Chinese Billionaire Is Waging Harassment Campaigns, Targets Include Biden's Son | WAMC

Chinese Billionaire Is Waging Harassment Campaigns, Targets Include Biden's Son

Dec 26, 2020
Originally published on December 28, 2020 12:55 am

A Chinese billionaire who's a media business partner of Steve Bannon is waging campaigns of disinformation and harassment targeting diaspora democracy activists and even Joe Biden's son.

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SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

A story now about a Chinese billionaire who's making waves here in the U.S. Guo Wengui is an associate of Steve Bannon, President Trump's former chief strategist. Bannon was arrested on fraud charges this year aboard the billionaire's yacht. With Bannon's help, Guo has become a prominent Chinese-language media figure in the U.S. And as NPR's Emily Feng reports, Guo has been using his media platforms to carry out disinformation campaigns targeting democracy activists in the Chinese diaspora and even Joe Biden's son.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Bob Fu is a Christian pastor in Midland, Texas. He was giving an online talk this October from his home when he looked up and saw dozens of strangers outside.

BOB FU: They showed up - over 50, like, lining up in front of the house. And they accused me responsible for the COVID-19 virus, said it's a Bob Fu virus.

FENG: They also accused him of being a Chinese spy, which would be strange given Fu's life story. He took part in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, later converted to Christianity and eventually fled to the U.S. Fu is racking his brain to understand who sent the protesters to his house.

FU: I think my only enemy is the Chinese Communist Party.

FENG: Fu and his family spent weeks in hiding under police protection. At a press conference, the mayor of Midland, Patrick Payton, called the crowd at the pastor's house communist agitators and hired henchpeople who made terrorist threats.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PATRICK PAYTON: They hired a bus to bring them to the location. Any time you ask them a question, they start speaking in Mandarin or start their chant.

FENG: Pastor Fu is just one of more than two dozen Chinese democracy activists overseas who've had mobs camped outside their homes accusing them of being double agents for Beijing. The man who dispatches the mobs is Guo Wengui, a billionaire who fled China in 2015.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GUO WENGUI: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: In this video, Guo applauds his supporters for exterminating these traitors. His platform in the U.S. is GTV, which he launched after hiring former Trump aide Steve Bannon as a media consultant. This June, the two appeared on a boat with the Statue of Liberty in the background as Guo declared a Chinese government in exile.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GUO: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: "We can never forget history," he says. "We must follow in the footsteps of martyrs."

Guo portrays himself as a martyr to the democracy cause, claiming Chinese authorities jailed him and fatally shot his brother. It's difficult to confirm his claims, but we can confirm that Guo faces bribery and rape charges back in China, and investors in his property deals have sued him for breach of contract. Guo's biggest real estate project was the Pangu Plaza skyscraper in Beijing.

(SOUNDBITE OR ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It's a beautiful expression of the essence of Chinese and Western architecture, with the dragon as its signature look.

FENG: According to Chinese media, Guo managed to build Pangu Plaza only by blackmailing the deputy mayor with a sex tape he obtained from China's most senior intelligence official. That high-level access made Guo seem credible to Sasha Gong, a journalist.

SASHA GONG: Most of the dissidents, when they came out, they were already persecuted. They were already dissidents. None of them came out as a big player insider.

FENG: Gong was working at the U.S. government-funded Voice of America when she became intrigued by Guo's claims that he had knowledge of high-level Chinese government corruption.

GONG: I was very inquisitive. I just want the information.

FENG: And she paid for that curiosity. VOA fired Gong when she allowed Guo to make allegations against a Chinese official without providing evidence in a live interview. Now Gong has doubts about Guo's whistleblowing and where his allegiances really lie.

GONG: I realized a lot of the stuff he said could not be verified. And the guy is a great storyteller, I have to say.

FENG: Gong is now on Guo's list for spy extermination. In recent months, the billionaire has moved beyond parochial Chinese diaspora politics into American politics. In September, he appeared on Bannon's online show, the two sitting side by side in the Manhattan penthouse Guo bought for $67 million. Bannon addresses Guo with his American name, Miles Kwok.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVE BANNON: Miles, we've had all these demonstrations. We've had this outbreak. We've had antifa. We've had Black Lives Matter. We've had all this revolution in the streets. You were the first to remind us that this is what China went through in the Cultural Revolution.

FENG: Guo chimes in.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GUO: We are here. We sitting here (ph). I know we are a kind of live broadcast. We try talk more of the truth, give the West the work (ph) and America.

BANNON: Bannon also talks about the pandemic, calling the coronavirus the CCP, or Chinese Communist Party, virus. Bannon and Guo promote the widely debunked theory that the coronavirus was engineered in a Chinese lab. Guo helped the Hong Kong virologist behind the claim, Yan Li-Meng, flee to the United States. Bannon connected her with Fox News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YAN LI-MENG: The reason I came to U.S. is because I deliver the message of the truth of COVID-19.

FENG: The consensus among microbiologists is that the virus was not manmade. After the coronavirus conspiracy theory, Guo broadcast unsubstantiated allegations about Joe Biden's son. He gave airtime to a Chinese expat talk show host who claimed to have acquired three hard drives belonging to Hunter Biden. Data on the drives allegedly showed the younger Biden cutting murky deals with Chinese officials and sexually assaulting minors. There is no independent confirmation that these hard drives exist. A similar story in the New York Post was roundly criticized for questionable reporting.

Neither Guo Wengui nor Steve Bannon responded to requests for comment for this story.

While many emigres are sympathetic to Guo's hard line against the Chinese Communist Party, Sasha Gong, the former VOA journalist, thinks the disinformation Guo spreads has divided those hawkish towards Beijing.

GONG: They are trying to fill the China hawks with all kinds of lies so eventually they can discredit all criticism against China.

FENG: And that ultimately weakens the pro-democracy camp's opposition to the Chinese Communist Party.

Emily Feng, NPR News, Beijing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.