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A ?Bridge? to China, and Her Family?s Business, in the Trump Cabinet

Foremost Group
The New York TimesSupported byBy
the American Embassy
the State Department
Department of Transportation
Transportation Departments
another State Department
The Transportation Department
the State Department’s
the White House’s
China State Shipbuilding
the Bank of China
the Council of China’s Foreign Trade
the Communist Party
the Republican Party’s
the Republican Party of Kentucky
Washington University
Panama Canals
the Export-Import Bank of China
Foremost Group’s
the Harvard Club
China EximBank
the Ministry of Electronics Industry
the Chinese Communist Party
People’s Daily
Fudan University
Jiao Tong University
the Senate Commerce Committee
Trump administration’s
the Transportation Department
the Maritime Security Program
the Great Lakes Maritime Academy
Coast Guard
the Justice Department
The China Press
Sumitomo Group
the Office of Government Ethics
Air China
United Airlines
Capitol Tour
Federal Election Commission
PAC Kentuckians
Roll Call
Capitol Hill
the Harvard Business School

Elaine Chao
CreditCreditTom Brenner
Michael Forsythe
Eric Lipton
Keith Bradsher
Sui-Lee WeeThe
Mitch McConnell
James Chao
Angela Chao
James Chao’s
Alan Lowenthal
Peter Schweizer
Jiang Zemin
George W. Bush
Kathleen Clark
China.”Elaine Chao
James S.C. Chao
the Xin May
Jiao Tong University
Richard M. Nixon
Deng Xiaoping
Ruth Mulan Chu Chao
Ruth Chao
Zheng Chaoman
Elaine Chao.”Within
George H. W. Bush
Wen Jiabao
Susan Collins
Jerry Achenbach
Fair Kim
Mike Pence
Tian Wei
Ma Jing
Marilyn L. Glynn
Jim Breyer
Evan T. Felsing
Li Keqiang
Jeffrey Hwang
David Popp
Elaine Chao’s
Ailin Tang
Susan C. Beachy
Jack Begg
Elsie Chen

North American

Liangtan Island
the Strait of Malacca
the Indian Ocean
Atlantic Ocean
the Yangtze River
the East China Sea

the Ponta da Madeira Maritime Terminal
Tiananmen Square

the United States
New York
Midtown Manhattan
Hong Kong
the Marshall Islands
The New Republic
St. Louis
Shanghai Waigaoqiao
the People’s Republic
the Forbidden City
a United States

the Olympic Games

Positivity     41.00%   
   Negativity   59.00%
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And Mr. McConnell’s re-election campaigns have received more than $1 million in contributions from Ms. Chao’s extended family, including from her father and her sister Angela, now Foremost’s chief executive, who were both subjects of the State Department’s ethics question.Over the years, Ms. Chao has repeatedly used her connections and celebrity status in China to boost the profile of the company, which benefits handsomely from the expansive industrial policies in Beijing that are at the heart of diplomatic tensions with the United States, according to interviews, industry filings and government documents from both countries.Now, Ms. Chao is the top Trump official overseeing the American shipping industry, which is in steep decline and overshadowed by its Chinese competitors.Her efforts on behalf of the family business — appearing at promotional events, joining her father in interviews with Chinese-language media — have come as Foremost has interacted with the Chinese state to a remarkable degree for an American company.[Read about how The Times decides what to investigate.]Foremost has received hundreds of millions of dollars in loan commitments from a bank run by the Chinese government, whose policies have been labeled by the Trump administration as threats to American security. They embody the American dream, and my parents inspired all their daughters to give back to this country we love.”The department spokesman said The Times’s reporting wove “together a web of innuendos and baseless inferences” in linking Ms. Chao’s work at Transportation to her family’s business operations.Agency officials said the department under Ms. Chao had been a champion of the American maritime industry, adding that several proposed cuts had been made by previous administrations and that the Trump administration had since moved to bolster funding.Ms. Chao, 66, was born in Taiwan to parents who had fled mainland China in the late 1940s and later settled in the United States when she was a schoolgirl. Angela Chao, in the interview, said her father did not “remember any ownership, and we can’t find anything on it.”The family’s other business ties in China remained, including work that year by China State Shipbuilding on two new cargo ships for Foremost.That August, Mr. Chao met with Mr. Jiang, who had been named general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, the country’s most powerful position. At the time, Mr. Chao was chairman of Foremost and a board member of China State Shipbuilding.When she left government during the Obama years, she continued to put her celebrity status to use on behalf of the family business.In 2010, she traveled to Shanghai with her father for the delivery ceremony of a cargo ship, the Bao May. The ship soon became a workhorse for Foremost, hauling raw materials to China from around the world under a seven-year charter with a subsidiary of a state-owned steel maker. Foremost paid for the Bao May and another ship with up to $89.6 million in loans from China EximBank, corporate records in Hong Kong show.The next year, Ms. Chao was back in Shanghai for the launch of another ship, and in 2013, she traveled to Beijing with her father and her sister Angela for a meeting with the chairman of China State Shipbuilding, according to a company announcement.Ms. Chao joined her family two years later at the signing of a loan for Foremost at China EximBank’s grand hall in Beijing. The loan, for $75 million, was made jointly with a Taiwanese lender to build two cargo ships.The Transportation Department spokesman said it was “entirely appropriate” for Ms. Chao to take her father to meetings in 2008 as her “plus-one,” and said her visits between her government posts were done as a private citizen.Angela Chao said her sister attended Foremost events “as a family member.”“Foremost was founded in 1964; the company is 55 years old,” she added. “It seems inconsistent with the administration’s overall goals.”Ms. Collins added that the driving force behind these cuts had been the White House, not Ms. Chao, whom the senator called a “strong advocate” for the maritime program.The agency budget in 2017 and 2018 also proposed reducing annual grants for the Maritime Security Program, which help American ships pay crews and cover the cost of meeting safety and training requirements.It also moved in the last three years to eliminate new funding for a grant program that helps small shipyards stay in business, as well as a program that provides loan guarantees for the construction or reconstruction of American-flagged vessels.Agency officials noted that many of the cuts were forced on the department by the White House, and that some of the same programs had been previously targeted, only to see the money restored by Congress, as happened with the Trump cuts.Ms. Chao has supporters in the industry, citing her work to defend a federal program that allows only American-flagged ships to make deliveries between American ports, as well as the effort to replace training vessels, which has boosted the maritime unit’s overall budget.“We have a secretary who comes from the maritime industry — and that has translated into an understanding of the importance of the maritime academies,” said Jerry Achenbach, superintendent of the Great Lakes Maritime Academy in Michigan.But objections continue, including questions about why, despite repeated promises, Ms. Chao has not issued a detailed strategic plan for stabilizing the United States’ shrinking fleet.Fair Kim, a retired Coast Guard deputy commander who works at an association that promotes the American shipping industry, said Ms. Chao and the Trump administration had a disappointing maritime record.“If you preach America first, why not promote the U.S.-flagged fleet at the expense of foreign-flagged ships?” he asked. “This administration should be very friendly to us.”The Trump administration has made the rivalry with China a core tenet of American foreign policy, concluding that decades of accommodation has reinforced the country’s authoritarian rule and undermined the interests of the United States.“Beijing is employing a whole-of-government approach, using political, economic and military tools, as well as propaganda, to advance its influence and benefit its interests in the United States,” Vice President Mike Pence said during a speech in October.None of that, however, has kept Ms. Chao from maintaining China-friendly relations, including engaging with the Chinese media about her family’s shipping business and multiple other subjects. “The trade routes are completely different; the ships are completely different.”Ms. Chao’s first trip to China as transportation secretary was made last April amid an escalating trade war, six months later than originally planned.The original trip had been described by the department as a “bilateral meeting” with Ms. Chao’s Chinese counterpart to discuss disaster response, infrastructure and related subjects.Eight days before the planned start of the October 2017 trip, when contacted by The Times, Ms. Chao’s office said it could not provide a list of who would accompany her.But the embassy in Beijing had received requests to accommodate Ms. Chao’s family members, according to interviews with State Department officials involved in the planning, as well as a redacted email obtained by The Times through a public records lawsuit.Angela Chao said in the interview that she was already planning to be in Beijing to attend a Bank of China board meeting, and that her husband, the investor Jim Breyer, also had business in the Chinese capital. Emails indicate that ethics lawyers in both the State and Transportation Departments weighed in.“They would not have raised a question like this about a cabinet secretary unless it was something really serious,” said Mr. Rank, the former deputy chief of mission in Beijing, who resigned in protest over the Trump administration’s environmental policy.The agency spokesman confirmed a request on behalf of Ms. Chao’s relatives, but did not say in his written response to questions whether they were scheduled to attend official government events.When Ms. Chao finally traveled to China last April, no relatives were present.She met with top leaders, including the premier, Li Keqiang. David Popp, a spokesman for Mr. McConnell, said the gift from Mr. Chao was in honor of Elaine Chao’s mother.Over the years, Mr. McConnell has also participated in Chao family events and trips related to the family’s business and charitable giving.In 1993, he and Ms. Chao traveled with her father to Beijing at the invitation of China State Shipbuilding and met top officials.He celebrated Foremost’s 50th anniversary in 2014 at the Harvard Club in Manhattan, witnessing the signing of a contract with a Japanese shipbuilder.And he attended the dedication in 2016 of a building at the Harvard Business School named after Ms. Chao’s mother.

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