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China’s Courtship of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner Should Raise Eyebrows

The Trump-Kushner and Xi Jinping families at Mar-a-Lago.

The Trump-Kushner and Xi Jinping families at Mar-a-Lago. (large)

As BloombergThe Washington Post, and Reuters have reported, the Chinese government has invited President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner to visit China later this year for the purpose of cultivating ties between China and the Trump administration and in advance of a possible visit to China by the president. Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post also observes that “Beijing is courting Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner” in “its efforts to gain access to [President] Trump,” bypassing normal U.S. diplomatic channels.

China’s courtship of the couple and the Trump administration’s apparent openness to such an arrangement should raise eyebrows if not very loud alarm bells, as should the prospect of a U.S. taxpayer-funded trip for them to China.

In addition to the obvious nepotism in the couple’s White House roles and their complete lack of foreign policy qualifications, both have business ties to China that present potentially serious conflicts of interest. Putting vetted foreign policy professionals in charge of U.S.-China relations instead of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner would at least provide a degree of separation between China’s dictators and Trump-Kushner family business interests.

U.S. tax dollars should not be used to pay for the president’s daughter and son-in-law to travel to China and play at being diplomats. Jared Kushner, whose only previous experience is helping to run his family’s businesses and being married to Ivanka Trump, has already traveled to Iraq, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories at taxpayer expense to no apparent end but his own self-promotion.

His appearance in a blazer and flak jacket in Iraq was widely ridiculed and earned him a new nickname: “Full Metal Jackass.” Ivanka Trump, whose only previous experience is in the fashion industry, is no more qualified than her husband for such undertakings. These are jobs that should be done by foreign policy and national security professionals.

"Full Metal Jackass": Jared Kushner in Iraq.

Full Metal Jackass“: Jared Kushner in Iraq.

While Donald Trump’s sons ostensibly run his businesses, he seems to be grooming his daughter and son-in-law to become his political heirs in an apparent effort to establish himself and his brood as America’s new ruling family: The House of Trump.

Such practices are normal in a country like China ruled by a “red aristocracy” of dynastic “princelings” like President Xi Jinping. China’s “courtship” of Jared Kushner and “marginalization” of the U.S. State Department has been previously noted with the observation of China’s greater “comfort with dynastic links” than with official U.S. diplomatic channels (See “America’s Princeling: Why Chinese Elites Love Jared Kushner“).

The Trumps and Kushners including Ivanka and Jared as well as the president himself also have significant potential conflicts of interest related to their business ties with China.

Many of the products sold by Ivanka Trump’s fashion company are produced at factories in China where sweatshop conditions have been reported, and the recent arrest and disappearances of investigators looking into conditions at these factories in China prompted The Washington Post to ask if China might be “offering Ivanka Trump unseemly favors” in exchange for favorable treatment by the Trump administration.

Donald and Ivanka Trump have both been awarded valuable trademarks for their businesses by the Chinese government since the Trump inauguration, prompting constitutional concerns regarding foreign emoluments. Unauthorized and unpaid Trump-branded toilets are an example of what can happen in China without trademark protection, and of how far Donald Trump has defined the American presidency down in the eyes of the world:

"Trump Toilets": What happens in China without trademark protection.

Trump Toilets“: What happens in China without trademark protection.

Donald Trump’s and the Kushner family’s real-estate businesses have both also raised money from Chinese investors through the controversial EB-5 visa program for wealthy investors. Recent Kushner EB-5 activities in China prompted a call from U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) for the Kushners to be investigated for potential fraud and concern from Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives that Kushner Companies and its partners in China “may be seeking to benefit from the Kushner family’s connections to the White House.”

In China it is normal to mix government affairs with family ties and business interests, and Chinese government officials frequently use their positions in government to gain financial benefits for themselves and their families.

No doubt China would welcome any opportunity to deal with the United States “the Chinese way” via the president’s family members and their business interests. The United States is not China, however, and the President of the United States should not behave like a Chinese (or Russian) dictator-oligarch.

Negotiations between Washington and Beijing should be handled by professional diplomats who do not have business interests in China that their Chinese counterparts can use as bargaining chips; and no such negotiations should include back-room business deals to enrich the president and his family.

The question of whether someone in China can put the Trump name on a toilet without paying for it should not enter into discussions (if any) on human rights in China, the status of Taiwan, or territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Nor should U.S. taxpayers have to foot the bill for an Ivanka and Jared Go to China self-promotion tour. If Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner travel to China at all, it should be on a family vacation trip at their own expense.



Mark C. Eades

Mark C. Eades is an Asia-based writer, educator, and independent researcher. Located in Shanghai, China from 2009 to 2015, he now splits his time between the United States and various locations in Asia. He has spent a total of seven years in China since his first visit in 1991, and has taught at Fudan University, Shanghai International Studies University, and in the private sector in Shanghai. He is also widely traveled throughout East and Southeast Asia. His educational background includes a Bachelor of Arts in Social Science and a Master of Arts in Humanities from San Francisco State University with extensive coursework in Asia-Pacific studies. His previous publications include articles on China and Sino-US relations in U.S. News & World Report, Asia Times, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, and Atlantic Community. Twitter: @MC_Eades