Chinese Intel Service ‘Affiliate’ Takes Credit For Bringing Gavin Newsom To China

(Photo by XINQI SU/AFP via Getty Images)

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Philip Lenczycki Investigative Reporter
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A Chinese intelligence service “affiliate” claimed California Gov. Gavin Newsom accepted its invitation to visit China, according to a Daily Caller News Foundation review of that organization’s social media account.

The Chinese People’s Association For Friendship With Foreign Countries (CPAFFC) took credit for inviting Newsom to visit China in an Oct. 26 social media post that pictured the governor meeting with the organization’s CCP party secretary and chairman, Yang Wanming, in Beijing. Newsom arrived in China on Monday for a week-long trip intended to focus on “climate action and partnership between two of the world’s largest economies,” according to his office. (RELATED: ‘Cheerleaders For The CCP’: Gavin Newsom Ripped For Trip To China That Critics Say Undermines US National Interests)

“On Oct. 25, President Yang Wanming met with California Gov. Newsom, who accepted the invitation of the Chinese People’s Association For Friendship With Foreign Countries to visit China,” CPAFFC’s social media post states. “Newsom thanked his Chinese counterparts for their hospitable invitation and warm reception and said that during this visit to China he’s witnessed the tremendous achievements that China’s Reform and Opening Up has brought, leaving him with a very deep impression.”

CPAFFC describes itself as a “national people’s organization engaged in people-to-people diplomacy of the People’s Republic of China” whose “main tasks” include “organizing exchange of visits of delegations, holding commemorative activities, initiating and hosting exchange activities including seminars, talks, forums to enhance mutual understanding, build up trust and develop friendship with people of other countries.”

However, in October 2020, the State Department designated CPAFFC as an “affiliate” of the United Front Work Department (UFWD), which is a “Chinese intelligence service” that is responsible for coordinating “influence operations,” according to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

The 2020 designation accompanied the announcement that the State Department had discontinued participation in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) related to the U.S.-China National Governors Forum, citing CPAFFC’s malign influence.

“Following the signing of the MOU, however, Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC) a Beijing-based organization tasked with co-opting subnational governments, has sought to directly and malignly influence state and local leaders to promote the PRC’s global agenda,” the State Department announced. “CPAFFC’s actions have undermined the Governors Forum’s original well-intentioned purpose.”

On Thursday, CPAFFC’s Yang Wanming was also in attendance at a meeting between Newsom’s delegation and the party secretary of Beijing’s municipal committee, Yin Li, according to state-run media outlet Beijing Daily. During the meeting, the California Air Resources Board and the Beijing Municipal Ecology and Environment Bureau signed a “Memorandum of Understanding on Environment and Climate Cooperation.”

CPAFFC’s Yang Wanming is also pictured riding an escalator with Newsom in a photo uploaded on Oct. 26 to the Flickr account for the Office of the Governor of California. That Flickr photo collection also includes another picture uploaded on the same day taken at the Great Wall Climate Dialogue in Beijing, which appears to show Newsom and Yang Wanming seated across from one another in front of a large screen stating in both Chinese and in English that the event was “Hosted by: The Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.”

After the Great Wall Climate Dialogue, Newsom told reporters that “there is no substitute for people-to-people exchanges,” Chinese state-run media outlet China Daily reported.

In 1949, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) began “people-to-people diplomacy,” or “people-to-people exchanges” with certain countries, which “helped ease the diplomatic blockade imposed by the West on China, strengthen ties with people and promote mutual trust with other countries and win international support,” China Daily reported in 2019.

The National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, a U.S. nonprofit, defines “people-to-people diplomacy” as “non-governmental exchanges between citizens of two countries that contribute to stronger relations between the two countries,” and cites the 1971 ping-pong games played between the U.S. and China as an example.

In July 2022, the Director of National Intelligence warned that “PRC influence operations can be deceptive and coercive, with seemingly benign business opportunities or people-to-people exchanges sometimes masking PRC political agendas.”

[Image from the Office Of The Governor Of California's Flickr account]

[Image from the Office Of The Governor Of California’s Flickr account]

On May 27, 2021, Newsom attended a climate webinar co-hosted by CPAFFC and the California-China Climate Institute, according to CPAFFC’s social media account.

A photo from the webinar accompanying CPAFFC’s social media post shows President Joe Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry, former California governor Jerry Brown and CPAFFC’s then-chairman Lin Songtian in attendance.

During the meeting, participants agreed that “local governments” have an important role to play in combating climate change and agreed to increase bilateral cooperation, according to the social media post.

Although the DCNF found no record of the May 2021 webinar in U.S. media reports, the Associated Press recently reported that since July 2023 Kerry has held “regular video calls” with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, who was also pictured and mentioned as participating in the CPAFFC and California-China Climate Institute webinar.

While in China, Newsom has test driven Chinese electric vehicles, tobogganed down the Great Wall of China and met with Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping, according to multiple reports.

Despite the governor’s office claiming that Newsom had “met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other high-level Chinese officials to discuss climate action, economic development, cultural exchange, human rights concerns and democracy,” Newsom later admitted that he hadn’t discussed human rights issues with Xi.

Newsom’s office did not respond to the DCNF’s multiple requests for comment.

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