EXCLUSIVE: Jim Banks Demands DOJ Investigate Midwest Nonprofit Linked To Chinese Communist Influence Network


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Philip Lenczycki Investigative Reporter
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Indiana Republican Rep. Jim Banks urged the Biden administration to probe a Midwestern nonprofit with extensive ties to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) intelligence and influence operations to determine if it violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), according to a letter shared exclusively with the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Banks sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday asking the Department of Justice (DOJ) to conduct an inquiry into the United States Heartland China Association (USHCA), a 501(c)(3) bipartisan organization, which characterizes its mission as “building bridges and promoting opportunities” between 21 U.S. heartland states and China. However, USHCA leads trips to China for Midwestern mayors in cooperation with organizations affiliated with a Chinese government influence arm, and also employs multiple individuals belonging to such organizations, the DCNF reported. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Communist Influence Network Is Deeply Involved With Nonprofit Connecting China To US Heartland)

Banks’s letter asks the DOJ to review whether or not USHCA may need to register under FARA, which “requires certain agents of foreign principals who are engaged in political activities or other activities specified under the statute to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities,” according to the DOJ.

“I am writing to urge you to investigate the U.S. Heartland China Association (USHCA) for apparent violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), as revealed in a recent report from the Daily Caller News Foundation,” Banks’ letter states. “FARA requires all U.S. residents acting as agents of foreign governments to regularly file public disclosures with the Justice Department (DOJ) outlining their activities and describing their status as a foreign agent.”

Banks’ letter alleges that USHCA “acts in concert with the United Front to expand CCP influence within Indiana and the Midwest.”

The CCP utilizes an influence and intelligence collection strategy known as the “United Front,” which, among other things, targets “foreign actors and states,” according to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The United Front is coordinated by the Chinese government’s United Front Work Department (UFWD), which “oversees many subordinate organizations,” including operations within the U.S., according to the House Select Committee on the CCP.

The UFWD “conceals its influence over groups like the USHCA through its use of proxy groups,” Banks’ letter alleges, citing USHCA’s partnership with the Chinese People’s Association For Friendship With Foreign Countries (CPAFFC) as an example.

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission has characterized CPAFFC as a “key organization” in the CCP’s United Front.

In November 2023, USHCA announced it had led a delegation of six mayors to China in order to “underscore the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between the United States and China.” Yet, Chinese state-run China Youth Daily reported that CPAFFC took credit for inviting the delegation to China.

“CPAFFC is the UFWD proxy responsible for managing and expanding sister relationships between the U.S. and China,” Banks’ letter states. “During the trip, the former Mayor of Carmel, Indiana, Jim Brainard, who also serves as vice chair of USHCA, ratified a sister-city agreement with Xiangyang, Hubei.”

The U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center has warned that CPAFFC “may exploit” sister-city agreements to “press its agendas.”

USHCA “will inevitably work with Chinese entities” because it “promotes people-to-people exchanges in culture, education and business between the Heartland and China,” a spokesperson for the nonprofit recently told the DCNF.

Mary Kissel, former senior advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, told the DCNF that U.S. engagement with the United Front only benefits China.

“Please give me an example of when engagement with a United Front organization resulted in positive change on the Chinese side?” Kissel said. “The answer is, there is no example of that.”

The United Front’s “brazen” targeting of America’s heartland suggests far more extensive operations in high-population states, said Kissel, who’s now an executive vice president at Stephens, a private financial services firm.

“If they’ve done it in Missouri, what in the world are they doing in places like Florida or California or New York or Texas?” Kissel said. “Alarm bells should be going off.”

"Sam" Zhao Suisheng served as an expert to the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office and is a member of the Center For China And Globalization's academic advisory committee. [Image created by the DCNF with pics from Chinese Social Sciences Today and CCG]

“Sam” Zhao Suisheng served as an expert to the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office and is a member of the Center For China And Globalization’s academic advisory committee. [Image created by the DCNF with pics from Chinese Social Sciences Today and CCG]

Banks’ letter to the DOJ also calls attention to USHCA’s leadership, which includes at least four individuals who’ve held positions at UFWD-affiliated entities, the DCNF reported.

“One of these senior USHCA officials, a strategic advisor named Zhao Suisheng, has worked directly for China’s government in a variety of advisory positions,” Banks’ letter states.

Zhao, who serves as the director of the University of Denver’s Center for China-U.S. Cooperation, told the DCNF he’d attended events hosted by several UFWD-affiliated organizations, such as the Center For China And Globalization (CCG), which lists him as an “expert” on its “academic advisory committee.” Zhao claims the reason he’s held advisory positions with Chinese government agencies and UFWD-affiliated organizations is because he’s an “independent scholar” studying “Chinese politics” and “United Front tactics.”

“USHCA is not an independent entity — it is a malign agent of our foremost foreign adversary,” Banks’ letter concludes.

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