‘Grandpa Xi’: Utah Lawmakers, Schools Reportedly Cozied Up To Chinese Communist Party


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Philip Lenczycki Investigative Reporter
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Utah elementary schools and lawmakers have reportedly established close ties with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in recent years, according to an investigation from the Associated Press.

The CCP has reportedly worked through multiple individuals to target Utah’s school system from grade school to graduate school and also influence decisions made by Utah lawmakers, the AP determined after conducting dozens of interviews and analyzing records obtained through public records requests. The CCP’s efforts have had widespread effect, ranging from Utah school children being used to promote Chinese state-run propaganda, all the way to lawmakers delaying the implementation of a ban to close CCP propaganda centers in Utah universities, the AP found. (RELATED: Biden Poses For Photo With Member Of Alleged Chinese Intel Front Group At Los Angeles Gun Control Rally)

In March 2020, 4th grade students at Cascade Elementary School in Orem, Utah, sent Lunar New Year greeting cards to General Secretary Xi Jinping, some of which addressed the communist autocrat as “Grandpa Xi,” according to the AP’s report, citing Chinese state media.

Utah State Senator Todd Weiler, who discussed Cascade Elementary’s letter campaign on Red Meat Radio in March 2020, told the Daily Caller News Foundation, that although he still supports “Utah’s dual immersion program that allows students to become fluent in a second language,” he didn’t realize that the students’ letters addressed Xi as “grandpa.”

“During the past three years, our nation’s relationship with China has obviously deteriorated,” Weiler told the DCNF. “In light of the spy balloon, increased threats against Taiwan, Xi’s recent visit to Russia, etc., I would view that call very different if it took place today.”

Xi reportedly sent a reply to the Utah 4th graders encouraging them to “become young ‘ambassadors’ for Sino-American friendship,” according to the AP.

The 4th grade students’ Chinese language teacher, Zheng Yamin, as well as the school’s principal, Darrin Johnson, actively supported Cascade Elementary’s 2020 letter campaign, Chinese state-run media outlet CCTV News enthusiastically reported at the time.

“Chairman Xi has a busy schedule every day, yet found the time to read the children’s New Years greeting cards and even replied with encouragement — this is an exceptional honor for our school,” CCTV News quoted Johnson as saying, according to a DCNF translation.

Cascade Elementary’s Chinese language program is a participant in Utah’s dual language immersion plan that was championed by former Utah state Sen. Howard Stephenson, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Dan Stephenson, son of former Utah state Sen. Stephenson, reportedly shared Xi’s reply to Cascade Elementary’s 4th graders with “Utah government and business leaders,” according to CCTV News.

Yet, Dan Stephenson reportedly has ties to several alleged front groups variously serving the CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD) and Ministry of State Security (MSS), according to the AP.

While the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) identified the UFWD as a CCP “intelligence service” which conducts “influence operations” in 2016, the Defense Intelligence Agency identified the MSS as China’s “main civilian intelligence” service in 2019.

The CCP also reportedly used certain Utah lawmakers to delay the implementation of a federal ban against the Chinese government-tied Confucius Institutes (CI) for over a year, the AP found.

In August 2020, the State Department designated CI as a “foreign mission” serving “Beijing’s multifaceted propaganda efforts” under “guidance from the CCP’s United Front Work Department.”

Le Taowen, tenured professor at Weber State College, president of the Utah Chinese Civic Center and a member of the China Overseas Friendship Association, an alleged CCP intel front group. [Screenshot/YouTube/中国新闻社]

Le Taowen, tenured professor at Weber State College, president of the Utah Chinese Civic Center and a member of the China Overseas Friendship Association, an alleged CCP intel front group. [Screenshot/YouTube/中国新闻社]

Behind the scenes, several other individuals with ties to alleged UFWD front groups have also reportedly played a significant role in connecting Utah and China, according to AP.

Le Taowen, a tenured professor of information technology at Weber State College, formerly worked for the provincial government of Liaoning, according to the AP, and is now a board member of the China Overseas Friendship Association (COFA), which USCC identified as a UFWD front group in 2018.

Le has reportedly advocated on behalf of Chinese government officials, and has also helped set up meetings between the Chinese Embassy and Utah lawmakers, the AP reported.

In 2020, Le reportedly helped Utah state Senate President Stuart Adams search for medicine to combat COVID-19, according to the AP.

The FBI has investigated the Utah professor in 2007 and 2018, the AP reported.

Johnson, Cascade Elementary School, Le, Weber State University did not respond immediately to the DCNF’s request for comment. Dan and Howard Stephenson could not be reached for comment.

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Philip Lenczycki

Daily Caller News Foundation investigative reporter, political journalist, and China watcher. Twitter: @LenczyckiPhilip