By James Palmer/Foreign Policy’s China brief
U.S. President Donald Trump’s tax records show his company has a Chinese bank account, Chinese diplomats wreak havoc over Taiwan at a party in Fiji, and Chinese officials threaten U.S. citizens living in China.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s tax records show a bank account in China controlled by Trump International Hotel Management, according to the New York Times, as part of its investigation into his tax returns. That is embarrassing for Trump, who has attempted to smear his electoral opponent, Joe Biden, by going after his son Hunter’s business dealings in China—where Trump himself has tried to do business for years.
Setting up a bank account in China used to be pretty easy, and it wasn’t uncommon for firms to establish them just to give employees access to cash while traveling—back in the days when credit cards were rare, electronic payments were unheard of, and the 100-yuan note was king. In those days, one could set up a Chinese bank account by just sending in a passport; today, it requires a face-to-face meeting.
The details remain sketchy, but it seems that the Trump account was set up for business purposes—either as a wholly owned foreign enterprise or as a joint venture with an unknown Chinese partner. In that case, having a bank account would be not only legitimate but also advised, Dan Harris, an experienced China business attorney, wrote in a text message.
“Maybe he was operating 100 percent legally in China,” Harris said. “But he simply didn’t reveal it (as he should have done) because the optics were so bad for him.”
The records show that the company paid Chinese authorities $188,561 in taxes between 2013 and 2015. “Chinese taxes are usually about 25 percent of profits in China, so he’d have had to have done some business there to justify it,” Harris said. Trump has long pursued various interests and licenses in China, but an attorney for the Trump organization told the Times that no deals or transactions “ever materialized” and the office has been inactive since 2015.
Special treatment. Ivanka Trump appears to have received favorable treatment from the Chinese authorities for her own business efforts there. That’s not unusual, either: In China, the children of foreign leaders have often capitalized on their parents’ positions. Hunter Biden’s own private equity deals there may have benefited from his father’s visibility.
Neil Bush, the son of President George H.W. Bush (and George W. Bush’s brother), has had substantial dealings in China, including appearances at propaganda events. Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s daughter is a brand ambassador for the Chinese firm Alibaba.
None of this necessarily implies parental collusion—only children taking advantage of their surnames. The practice is also common in reverse: Western firms regularly employ the children and grandchildren of Chinese political leaders in the hope of buying influence.