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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Beijing’s New Approach to Winning Friends in Washington

To deal with the new Democrat majority in Congress, which includes opponents of Beijing’s human rights record, China is counting on lobbying concerns in Washington and American businesses working in China to plead its cause.

In the office of the new leader of the Democrat majority in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi (San Francisco), is a picture of her holding a banner in Tien an Men Square in memory of victims of the crackdown on students. Other stout opponents of the Chinese regime are now in positions of power in Congress as well, among them representative Tom Lantos (California), who heads the International Relations Committee, and former representative Sherrod Brown, co-founder of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus who was elected senator for Ohio in November.

To limit the loss of its influence in Congress, the Chinese government has called on the services of external consultants such as the firms Jones Day and Patton Boggs. The hiring of lobbying professionals is new to China: unlike Taiwan, which has always had several lobbyists working for it in Washington, Beijing has previously refused to appeal to American consultants for help.

The change in policy was recommended by Zhou Wen Zhong, former interpreter of Deng Xiaoping and China’s ambassador to the United States for the past two years; he had previously been consul in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In 2005, Zhou already urged the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) to retain lobbyists when it mounted a bid to buy Unocal from Chevron. The Chinese oil company hired several firms to win backing in Congress and the federal government for its takeover, among them Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, BKSH & Associates, the Brunswick Group and Public Strategies. In the end, however, CNOOC’s venture into lobbying didn’t help it.

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