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Biden’s new climate envoy had a close relationship with CCP/Chinese United Front influence group

The Biden Administration continues to emphasize climate cooperation with China, even as the relationship grows more confrontational. The new climate envoy has a history of favorable negotiations with China and close relationships with a Chinese influence group with longstanding connections to the Chinese Communist Party.

Published: February 2, 2024 11:00pm

The White House recently appointed John Podesta as Climate Envoy following the exit of John Kerry from the administration. Yet, Podesta’s previous work with a Chinese United Front-linked organization on climate change raises concerns about his ability to negotiate with China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Podesta has long been a household name in Democratic politics. He is known for his close association with the Clinton family and for being active in climate policy. Podesta first served as President Bill Clinton’s Chief of Staff and then later as the campaign chairman for Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful bid for president in 2016.

In between his work for the Clintons, he served in the Obama Administration as a counselor to the president responsible for climate policy and before that as a co-chair of President Obama’s 2008 transition team.

Before entering the Obama Administration, Podesta founded and led the liberal think-tank Center for American Progress (CAP), which seeks to advance progressive policies on issues spanning from climate change to the economy.

It was during this period that Podesta worked closely with an entity connected to the Chinese influence apparatus on climate change and other issues.

In late 2009, Podesta led the first delegation from CAP to Beijing. During the trip, the CAP delegation—which included a U.S. Senator and an Ambassador—met with several Chinese officials. Discussions between the two delegations centered on “issues at the forefront U.S.-China relations,” which included climate change.

The Chinese delegation was led by the founder of the China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF), an entity which played an integral part in organizing the dialogue, according to CAP’s report of the trip. CUSEF and CAP held several meetings from 2009 to 2016, both before and after Podesta began serving at the White House.

The China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF) is a Hong Kong-based entity founded by business magnate Tung Chee-hwa, a billionaire who is linked to the Chinese Communist Party. After Hong Kong reverted to British control, Tung was appointed as the Chief Executive of the Special Administrative Region under the communist Chinese government.

Tung also served as the Vice Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference—“a patriotic united front organization of the Chinese people” that is integrated with the Chinese Communist Party government—from 2005 to 2023.

CUSEF is a registered foreign agent in the United States and would later hire none other than John Podesta’s brother, Tony Podesta, to lobby on behalf of the organization in Washington. In 2015, Podesta filed a lobbying disclosure form with the U.S. House of Representatives to advocate on behalf of CUSEF on “U.S.-China Relations.” According to Open Secrets, CUSEF paid Podesta’s firm nearly $900,000 for three years of lobbying work, from 2015 to 2017.

According to Influence Watch, since 2010, CUSEF has organized an annual dialogue between members of the Democratic Party, Republican Party, and leaders of the CCP. In a 2022 Congressional hearing, Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns expressed concern about CUSEF’s covert influence activities in the U.S.

In 2013, John Podesta joined the White House as counselor to the president on climate policy. He, along with a CAP Senior Fellow Tod Stern, was one of the chief officials responsible for the negotiation of the Paris Accords—the climate pact which required signatories to reduce emissions in line with global warming prevention goals.

China’s lead climate negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, has participated in CAP-CUSEF summits in the past, attending in 2016, according to CUSEF’s website. Coincidentally, Xie Zhenhua, who stepped down as the Chinese climate envoy in December, is noted as having a close relationship with John Podesta’s predecessor, John Kerry. The personal diplomacy between the two men was instrumental in achieving the Paris Accords.

The Paris Accords were criticized as lopsided, favoring China over the United States because of its nebulous “developing nation” status, a destination Chinese negotiators believed warranted lesser commitments than “developed” Western countries. In part because of this, the Trump Administration withdrew the United States from the accords in 2017.

The Obama Administration had previously committed the United States to cut emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025 while China promised to peak its carbon emissions by 2030, only beginning cuts thereafter.

Peter Schweizer, author of "Red-Handed: How American Elites Get Rich Helping China Win", noted Podesta’s relationship with CUSEF and suggested that because of it he held countries to different standards on China when it came to climate change. “John Podesta has praised China for its commitment to reducing emissions while at the same time going after countries like Australia, claiming that country’s approach ‘is just not going to cut it’,” he wrote, citing an interview Podesta gave to the Rekindling Hope podcast.

Now, Podesta has been appointed by President Biden to serve as John Kerry’s replacement as the United States Climate Envoy, a position which includes responsibility for interacting with China on emissions reductions.

The Biden Administration has continued to pursue climate cooperation with China, even as the broader relationship between the world’s two largest economic and military powers deteriorates, a trend that began to accelerate during the Trump Administration. In November, President Biden and Chinese President Xi pledged to continue to work together to address the “climate crisis,” including by upholding the Paris Accords.

“[The] United States and China reaffirm their commitment to work jointly and together with other countries to address the climate crisis,” the State Department announced, after a summit in California.

Neither the White House nor the Center for American Progress returned requests for comment from Just the News about Podesta’s past work with CUSEF as it relates to his new position. Podesta could not be reached for comment. 

In a statement released by the White House, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan praised Podesta’s past work on climate change issues, including assisting the Biden Administration with implementing the Inflation Reduction Act, which Sullivan described as “the single largest investment to tackle climate change in history.”

“John is a key architect of turning President Biden’s bold vision – that tackling the climate crisis also represents the single biggest economic opportunity of our time – into a reality here at home,” Sullivan said.

“As he assumes his new role, John will bring both a deep understanding – and a proven model – for how countries around the world can enhance their ambition while unlocking a new era of clean, inclusive, and resilient economic growth,” Sullivan continued.

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