Rob La Terza

In recent days, President Trump has accused his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, of improperly using his position to help his son Hunter Biden’s business fortunes. On October 3, Trump declared to reporters that China should investigate the Bidens’ business dealings [1]. The allegations Trump has made against the Bidens center around a trip that Joe Biden and Hunter Biden made to China in 2013. After the trip, Hunter Biden joined the board of an investment advisory company that “partnered with Chinese entities.” [1]. Trump alleges that Hunter Biden made an illegitimate deal with Chinese businesses and implied that Joe Biden may have helped him, saying, “When Biden’s son walks out of China with $1.5 billion in a fund, and the biggest funds in the world can’t get money out of China, and he’s there for one quick meeting and he flies in on Air Force Two, I think that’s a horrible thing.” [2].

Trump’s allegation repeated claims by conservative author Peter Schweizer, who had previously claimed that ten days after the 2013 trip, “Hunter Biden’s firm scored a $1.5 billion deal with a subsidiary of the Chinese government’s Bank of China.” Schweizer claimed that the firm, Rosemont Seneca, and the Bank of China established an investment fund called Bohai Harvest RST (BHR) together [2]. This firm, according to Schweizer based on his interview of its CEO Jonathan Li, “was involved in a mixture of private enterprise and state-owned enterprise.” Hunter Biden joined BHR’s board 12 days after the trip [3].

A lawyer representing Hunter Biden, George Mesires, agrees that Biden had business in China, but says that Schweizer’s claims were inaccurate [3]. Mesires said that Biden was on a board that advised potential investors rather than raising money [3]. Although Biden was on the board, he had no financial stake in the company until 2017, at which point he held a “10 percent minority interest” in the firm rather than owning it [2]. Mesires also disputed the $1.5 billion figure, saying that BHR only ever managed $4.2 million, nowhere close to $1.5 billion [3].

Moreover, Mesires claims that Hunter Biden did not conduct any business during his trip to China [2]. PolitiFact reports that a New Yorker profile claimed that Hunter Biden “arranged a quick meeting in the lobby of the American delegation’s hotel in Beijing between Vice President Biden and BHR CEO Li.” [2] The profile also claims that Hunter Biden met with Li for a “social meeting” after this quick lobby meeting [2]. Mesires maintains that this meeting was purely social and had nothing to do with business.

The veracity of Trump’s claims has been widely panned by fact checkers, with The Washington Post’s Fact Checker giving the claim four Pinocchios, its classification for egregious falsehoods [3]. Experts interviewed by PolitiFact say that Hunter Biden’s actions in China were legitimate, but that as the son of a vice president, Biden would be better served to avoid any perception of conflicts of interest. A scholar at Columbia University’s Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, Lincoln A. Mitchell, noted that, “In countries like Ukraine and China, regardless of what Hunter Biden might think or say, people want to do business with him almost entirely because of who his father is.” [2]. Although the younger Biden may well have benefitted from his family name over the course of his career, there is no evidence suggesting that his or his father’s actions in China were improper, and no evidence supporting the claim that he left China with $1.5 billion.

Rob La Terza is an intern in The Carter Center’s China Program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Carter Center. 

References:
1. Rebecca Ballhaus, Siobhan Hughes, and Dustin Volz. “Trump Administration Used Potential Meeting to Pressure Ukraine on Biden, Texts Indicate.” Wsj.com.” The Wall Street Journal. Accessed October 4, 2019.

2. Louis Jacobson. “Trump’s Accusations on Hunter Biden and China: A Closer Look.” PolitiFact. Accessed October 4, 2019.

3. Glenn Kessler. “Trump’s False Claims about Hunter Biden’s China Dealings.” WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post, last modified Sep 26.