On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch released a troubling report, which it has since walked back, about a phone application made by the Chinese government. The app provides law enforcement with easy, daily access to data detailing the religious activity, blood type, and even the amount of electricity used by ethnic minority Muslims living in the western province of Xinjiang.
The app relies heavily on facial recognition software supplied by Face++, a division of the Chinese startup Megvii, a relationship that sparked questions in the press for Megvii investors. One of the most prominent of these investors is Alibaba Group Holding, which was co-founded by Jack Ma, the wealthiest Chinese billionaire and an icon for the country’s image of entrepreneurship.
The flurry of media reports about private investment in China’s increasingly sprawling surveillance state left out a prominent investor: Hunter Biden.
The flurry of media reports this week about Face++, Ma, and the role of the private sector in building China’s increasingly sprawling surveillance state, however, left out another prominent investor in the company: Hunter Biden.
Megvii has distanced itself from the Chinese government’s mass surveillance of Muslims. The company has since said that about 1 percent of its revenues were generated from Xinjiang-related business in 2018. After publication of its report, Human Rights Watch said that the Face++ code in the police phone application was inoperable and Megvii said that it did not cooperate with the development of the app. The company has not clarified how its technology showed up in the data collection app. BuzzFeed News has reported the company also supplies technology for “a China-wide surveillance program called the Skynet Project, which uses more than 20 million closed-circuit TV cameras to monitor citizens around the country, policing for criminals.”
The son of the former Vice President Joe Biden has spent much of the last decade building overseas investments and business deals, arrangements that could complicate his father’s bid for the presidency by posing an array of potential conflicts of interest.
Hunter Biden’s investment company in China, known as Bohai Harvest RST, has pooled money, largely from state-owned venture capital, to buy or invest in a range of industries in the U.S. and China. Bohai Harvest has put money into an automotive firm, mining companies, and technology ventures, such as Didi Chuxing Technology, one of the largest ride-hailing companies in the world after Uber. (Hunter Biden, Bohai Harvest, and Joe Biden’s presidential campaign did not respond to a request for comment.)
In 2017, Bohai Harvest bought into Face++, part of a $460 million haul in the company’s Series C investment round. Bohai Harvest’s website features Face++ in its portfolio of investments.
Bohai Harvest operates and works with a number of funds to make its various investments, a tangled business structure that has brought Hunter Biden into close proximity to influential Chinese government and business figures, according to a review of Chinese business filings by The Intercept.
Bohai Harvest relies heavily on an international subsidiary of the state-owned Bank of China to finance its investments.
Bohai Harvest relies heavily on an international subsidiary of the state-owned Bank of China to finance its investments, referring to itself as an “investment platform under BOC” on its website. The investment fund has also partnered with a subsidiary of HNA Group, a controversial conglomerate that has snapped up investments in a wide range of businesses across the world.
As The Intercept has previously reported, the HNA Group has made unusually extensive efforts to cultivate U.S. officials. The company floated an offer to buy out the hedge fund owned by former White House official Anthony Scaramucci; retained the legal services of Gary Locke, the former U.S. ambassador to China, shortly before his confirmation; and provided financing to a private-equity firm backed by Jeb Bush. HNA Group, notably, also courted Bill Clinton, touting meetings with the former president at philanthropy events hosted by the company.
The Bank of China, one of the largest banks in the country, has also made overtures to U.S. political elites. Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, the company added Angela Chao, the sister of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and sister-in-law of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to its board of directors.
Along with a number of politically connected Americans, Hunter Biden’s investment vehicle in China came as a result of a series of deals struck over the last 10 years. In 2008, in the closing days of that year’s presidential campaign, Hunter Biden deregistered as a lobbyist from Oldaker, Biden and Belair, a Washington, D.C., firm he co-founded alongside William Oldaker, a longtime fundraiser and legal adviser to Joe Biden.
The following year, Hunter Biden — along with former Secretary of State John Kerry’s stepson Christopher Heinz; Kerry-Heinz family friend Devon Archer; and former Oldaker partner Eric Schwerin — founded several companies using the name Rosemont Seneca.
In 2014, the partners began setting up operations in China. The “RS” in Bohai Harvest RST stands for Rosemont Seneca, and the “T” stands for Thornton Group. The latter group is an international consulting firm based in Massachusetts that was founded by James Bulger, the son of the longtime Kerry ally and former Massachusetts state Senate President William Bulger.
The company, according to the Wall Street Journal, planned to raise $1.5 billion, taking advantage of Shanghai’s free enterprise zone to convert yuan to dollars to be invested in foreign companies. Business registration filings in China list Hunter Biden, Schwerin, and James Bulger as key officials at Bohai Harvest.
Last year, author Peter Schweizer criticized the timing of Bohai Harvest’s launch, claiming that the exclusive deal coincided with negotiations between then-Vice President Joe Biden and the Chinese government.
Joe Biden has long served as friendly voice for U.S.-China relations, even before his son’s investment ventures.
On Wednesday, the New York Times raised similar concerns with the involvement of Hunter Biden in Ukrainian energy company, Burisma Holdings, which added the vice president’s son to the company board in 2014. Rosemont Seneca Bohai financial filings, made public through a separate fraud investigation into Archer, revealed that the energy company paid Hunter Biden as much as $50,000 per month at a time when the U.S. was closely involved in Ukraine’s response to Russian aggression in the region.
For his part, Joe Biden has long served as a friendly voice for U.S.-China relations, even before his son’s investment ventures. The elder Biden helped lead Democratic support to passing permanent national trade relations with China.
In 2000 remarks in support of the vote, Biden argued that he did not “see the collapse of the American manufacturing economy” as a danger from opening up further trade with China, claiming that an economy “about the size of the Netherlands” could not become “our major economic competitor.” Opening China to further trade, Biden predicted, would create “a path toward ever greater political and economic freedom” for the country’s citizens.
Update: July 1, 2020
This story has been updated to note that Human Rights Watch has subsequently issued a correction related to its report on Megvii. The headline has been updated accordingly.