The business ties between the United States and China have been highlighted during the current state visit of the Chinese government to Washington. While China has long registered to lobby and influence opinions in the United States under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, more recently Chinese companies have begun to sign lobbying firms and register under the Lobbying Disclosure Act to lobby Congress and the Executive Branch.
In 2010, four Chinese businesses and trade associations reported lobbying activity to the Secretary of the Senate’s office. These include Huawei Tech. Investment, China-United States Exchange Foundation, Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery, and BGP Inc., the Chinese national petroleum company.
The lobbying spending by these four organizations–$425,000–dwarfs all previous lobbying spending by Chinese firms registering lobbyists under the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA). In 2005, the first year that any significant lobbying was reporting under the LDA, three Chinese firms reported spending $290,000 on lobbying.
LDA filings that report spending and activity by Chinese firms have been in the single digits for a decade. There are other filings by firms who report no money spent and no activity as well. The four firms registered under the LDA and reporting activity and money spent ties the 2006 number for most active Chinese registrants.
Most of the lobbying spending in 2010 comes from Huawei Tech., a major telecommunications firm in China, which contracted with the lobbying firm APCO Worldwide. The lobbyists with the Huawei Tech. portfolio include Don Bonker, a former congressman, Brian McLaughlin, former staffer for Sen. Dick Durbin, Barry Schumacher, former staffer for Florida Gov. Bob Graham, and Alison Wolpert. Huawei Tech. has spent $350,000 on lobbying during the second half of 2010.
Huawei Tech. is currently attempting to secure an equipment supplies contract with Sprint Nextel, but is being hampered by security concerns, including concerns that the firm is connected to the Chinese military. In their efforts to secure the contract Huawei Tech. filed a joint bid with the well-connected telecom consultancy Amerilink. Amerilink boasts a board that includes deputy secretary of defense Gordon England, former House minority leader Dick Gephardt, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff William Owens, and former World Bank president James Wolfensohn.
BGP, Inc., a seismic survey company wholly owned by the Chinese National Petroleum Company, a state-owned enterprise, was also lobbying Congress in support of a venture with a U.S. firm. BGP sought support from Congress in its bid to form a joint company with ION Geophysical Corp. That bid was accepted by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) and the two companies created the company INOVA with BGP taking a 51% ownership stake.
BGP had hired The Glover Park Group, a Democratic aligned lobbying firm, to help them with outreach to Congress. The lobbying team included former staffers to Sen. Byron Dorgan and former minority leader Gephardt.
Not counted in the four firms that are active registrants is the recently registered company Baidu. Baidu, the Chinese search engine controlled by the government, registered as a client of Sidley Austin. Baidu is trying to influence the annual Special Report 301 to be released by the Office of the United State Trade Representative. In 2010, the USTR report called out Baidu for providing the platform for the majority of illegal downloads in China. Intellectual property violations are contentious issue between the U.S. government and business firms and the Chinese government.
Despite China’s emerging business ties to the U.S. there are still few firms registering under the LDA to lobby. Countries that have long-standing ties like Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland all report more business registering and more money spent. Chinese business spending in 2010, largely fueled by Huawei Tech’s Sprint Nextel bid, does, however, put the country’s businesses into the highest levels of spending by foreign companies registering under the LDA.