Liz Cheney's Hunter Biden problem: Husband's firm reps China companies, dictatorial regimes

Philip Perry is a partner at Latham & Watkins, which works on behalf of foreign entities, including some flagged as threats to U.S. national security.

Published: February 8, 2022 6:35pm

Updated: February 8, 2022 11:43pm

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) called on the U.S. to stand up to the "generational threat" posed by China while unveiling a major report on Beijing's "malign behavior" at the same time her husband's law firm was working on behalf of companies linked to China's military, intelligence, and security services.

As Cheney stood at the podium, her husband Philip Perry’s law firm was cashing in on legal and lobbying work that his employer — Latham & Watkins (LW), one of the largest law firms in the world — was doing for a host of Chinese companies, some of which were involved in the kind of activity that Cheney was warning had to be stopped.

All of LW's work discussed in this article was legal, and Perry didn't work directly on these accounts. But as a partner at the firm, he benefits and profits from all its work.

Perry's firm's work for Chinese entities and countries whose human rights abuses and authoritarian rule have troubled the U.S. for years seems to conflict with his wife's frequent calls for America to stand up to autocratic regimes like China. The dynamic is one familiar to longtime observers of Washington, D.C.: a power couple calling out the very behavior from which they benefit.

"It's the kind of say one thing do another that Americans hate in Washington, D.C.," former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Tuesday. "Liz Cheney will have a lot of explaining to do to the Wyoming voters."

In September 2020, House Republicans publicized the final version of an extensive report conducted by the China Task Force, a body comprised of 15 members of Congress, including Cheney. The review examined the multifaceted threat to the U.S. presented by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

"China is rapidly developing a military force that is capable of winning regional conflicts and they're expanding their military footprint globally," Cheney said at a press conference where the report was unveiled. "The government of China and the Chinese Communist Party have gone to school on the United States — they've looked at our capabilities ... and they have developed capabilities to counter those.

"We must counter the Chinese Communist Party globally as it seeks to establish more robust logistics and basing infrastructure around the world as it seeks to project its own military power. It is very important for everyone to note that we are in the midst of a battle between freedom and totalitarianism. The question we all face is whether the United States and our allies will set the rules of the road into the future or whether the Chinese Communist Party and that authoritarian, totalitarian regime will set the rules of the road."

The month before Cheney's press conference, LW "advised" Tencent, the mammoth Chinese technology company, on becoming a shareholder in Voodoo, a leading video game developer.

The month after Cheney's press conference, LW represented Tencent on a merger between two companies that formed a wholly owned subsidiary under Tencent's umbrella.

Tencent is one of 15 companies designated by Beijing "to facilitate industry-wide coordination" with the Chinese government on artificial intelligence (AI), according to a Pentagon report to Congress from last year.

Analysts believe AI will play a central, "game-changing" role in China's military innovation and future warfare strategy and say it's already making a difference.

The CIA concluded Tencent received funding from the Chinese Ministry of State Security early on in its foundation when they were trying to build the so-called Great Firewall to censor the internet inside China, Foreign Policy reported in 2020. Tencent denied the allegations.

Tencent, which LW has represented on multiple occasions, has also been researching quantum computing since 2018 and is "entrenched in the Chinese government's high-tech, dual-use innovation drive," according to RWR Advisory Group, which highlighted several examples of Tencent's ties to the Chinese military. "These dual-use applications have been designated by the Chinese government as strategic military resources and key to civil-military fusion efforts."

Experts note the line between what's meant for civilian use and military application is non-existent in China.

"While the U.S. government often twists itself into knots determining what is classified or unclassified, the Chinese government often sees little-to-no distinction," said Craig Singleton, an adjunct China fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "Instead, Beijing is focused on collecting and harnessing any and all useful information to power its defense modernization. This includes everything from foundational knowledge taught on U.S. college campuses to cutting edge research, much of which is not technically classified but still has potential military applications."

The Chinese government "has not been transparent about its defense build-up ... thereby making it very difficult to determine which kinds of cooperation pose a national security risk," Singleton added. "These disciplines vary widely, from specialties such as artificial intelligence and armaments technology to fields not typically associated with the defense industry, including geology."

LW has also advised companies forging partnerships with Alibaba — another major Chinese tech firm which, like Tencent, is pursuing cutting-edge technological research with military applications.

In January 2019, executives from Alibaba reportedly met with representatives from the Military-Civilian Fusion Division of the Xi'an Development and Reform Commission and the Xi'an Weapons Science & Technology Industrial Base to discuss collaboration.

The previous year, the vice president of Alibaba Cloud Computing, Song Jie, spoke at the inaugural Military Big Data Forum hosted by the Chinese military's Academy of Military Sciences.

The Pentagon and State Department have long been concerned about Alibaba and Tencent sharing data on U.S. citizens with the Chinese government. Last year, the Trump administration considered prohibiting Americans from investing in either company over its alleged ties to China's military and security services but ultimately shelved the plan after the Treasury Department expressed concerns that doing so would trigger widespread economic fallout.

LW has done legal and lobbying work for numerous other companies in both Hong Kong and mainland China, according to a review of press releases from the firm's extensive China Practice. Indeed, LW has helped push through billion-dollar deals for Tencent and other Chinese companies.

"Well, I guess Joe Biden and Hunter Biden aren't the only politicians in the swamp who are doing deals with the Chinese Communist Party," Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) quipped during an interview on the "Just the News" television program. "It's exactly the kind of thing that everyday Americans are sick and tired of."

The China Task Force report, which Cheney endorsed, called for divesting from companies with ties to the Chinese military.

In China today, "the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] controls every aspect of government business, society, and personal life," the report stated. China's "entire civil government is subservient to the CCP."

"All companies are required to establish CCP cells in their operations and support CCP security agencies," the report continued. "The CCP embeds its members in every company and organization."

Beyond China, LW has aided other foreign entities under scrutiny for their human rights records.

For example, the firm advised Etihad Etisalat, or Mobily, a leading telecommunications operator in Saudi Arabia, in connection with a $200 million facility made available by Export Development Canada.

In September 2019, to cite another example, LW agreed to lobby on behalf of the Ministry of Justice for the Republic of Kazakhstan, registering with the Justice Department in accordance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

Thus far, LW has received at least $111,717 from Kazakhstan for its lobbying services. LW has also advised Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund.

Kazakhstan "heavily restricts freedom of assembly, speech, and religion" and has jailed outspoken opponents of its government, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

"A leadership change in Kazakhstan in 2019 did not significantly improve respect for human rights," HRW wrote in its World Report 2020. The report added that, after an election marred by irregularities in June 2019, "authorities responded to widespread peaceful protests around the elections with mass detentions" and "intensified harassment of perceived or actual opposition members."

The Ministry of Justice is responsible for overseeing the country's legal agencies.

China and Kazakhstan are two countries that Hunter Biden’s firm also targeted for business while his father was vice president during the Obama years.

LW previously agreed to lobby on behalf of the Ministry of Defense for the Republic of Belarus, filing with the Justice Department in 1993 and terminating the agreement in 1994. The focus of the lobbying concerned the "appropriation and disbursement" of funds related to the decommissioning of Soviet weapons of mass destruction.

At the time, Belarus had yet to hold elections or to approve a new constitution after declaring independence after the fall of the Soviet Union.

"Belarus' form of government continues to parallel closely that of the former Soviet Union," the State Department wrote in its State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993.

In a statement to Just the News, Perry clarified his role in his firm's dealings with foreign entities.

"I have not personally represented China, an entity owned by China, Kazakhstan, or Belarus," he said. "I have not registered on behalf of any foreign entity under the Foreign Agents Registration Act at any point in time."

LW does not appear on the Department of Justice's list of foreign agents registered as representing the government of China.

"Any use of my name by my former law firm in a registration filed 31 years ago for the Embassy of Belgium was in error," Perry added, referring to his name being listed on a FARA filing by his ex-employer, Squire, Sanders, & Dempsey, in the early 1990s.

Cheney's office didn't respond to a request for comment for this story.

However, Cheney has spoken publicly about the importance of the U.S. promoting human rights abroad and, since the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, has accused former President Trump and Republicans who support him of undermining American democracy.

At the same time, however, her husband has been earning money as a partner at LW, which boasts being the second highest grossing law firm in the world. According to LW, its profit per equity partner is $4,520,000.

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