Axio: Bush Family Reaches $5 Million Deal with China Influence Group

A nonprofit organization affiliated with the late President George H.W. Bush has agreed to accept $5 million from the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation, a policy organization at the center of China’s powerful influence on the United States, Axios has learned. The China-U.S. Exchange Foundation is chaired by former Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa. According to Axios, as tensions between the United States and China have escalated, the leaders of the George H.W. Bush Foundation for U.S.-China Relations have made noises about building closer ties – criticizing Beijing in some cases while taking China at its word on some major geopolitical issues.

According to Axios, a written agreement was obtained that spells out the details of a $5 million grant from the China-US Exchange Foundation to the Bush China Foundation, which was established in 2017 with the former president’s blessing.

The leadership of the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation has close ties to Chinese government officials, and the organization is known as an arm of Beijing’s political influence operation. It has provided a significant share of funding for the Bush group’s efforts to improve U.S.-China relations.

Bush China Foundation spokeswoman Leslie Reagan confirmed the authenticity of the agreement, but stressed that the China-US Exchange Foundation’s funding has no impact on its policy work. The Bush China Foundation has taken a very strong independent stance on almost every major issue in U.S.-China relations; in the process, we have often been sharply critical of China’s policies and actions when we thought it was worthwhile,” she said. According to Reagan, the organization rejects the notion that the Bush China Foundation is a spokesperson for Chinese political interests.

The grant agreement, dated Sept. 19, 2019, and signed by both parties, calls for the China-US Exchange Foundation to donate $1 million per year to the Bush China Foundation from 2019 through 2023. Tax filings covering May through December 2019 show that the Bush China Foundation brought in just under $1.2 million in total contributions, meaning that the Sino-American Exchange Foundation’s contributions could account for a significant portion of its revenue.

The funds are intended to support the Bush China Foundation’s efforts to promote “a practical, constructive, commercially strong, mutually beneficial and politically sustainable bilateral relationship,” according to the agreement.

The Bush China Foundation agreed to keep the China-United States Exchange Foundation informed of its activities “to ensure that the goals of both sides continue to be aligned.”

According to the report, the Hong Kong-based China-US Exchange Foundation is run by former Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa. It describes itself as “an independent, nonprofit and nongovernmental foundation.”

David Firestein, president of the Bush China Foundation, which previously headed the University of Texas’ China Public Policy Center, proposed in 2017 that the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation fund the center. The plan was rejected after university faculty noted the organization’s ties to the Communist Party.

In response to an inquiry from Axios, Reagan, a spokesman for the Bush China Foundation, provided a list of high-profile political issues on which Firestein has criticized the Chinese government, the report said. But the group’s leadership has echoed the Chinese government’s line in other ways.

Founder and chairman Neil Bush, the third son of George H.W. Bush, spoke at a conference organized by China’s foreign ministry in 2019, blaming “outside influence” for the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. The remarks were widely circulated by Chinese state-run media. Bush also told the 2019 forum in Hong Kong organized by the China-US Exchange Foundation, which Tung chairs, that some U.S. complaints about human rights abuses, mass surveillance and foreign-influenced activities in China are “based on half-truths or outright fake news.”

That Axios report said Bush has longstanding business ties in the country. Chinese executives at a real estate investment firm he runs illegally donated $1.3 million to a super PAC supporting his brother Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign.