Beijing sent a top official sanctioned by the U.S. to an American Chamber of Commerce in China dinner Thursday, in a show of defiance that could feed criticism of the business group in Washington.
The Chinese government was represented at the annual event in Beijing by Wang Chen, a member of the Communist Party’s Politburo. Wang is also vice chairman of the National People’s Congress and among the 14 officials sanctioned by the U.S. on Monday over the body’s role in constraining freedoms in Hong Kong.
China often designates a representative with an economically focused portfolio, such as Vice Premier Hu Chunhua, the guest at last year’s dinner. Wang spent much of his career in various propaganda roles, including a stint as editor-in-chief of the People’s Daily, the party’s top mouthpiece.
A representative for the chamber didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. The group’s members include some of the best known corporations in the U.S., such as Walmart Inc. and the Coca-Cola Co.
Wang said Beijing would continue to create a favorable business environment for foreign companies and “treat all enterprises registered in China equally,” according to a report by state-run China Central Television. He said he hoped that the chamber could play an active role in facilitating two countries “re-launching dialogue, returning to normal tracks and rebuilding mutual trust.”
The move demonstrated how American executives operating in the world’s second largest economy have little say over which political figures they are required to deal with. The Trump administration has sanctioned dozens of Chinese officials in recent months, including two Politburo members, over their alleged roles in crackdowns on human rights in Hong Kong and the predominately Muslim region of Xinjiang.
The appearance by such an official at an the event could feed criticism in Washington that the U.S. business community hasn’t sufficiently defended broader American interests while pursuing access to the Chinese market. Earlier this week, China censored a professor’s speech boasting about “‘China’s old friends’ on Wall Street, who had access and control over the D.C. politicians” after the remarks went viral in the U.S.
Wang made no mention of sanctions during his speech and the tone of his remarks was “totally friendly” said Henry Wang, president of the Center for China and Globalization. He added said sending a Politburo member “shows the high level of importance” with which China treats the event.
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