Donald Trump’s China adviser Michael Pillsbury gathered information from Beijing on Hunter Biden, report says

Owen Churchill

A China adviser to US President Donald Trump gathered information from Beijing officials regarding Hunter Biden, the Financial Times reported on Thursday, in the wake of Trump’s call for China to investigate the son of his political opponent Joe Biden.

Michael Pillsbury, who heads Chinese strategy at the Washington-based Hudson Institute, told the newspaper in an email that he had received “quite a bit of background on Hunter Biden from the Chinese” during a trip to Beijing last week.

But in an appearance on C-Span later on Thursday, Pillsbury denied that he had made the comments or even been interviewed by the Financial Times about the Hunter Biden matter, prompting the journalist who reported the story to post a screenshot of the email exchange to Twitter.

Pillsbury told the network that he had raised the Bidens with government officials he met during his trip to China, but said that they had refused to discuss the matter. “I’d never seen them so … secretive about an issue,” he said.

The China hawk serves as an outside adviser to Trump, who last year called him “the leading authority on China”.

Last Thursday, Trump publicly appealed to Beijing to investigate the business dealings of Hunter Biden in China as well as any impropriety on the part of his father, a leading Democratic presidential contender.

Despite lack of any evidence implicating the Bidens in any wrongdoing, Trump has accused Hunter Biden of “scamming” China of US$1.5 billion via a private equity fund, and alleged that China allowed it to happen in exchange for a “sweetheart deal” on trade with the Obama administration, in which Joe Biden served as vice-president.

Pillsbury told C-Span on Thursday that Trump had not told him to broach the issue of the Bidens with officials in Beijing.

The call for a foreign power to investigate a political opponent came on the heels of similar appeals that Trump has made to the government of Ukraine, a request that prompted Democrats to launch an impeachment inquiry examining whether the US leader held up military aid to Kiev to secure the investigation.

Explained: Trump’s US$1.5 billion claims and Biden son’s dealings in China

Amid the outcry over Trump’s open-air appeal to China, in many arenas a strategic adversary of the US, Republicans jumped into crisis-management mode, either amplifying Trump’s own claims that he was concerned solely about corruption and not political gain, or arguing that the request was not serious.

“I don’t think that’s a real request,” Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, told reporters last Friday. “I think he did it to gig [the media].”

Trump retweeted a video of Rubio’s remarks, but has also doubled down and defended his remarks in public.

When asked on Thursday whether he was joking in his request to Beijing, Trump said, “Frankly, are far as I'm concerned, if China wants to look into something, I think that's great.”

Joe Biden, who was US vice-president at the time, with his son Hunter in Beijing in December 2013. Photo: EPA-EFE

Beijing said this week it had no plans to take Trump up on his offer, citing its long-standing “principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries”.

The Office of the United States Trade Representative did not respond to inquiries about whether either side had raised the Hunter Biden issue during trade negotiations in Washington this week.

The issue is one of a number of bilateral friction points that have cast a shadow over the talks, which wrapped up on Thursday afternoon to be followed on Friday by a White House meeting between Trump and China’s vice-premier, Liu He, Beijing’s chief negotiator.

China rejects Trump’s call to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden

Deputy-level talks on Monday and Tuesday coincided with unexpected actions by the US administration to sanction Chinese officials, government entities and private companies over the ongoing mass internment of largely Muslim ethnic minority groups in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

Those talks, sources told the South China Morning Post, failed to make any meaningful progress on critical areas of the trade dispute, though hopes for a potential thaw in the stand-off rose when Trump announced on Thursday that he would be hosting Liu on Friday.

Meetings between the two have previously tended to herald some progress, including promises of agricultural purchases and delays in tariff increases.

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