo behind bars for a 100 years was an answer to China’s demand.

Back in 2017, several weeks before the visit to Washington, Guo had publicized a series of online videos about how the Party’s anti-corruption czar Wang himself was extraordinarily corrupt. According to Guo, beginning in the late 1980s, Wang and several family members secretly invested some $30’million in Party funds into real estate ventures in California and other parts of the United States, purchasing more than a hundred properties. By 2018, the real estate was worth $2’billion to $3’billion.

“I know the Chinese system very, very well,” Guo said in an interview. “I have information about very minute details on how it operates.”

The first public meeting in Washington for Guo was to be held at the Hudson Institute, a conservative-oriented think tank founded in 1961 by military strategist Herman Kahn along with several colleagues from the RAND Corporation. At one time Hudson was a premier federally-funded research center supporting the American military. Hudson had recently created a Center for Chinese Strategy under the direction of former Pentagon official Michael Pillsbury, considered one of the most influential American experts on China. The Hudson event was to be hosted by the Kleptocracy Initiative, whose mission is to study “the corrosive threat to American democracy and national security posed by imported corruption and illicit financial flows from authoritarian regimes”)—which would have been a perfect fit for the outspoken Guo to mainstream his explosive disclosures. The event was billed “A Conversation with Guo Wengui.”

But the meeting was canceled suddenly hours before Guo was scheduled to appear. It was a stunning display of how China influences the American democratic system through money and political coercion. A conservative research institution caved in to Chinese political threats, intimidation, and cyberattacks in a craven example of the extent of Beijing’s covert influence activities.

Guo was born on May 10, 1968, in China’s Shandong Province, located on the northeastern coast across from the Korean Peninsula. Shandong is one of China’s wealthiest regions as well as having a rich cultural and religious heritage for Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. A devout Buddhist, Guo also uses the English-language name Miles Kwok.

Prior to the cancellation, Guo had felt a sense of exuberance as Gulfstream touched down at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport that sunny October morning. The businessman travels with a security detail that includes up to nine guards, several of them former US military special operations forces commandos and former New York City police officers.

Guo learned firsthand the ruthlessness of the Chinese Communist regime from doing business in China and around the world for more than 25 years. It was during this time he became friends with a key power broker: Ma Jian, vice chairman of the Ministry of State Security intelligence service. Ma and Guo worked together on business and security projects for years until the intelligence chief, who had access to the Party’s most sensitive secrets, was targeted by Xi’s purge. Ma had uncovered information showing Qishan was corrupt. After Ma was sacked, Guo, fearing he would be next in the political crackdown, fled to New York in 2015.

Guo knew from his friendship with Ma that China’s spies were experts at killing regime opponents and could use a variety of methods, from poisoning to deaths that appeared to be the result of a traffic accident. In Washington, Guo stayed at the most secure property in Washington, Hay-Adams Hotel, located directly across Lafayette Park from the White House. Upon arriving, he checked into the Presidential Suite, the $9,000 per night suite with a spectacular view of the White House, the center of Washington power.

Guo set about preparing for the press conference at Hudson that day. The Hudson meeting had been organized nearly a month earlier by Charles Davidson, a Hudson fellow in charge of the Kleptocracy Initiative. Davidson first approached Lianchao Han, a visiting Hudson fellow and former US Senate staff member and Chinese pro-democracy activist who was close to Guo.

Davidson and Han agreed the conference featuring Guo would fit perfectly with the initiative since China’s illicit influence operations in Washington were among the most aggressive and the American public needed to know about them.

Han was taking the Metro to the McPherson Square stop that October morning on his way to meet Guo when he received a phone call from Davidson. “The management team has decided to cancel the meeting,” Davidson said. Han was shocked. The first question he asked was why. Davidson told him leadership had doubts about Guo’s credibility. In one of his YouTube videos, the flamboyant Guo had questioned whether China might have been behind the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. Guo had identified one of the Chinese nationals on board as a doctor who may have been linked to Wang Qishan, who Guo said was involved in the practice of harvesting live body organs from Chinese prisoners for the international organ transplant market.

Han knew the credibility assertion was a ruse and told Davidson in no uncertain terms that his excuse was “bullshit.” It was clear the Hudson Institute had fallen victim to Chinese pressure.

A few weeks before the event was canceled, Davidson asked Han to take over organizing Guo’s meeting due to personal concerns related to his son’s engagement to a Chinese student (one of the more than 300,000 Chinese students in the United States). He was concerned the Chinese would force his son’s fiancé  to return to China if Davidson were part of the Guo meeting. Han agreed to take over organizing the session—all of which was closely coordinated with Hudson’s managers and directors in the weeks leading up to October 3.

Hudson spokesman David Tell was given the unenviable task of publicly defending the Institute’s blatant appeasement of China in canceling the meeting. He said improper planning was to blame. “The planning just got away from us and we feel bad,” he told me.

Han disputes that. “Everything was coordinated,” he said.

Disrupting the Hudson Institute meeting was one element of the large-scale global Chinese influence operation against Guo, which was unprecedented and involved a combination of economic pressure on Hudson board members with financial interests in China and cyberattacks against the organization’s computer network.

The objective of the CCP’s disinformation campaign was to portray Guo as little more than one of the many corrupt fugitives sought by the regime for financial misdeeds. To this end, Beijing waged a relentless propaganda, lobbying a disinformation operation that included an array of spurious and false allegations. In addition to financial corruption allegations, the Chinese used their agent inside Interpol, Meng Hongwei, to have the international police organization issue two “red notices” that are supposed to represent a kind of international arrest warrant. Meng was president of Interpol from 2016 to 2017, and the red notices he issued against Guo included one for criminal activity and a second for rape—based on Chinese government-controlled testimony from a former business associate. Guo vehemently denied the allegations and dismissed them as part of a vicious Communist Party smear campaign.

Not long after the red notices were issued, Meng disappeared during a visit to China in October 2018 and was arrested and later charged with allegedly taking bribes. At the time of his arrest Meng sent a cryptic text message to his wife—a photo of a knife—that she believes was a distress signal. The wife, Grace Meng, would later seek political asylum in France, where Interpol is headquartered. Guo is convinced the Chinese arrested Meng Hongwei over his failure to use his position in Interpol to assist in the forced repatriation back to China for the billionaire dissident.

The influence operation against Guo was outlined in a special section of the 2017 annual report to Congress by the bipartisan US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The report called the disinformation operation unprecedented in its ferocity. For publicly criticizing the Communist Party’s anti-corruption campaign and revealing high-level CCP corruption, Chinese state-run media labeled Guo a “criminal suspect”—without producing any evidence or formal charges as was done for other cases. The propaganda operations “launched an international publicity campaign, including releasing a videotaped confession by a former senior intelligence official accusing Mr. Guo of corruption and uploading videos to YouTube on a channel called ‘Truth about Guo Wengui,’ to discredit him,” the report disclosed.- the campaign was described as “unprecedented” and “unusually sophisticated.”

Former White House Strategist Steve Bannon who was close to President Trump in 2017 revealed that he had never heard of Guo until “a parade” of American business leaders with ties to China began streaming into the Oval Office to try to convince President Trump to send Guo back to China.

One example involved Steve Wynn, a Las Vegas casino magnate who owns casinos in the Chinese enclave of Macau, which requires licenses granted by the Chinese government in order to operate. Wynn met with Trump in 2017 and presented him with a letter from Xi Jinping stating the return of Guo would be a “personal favor” for the Party leader. Wynn Resorts Ltd. Chief Marketing Officer Michael Weaver told the Wall Street Journal that the reported delivery of the letter “is false” and added “beyond that he doesn’t have any comment.”

In May 2022, the Justice Department filed a civil lawsuit against Wynn for his role in the plot by China to force the United States to return Guo to China.

The civil suit followed three attempts by the Justice Department lawyers to have Wynn register as a Chinese agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Wynn declined and the lawsuit followed. The complaint case states that Wynn in 2017 contacted President Donald Trump and members of his administration to convey China’s demand that Guo’s visa be canceled.

“Wynn engaged in these efforts at the request of Sun Lijun, then-vice minister of the [Ministry of Public Security],” the statement. “Wynn conveyed the request directly to the then-president over dinner and by phone, and he had multiple discussions with the then-president and senior officials at the White House and National Security Council about organizing a meeting with Sun and other PRC government officials.”

According to Justice, Wynn’s company owned and ran casinos in Macau and that he “acted at the request of the PRC out of a desire to protect his business interests in Macau.”

Brian Heberlig, a lawyer for Wynn denied he acted as an unregistered foreign agent. “Steve Wynn has never acted as an agent of the Chinese government and had no obligation to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. We respectfully disagree with the Department of Justice’s legal interpretation of FARA and look forward to proving our case in court,” he said.

Inside the White House, Chinese influence also reached Trump in the form of a plot by a presidential advisor (who Bannon did not identify by name) who presented Trump with a report linking 300,000 Chinese nationals as spies masquerading as US college students and China’s interest in having Guo returned. Trump’s response was “Send them all back!” Later, White House lawyers informed the president he did not have the authority to forcibly repatriate Guo.

The China commission report also presented additional details revealing how the Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC, pressured the Hudson Institute to cancel the Guo meeting. Staff at the Hudson Institute, including one of its China experts awaiting a visa for travel to China, were called by an embassy official urging them to cancel the Guo meeting or suffer the consequences.

Disputing the Institute’s official explanation for halting the Guo meeting, the commission stated: “According to internal Hudson Institute e-mails reviewed by the Commission, at least two senior Hudson staff said they received telephone calls from the Chinese Embassy, and one senior fellow said a ‘counselor’ from the Embassy ‘asked about [the senior fellow’s] entry visa application [to China]’; the counselor claimed hosting Mr. Guo would ‘embarrass [the] Hudson Institute and hurt [its] ties with the Chinese government.’”

China was not content with using diplomatic pressure and coercion alone. Around the same time, Beijing launched a cyberattack on Hudson’s computer networks prior to the October meeting. The Institute’s website was hit with a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack that security analysts traced to Shanghai0—the location of the notorious People’s Liberation Army cyber group Unit 61398. That cyber group has been linked by US intelligence to major attacks on both government and private sector entities.

The Hudson pressure campaign coincided with the October 9 visit to the United States by China’s Minister of Public Security Guo Shengkun (no relation to Guo Wengui), who held talks at the Justice Department with then–Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions acknowledged the Hudson cyberattack during his meeting with the Chinese security official who, as in previous exchanges, said he would look into the matter as a way of disposing of the conversation.

Later that year in an interview with reporters, Sessions made clear he would not extradite Guo. The attorney general told me he had reviewed the case and concluded he would not forcibly return Guo. Sessions also said during his October meeting with the Public Security Minister that “the Chinese were aggressive at undermining him.”

An official close to Sessions said the attorney general, who stepped down in November 2018, defended Guo within the administration, reflecting intense support for the dissident from both the Justice Department and FBI, which are eager to mine Guo’s intimate knowledge of Chinese intelligence operations. At one point Sessions was so adamant that he threatened to resign rather than give in to pro-China officials seeking to do Beijing’s bidding in the Guo matter. Asked about the resignation threat, Sessions did not deny it. He then smiled and said, “That’s a bit of an overstatement.”

The Justice Department position, in response to China’s demands for the return of Guo, is that the United States is not a safe haven for criminals from China. At the same time, Department officials have demanded China first provide evidence of criminality before dissidents are turned over to Beijing authorities.

The Guo campaign was also waged on social media. Chinese government agents pressured Twitter, Facebook, and Google by exploiting arcane and unevenly enforced rules of service. Twitter cut off Guo from its platform after the dissident posted insider details of corruption among Chinese leaders, including their personal information, which goes against terms of service. Guo used his Twitter account to promote YouTube videos he produced that discussed the inner workings of the Party-state and its denizens. Google, too, blocked Guo from using its YouTube platform for hour-long presentations after Chinese officials complained that the expos s violated that platform’s terms of service.

Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor at the School of Information, UC Berkeley, sees the disinformation campaign against Guo as an ongoing drama. “I have never seen something like this, which is in terms of looking at the Chinese government reaction to him,” Xiao told the China commission. “Look at what the Chinese government is doing. Interpol. Chinese lawsuits against him. . . . the diplomatic, talking to bilaterals of different countries. Domestically, massive articles, media discredit him. They don’t do that to [imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner] Liu Xiaobo. They didn’t do that to dissidents because they didn’t want everybody to know their names in China, but they do that to him. They had to. So the amount of resources mobilized currently right at this moment and overseas, not even mentioning the Fifty Cent Party [government trolls] and technology, everything, everything, the full power is on him right now.”

Xiao views the extent of regime fear of Guo in China as visible in an unofficial website called In the Name of Guo Wengui, which was created to counter an official pro–Xi Jinping propaganda show aimed at boosting Xi’s legitimacy and highlighting the anti-corruption drive called “In the Name of the People.” The Guo program is “directly discrediting the whole anti-corruption campaign as a political struggle, power struggle,” he stated. Xiao said that if there was no Great Firewall censoring political debate like that triggered by Guo, Chinese politics would be vastly more open and democratic. “Those oppositional political forces will play out their politics in the domestic media space and Internet,” he said.

Chinese censorship of Guo went into overdrive in a bid to tamp down popular support inside China for the dissident billionaire. A website called FreeWeibo.com that closely monitors censored posts on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform, listed Guo as one of the most censored topics. GreatFire, the anti-censorship activist group, stated that the Chinese government targeted Mr. Guo’s Twitter account with a DDoS attack.

Beijing’s campaign has not dimmed unofficial support for Guo. In fact, it may have had the opposite effect by increasing his popularity. Inside China he is extremely popular among the tens of millions, and even scores of millions of Chinese who agree with his views on Party corruption and repression and the lack of rule of law. Guo announced in November 2018 a major international effort to seek the ouster of the CCP from power and along with other wealthy anti-communists has launched the Rule of Law Society with a war chest that is expected to reach more than $100 million.

I first met Guo in 2017 after his interview on the US government’s Voice of America (VOA) Chinese-language service was cut short—also under pressure from China. The live Guo interview was cut short after an hour and twenty minutes, though it was planned and approved to be a three-hour session. Pressure from the Chinese Foreign Ministry on VOA Director Amanda Bennett was to blame for the canceled radio interview. The Chinese Foreign Ministry threatened to “respond seriously” if the Guo interview was not halted, asserting the interview would upset China’s forthcoming major Communist Party Congress set for October 2017.

China has continued to crack down on employees and associates of Guo in China, arresting several and imprisoning at least three. In late 2018, authorities sentenced Ma Jian, the vice minister of intelligence, to life in prison. Several weeks later, authorities arrested the vice mayor of Beijing and charged he had taken bribes from Guo. The objective of the political campaign is to undermine his credibility by attempting to portray Guo as a criminal, not an anti-communist dissident seeking to bring about the end of Communist Party rule in China.

Guo applied for political asylum in the United States in September 2017, and China responded by conducting a Russian-style hack and leak campaign. The law firm representing him was the target. Shortly after Guo filed the asylum request to the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice, Chinese hackers struck the computer network used by Washington law firm Clark Hill. The law firm shamefully dropped Guo’s case shortly after the cyberattack, fearing it could not withstand further Chinese electronic coercion.

Electronic forensic analysts traced the cyber attackers back to China. The pattern followed the same tactic used by Russian intelligence during the 2016 presidential election—that is, Russian intelligence, working in parallel with a troll farm in St. Petersburg, carried out covert cyberattacks and then released the contents of the hacked material online.

In the case of Guo’s asylum request, Chinese hackers accessed computers at Clark Hill belonging to attorney Thomas Ragland, who represented Guo. Beginning September 23, 2017, the hackers posted stolen documents under a Twitter persona dubbed @twiSpectre. The objective was unmistakable: China was trying to force the US government to deny Guo political asylum by revealing details of the documents and then asserting through @twiSpectre that Guo had supplied inaccurate information on his asylum request. The persona was created that month, an indication it was created solely as part of the Chinese propaganda campaign.

The leaked documents included a bank transfer note from Hong Kong and documents from Interpol. One of the more sophisticated parts of the operation was a disclosure by the Chinese information operation that two FBI agents had violated Bureau rules by assisting Guo with a visa to Britain. The Chinese claimed in a posted statement, allegedly from an FBI whistleblower, that the FBI agents “fell victim inadvertently by contacting Miles Kwok.”

Another Twitter posting sought to ridicule Guo regarding the leaked documents, asking him, “Is your heart tough enough seeing this?”

“Miles, you burnt the bridge and made a plan B,” the hacker said, calling the document disclosing Guo’s payment to a replacement law firm “firefighting your pile of slurry in asylum filing.”

The forty tweets posted between September 20 and September 27, 2017, were quickly removed by Twitter. Among the leaked documents was one showing that between January and May 2017, Chinese government officials contacted Guo thirty times, urging him to cooperate with the regime in exchange for solving his “political problems.”

In one of those visits, four Chinese intelligence officials traveled to New York City in May 2017 and met with Guo at his residence on Fifth Avenue. Guo identified the two most important officials as Sun Lijun, vice minister of the Public Security Ministry and Liu Yanpang, a senior Public Security Ministry official. Both officials were there to try and convince the Trump administration to forcibly repatriate Guo back to China amid claims of corruption.

Liu, who had diplomatic immunity, would be arrested by the FBI for violating visa rules and his cell phone and laptop were confiscated before he was allowed to leave the country.

The Chinese officials, during meetings in Washington and New York, as well as by phone, threatened Guo, his family, and business associates. To entice him, they told Guo that if he remained silent, the government would release Guo’s assets, worth an estimated $17’billion, that are frozen in Chinese banks. The message was explicit: Guo must stop exposing corruption among Chinese officials, must not cooperate with the US government and its intelligence agencies, and must not oppose the ruling Chinese Communist Party nor call for democratic reforms in China. If he agreed to those conditions, Beijing was offering to release several of his family members and employees who had been imprisoned by the government and unfreeze the assets. Chinese authorities had not yet seized Guo’s Pangu Plaza, the dragon-shaped hotel and office complex located near the Beijing Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium—one of several projects that catapulted Guo into the ranks of wealthy, connected Chinese business leaders.

“I refused to do what they asked and therefore I’m a prime target of certain very powerful figures in the Chinese government,” Guo said of the officials who sought to coerce him into silence. He rejected their appeals and vowed to continue speaking out.

Guo was angered by Hudson’s cancellation and appeasement of China. “I am shocked at Hudson’s cancellation, but at the same time I am also pleased the issue has proven to the American people and people of the world my repeated warning of the virulence and harmfulness of the Chinese kleptocrats’ long reach,” he said. “The significance and value of this incident has surpassed my [canceled] talk at Hudson.”

Months after the Hudson incident, an even more bizarre conspiracy was launched by the People’s Republic of China that would involve a $3’billion scheme to lobby the Trump administration to force Guo’s return to China. The program involved Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho, known as Jho Low, and rapper Prakazrel “Pras” Michel, who also is a record producer, songwriter, and actor and one of the founding members of the hip-hop group, Fugees.

Operating through still undisclosed contacts in the Chinese government, Low and Michel hatched a scheme to convince the Trump administration to give up Guo. The plan was revealed in the hacked emails of Elliott Broidy, who at one time was a senior Republican Party finance official. To carry out the plan, the two men worked together with Broidy and his wife, who were plugged in to the highest reaches of the Trump administration.

Broidy is a Los Angeles–based venture capitalist, and one of the high-rolling political donors who supported the Trump presidential bid early on in its campaign. After Trump’s election in November 2016, Broidy became deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee, a position that gave him access to some of the most senior administration officials including White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

In addition to the hacked emails, the Chinese government-backed scheme to repatriate Guo was outlined in court papers in the case of a Justice Department official, George Higginbotham, who pleaded guilty to helping launder tens of millions of dollars of Chinese money for the secret influence campaign launched by Low and Michel. In November 2017, the Justice Department issued a forfeiture notice for nearly $74’million to US banks Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, and Citibank in a bid to recover the money.

Guo was astonished at the secret plan and noted the plot was evidence of what he wryly called “my $3 billion life.”

“Few people in the world have price tags on their lives,” Guo said after the scheme was first exposed in emails Broidy has said were obtained by hackers working for the government of the Persian Gulf state of Qatar. “Even fewer have price tags worth billions offered by the most powerful dictatorship in human history. I am one of those few.”

The Chinese repatriation scheme was a derivative of a Malaysian scheme to fund Broidy and use his connections within the Trump administration to end a US money-laundering probe into 1Malaysia Development Berhad, known as 1MDB. The strategic investment and development company is owned by the Malaysian government through the Ministry of Finance. Low and others were being investigated for laundering hundreds of millions of dollars in stolen 1MDB funds into the United States. More than $1’billion of the laundered money was used to buy luxury real estate, including a Beverly Hills hotel, a jet aircraft, and jewelry, in addition to financing Hollywood motion pictures, including The Wolf of Wall Street. The funds also were used to pay bribes.

Low, a fugitive who would be indicted in October 2018 and charged with making bribes under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, initially approached Michel in 2016 and sought the entertainer’s help in working out a deal with the 1MDB investigation. According to court papers in the Higginbotham plea, Michel then contacted Robin Rosenzweig, Broidy’s wife, who recommended that Michel retain her law firm, Colfax Law Office, of which she was the chief operating officer. Low approved, then both Brody and Rosenzweig met with Michel. During the meeting, Broidy agreed to work with the two men but insisted that payments not come directly from Low. He wanted $15’million, but the price was negotiated down to $8’million. By March, the Broidys had worked out an agreement where in exchange for lobbying for the Justice Department to end the 1MDB probe, Low would pay an additional $75’million if the case was dropped in six months, or $50’million if it took a year. Broidy and his lawyers declined to discuss the matter.

According to Higginbotham, in May 2017, Michel told him that Low had made a second lobbying request involving the Trump administration, separate from the Malaysian 1MDB case. The effort was described as “potentially more lucrative” than the money Malaysia was offering to pay in the 1MDB matter.

Michel explained that Low wanted Guo Wengui, whom he described as a former resident of China living in the United States on a temporary visa and who has publicly criticized China’s leadership, to be removed from the United States and sent back to China. He further said that Broidy and others would use their political connections to lobby US government officials to have Guo sent back.

Two months later, Michel told Higgenbotham to meet with Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai as part of the Guo repatriation scheme, and the meeting took place at the Chinese Embassy on July 16, 2017.

Higginbotham told the ambassador he was meeting with him at the embassy as a private citizen and not as a Justice Department official. The official then said he had a specific message for him from Low: US government officials were working on the Guo matter, and there would be additional information in the future concerning the logistics of repatriating Guo back to China. After the meeting, Higginbotham reported to Michel what was discussed, and Michel later reported back to Low that he was satisfied with the embassy meeting.

Between May and September 2017, “tens of millions of dollars” were transferred by a foreign Chinese company to bank accounts controlled by Michel, the court filing states. The money was to be used by Broidy and others to lobby the Trump administration to resolve the 1MDB case—and to have Guo forcibly repatriated.

Higginbotham was a Justice Department congressional affairs official and pleaded guilty of conspiracy to deceive US banks about the source of the funds to use in lobbying on behalf of China and Low. Low disappeared and is believed to be residing in Shanghai. He is wanted for embezzling millions from 1MDB. Michel was indicted by a federal grand jury in April 2019 on four counts of conspiring with Low to make and conceal foreign campaign contributions. Prosecutors said Low directed that more than $21.6 million be transferred from foreign entities to Michel’s bank accounts in order to funnel money into a 2012 presidential election candidate who was not identified by name. Both Low and Michel denied the charges.

An email dated May 6, 2017, from Broidy to his wife outlined the plan regarding Guo. According to Broidy, the Malaysians “offered a lucrative opportunity: China wants to extradite from the US Guo Wengui who is very critical of President Xi Jinping and now [lives] as a fugitive in NYC.” Broidy said that Guo had defrauded investors of $3’billion in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. “I believe a negotiation can take place, which includes Abu Dhabi receiving its $3 billion back and Abu Dhabi extraditing Guo from the US to Abu Dhabi,” Broidy said. Later, Abu Dhabi would extradite Guo to China. “I was told that China would pay us and if the facts are indeed correct, I assume Abu Dhabi would feel obliged to pay a fee as well.”

Broidy then explained Malaysia recently gave Abu Dhabi $1.2’billion to repay a debt and Malaysia is receiving assistance from China—including the settlement payment to Abu Dhabi. Malaysia wanted Broidy to assist China and China had an additional deal for him. “I told them USA first and I cannot and will not do defense or Intel biz with China,” he stated. “They told me to get involved on Guo, which is not sensitive to national security of the US.”

Both were wrong. Guo is a valued resource to US law enforcement and intelligence agencies and also a major target for Chinese intelligence that wants to silence him.

Guo called the plan an astonishing story and part of a Chinese government plot to pay $3 billion for his life plus a $100’million in fees for those involved in the conspiracy. “According to their plan, I would be shipped from the United States via multiple countries to China, where prison, torture, and death would be awaiting me,” he said. “I only avoided such misery because of the help and protection from the great America.”

“I know for a fact that Low Taek Jho has a very special relationship with some top leaders in China,” Guo said. The young man, who did not come from substantial wealth, seemed to have real deep pockets since his early twenties. He controls billions in real estate in New York and Los Angeles and plays the big shot in Hollywood. Low’s expensive lifestyle earned him the nickname “the Whale.” He once spent $1.8’million to hold a lavish party for Hollywood socialite Paris Hilton.

Guo denied Broidy’s claim he defrauded Abu Dhabi. “The Abu Dhabi government never accused me of any wrongdoing. The Chinese made up lots of allegations simply because I spoke out. Clearly, keeping me quiet was the priority,” he said.

One person involved in assisting the Chinese scheme was identified in the emails as Nickie Lum Davis who took part in Low’s lobbying operation as a consultant. The hacked emails show that Davis, who co-owns the Hawaii-based financial firm LNS Capital with her husband, Larry Davis, signed a contract with Low and served as a consultant to Robin Rosenzweig and her law firm. Davis was well connected to China as indicated by her obtaining an internal list of criminal allegations from the Chinese government against Guo—a list that was to be used in lobbying the Trump administration.

According to the hacked emails, Davis also was in contact with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and exchanged letters with him. In one, Sessions regretted he was unable to meet with Sun Lijun—the same Public Security Ministry official who threatened Guo. Sun holds the rank of lieutenant general and is in charge of “political defense” and international espionage operations.

In a response to Davis written May 28, 2017, Sessions wrote that if he had met with Sun he would have voiced his concerns about illicit Chinese activities in the United States. “We have received reports that Chinese law enforcement teams have continued to travel to the US in order to persuade a fugitive to return to China in a manner of US law and in a manner contrary to US law,” he stated, referring to the New York incident with Guo.

At around the same time, Wynn, the Las Vegas gambling tycoon and chairman of the RNC finance committee, gave the letter to Trump from Xi asking for Guo’s extradition. Wynn, despite the denial by his spokesman, is believed to have been pressured into delivering the letter based on his Macao casino ownership, which relies on the Chinese-controlled local government for permission to operate.

Davis, according to a reply email to Sessions, suggested she was in contact with the Chinese government. “The issues are quite important and I have timely reported them to Beijing and Beijing will take them seriously,” she stated in a May 26 email headed “Dear atty general sessions.” She noted the vice minister has “brought important messages on the issues that you are concerned about. He hopes to brief you in person and deliver to you in person a letter from mr. Guo shengkun – state counselor and min of public security.” Davis also relayed that planned meetings with FBI and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials for that morning were canceled.

“Thank u again for your letter I look forward to working with you more closely to turn our presidents’ dialogue at mar lago into reality and to ensure the successful law enforcement and cyber security dialogue,” Davis concluded.

The meeting between Sessions and Guo Shengkun would take place the same week of the canceled Hudson meeting in October that year, and Sessions used the opportunity to criticize China for its hack of Hudson’s computer network.

A month after the exchange of letters between Davis and Sessions, China stepped up efforts to force the extradition of Guo. Davis emailed the Broidys a Hong Kong government document listing Guo and his wife, son, and daughter as targets of a Hong Kong request for extradition falsely accusing the dissident (according to Guo) of using false documents to obtain US visas. China also promised to return two American prisoners being held in China if Guo were repatriated.

“Thanks to the US government and the American legal system, the Chinese failed to have me extradited,” Guo said. “My political asylum application is now being processed in court. Much of the information I obtained, especially that related to China’s attempt to corrupt American society, has been provided [to] and processed by American authorities. Nevertheless, Americans should be alarmed by the long arm of the Chinese government and take the necessary steps to protect American interests and national security.”

The case of Guo Wengui and China’s attempts to lobby, coerce, and hack the United States into returning a dissident show the extent to which Beijing will go to influence American society. China’s influence goals are specific and strategic: The highest priority is to maintain the dictatorial and near totalitarian control of the Communist Party of China. Aligned with these objectives are to modernize China as the most powerful country in the world and to seize the island of Taiwan.

Former American intelligence official Peter Mattis believes China influence and interference abroad is driven by a need to control the political landscape as defined in a 2015 national security law. The law defines Chinese national security so broadly that it permits preempting threats and preventing their emergence. Security also is part of the realm of ideas so that what people think is potentially dangerous. “The combination of these themes—preemption in the world of ideas—creates an imperative for the Party to alter the world in which it operates—to shape how China and its current Party-state are understood in the minds of foreign elites,” Mattis, a research fellow in China studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, stated in testimony to a congressional China commission.

In a CCP communique made public in April 2013, the Party identified the dangerous ideas that are opposed at all costs. They include the threat of any promotion of constitutional democracy, civil society, and Western concepts of a free and open press. The threat is not theoretical, and China has used the rationale in 2015 to forcibly abduct and hold five Hong Kong booksellers for selling books that have been banned in China. Espionage laws were expanded to cover activities beyond spying to include what the Chinese regulation calls “fabricating or distorting facts, publishing or disseminating words or information that endanger state security.”

The key unit in charge of aggressive influence operations is the United Front Work Department, a Leninist control mechanism adapted from the Soviet Union that is summed up as “mobilize Party friends and strike at Party enemies”—like Guo Wengui. Mattis has identified the key lines of effort for Chinese influence and interference operations. They include shaping the context, controlling the large overseas Chinese community, and targeting the “political core” of foreign enemies.

In addition to buying Chinese-language newspapers and radio outlets, China’s influence operations extend even to such institutions as the venerable wire news service, the Associated Press. In December 2018, several members of Congress wrote to the Associated Press (AP) to question the service’s relationship with the state-run propaganda outlet Xinhua.

A month before, AP Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt met in Beijing with Xinhua President Cai Mingzhao, who penned an agreement to broaden cooperation in new media, artificial intelligence applications, and economic information.

Concerned by Chinese influence, US lawmakers stated in a letter to Pruitt: “In sharp contrast to the AP’s independent journalism, Xinhua’s core mission is to shape public opinion in ways sympathetic to the CCP’s legitimacy and behavior.” The missive was signed by Representatives Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Brad Sherman (D-CA), and Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR), Mark R. Warner (D-VA), and Marco Rubio (R-FL).

“The net effect of these activities is to reflect the CCP’s power and authority back into China for PRC citizens to hear and see. This highlights the strength of the party and the absence of an international challenge to its legitimacy and authority,” Mattis said.)

As shown in the Guo case, China utilizes people with access to centers of power to do its bidding. These include the many former government officials and influential analysts who can be controlled with money or access to China—who can be routinely denied visas to travel to China as a way to coerce China experts into avoiding any comments or writings that are contrary to the CCP. The unofficial leaders of the China lobby are former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Along with many like-minded pro- China business people, they arrange deals for American businesses and other businesses in China. Mattis explains how it works:

“These consultants, especially former officials, are paid by the US business, but Beijing may [have] directed the company to engage this or that consultant as a way to reward their service. . . . The business gains access to China. The consultant gets paid and then assists the CCP in delivering its reassuring messages to colleagues still serving in government. The rewards of this approach, especially as retiring government officials, can be quite lucrative. For example, former Australian trade minister Andrew Robb received an AUS$880,000 per year consulting contract with a Chinese firm after he le” government in 2016.”

The Pentagon highlighted the danger of Chinese influence operations for the first time in years in its 2019 annual report on the Chinese military. The report identified the PLA’s use of “Three Warfares”—psychological warfare, public opinion warfare, and legal warfare. The warfares are used in influence operations that target cultural institutions; media organizations; and business, academic, and policy communities in the United States, other countries, and international institutions. The goal is to achieve outcomes favorable to China’s security and military strategy objectives. “China’s foreign influence activities are predominately focused on establishing and maintaining power brokers within a foreign government to promote policies that China believes will facilitate China’s rise, despite China’s stated position of not interfering in foreign countries’ internal affairs,” the report stated.

The danger of China influence, interference, and propaganda is that it is producing a steady erosion of American national sovereignty in many areas, such as undermining the fundamental electoral process of democracy and government policymaking and ultimately infringing on fundamental civil rights of Americans. This growing threat cannot be ignored and must be countered if the United States is to remain a free and open society

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