Will BlackRock Thwart Progress on China Human Rights?

Antony Blinken/PHOTO: US Embassy Moldova (CC)

BlackRock, the world’s biggest money manager, has successfully placed executives from its own ranks in key positions on President Joe Biden’s economic team.

Considering the firm’s clear emphasis on progressive policies in investment decisions – called Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) – it doesn’t surprise that its alumni would be among the economic decision-makers at the White House.

The BlackRock veterans are:

  • Mike Pyle, who will be Vice President Kamala Harris’s chief economic adviser. He was BlackRock’s Global Chief Investment Strategist after a stint in the Obama administration.
  • Brian Deese, who will be director of the National Economic Council. He was previously deputy director and also a senior advisor to Obama. For BlackRock, he was global head of sustainable investing.
  • Adewale “Wally” Adeyemo, who will be deputy secretary of the Treasury Department, if he is confirmed by the Senate. He was Obama’s senior international economics advisor and chief of staff to BlackRock CEO Larry Fink.

The trio will be in positions to steer the administration’s economic policies in the progressive direction that both BlackRock and Biden favor, especially on issues such as climate change, social issues, and diversity mandates.

But in recent years the BlackRock team’s moral grandstanding on the issues in investments has not extended to concern over the human rights violators in communist China. In May National Legal and Policy Center president Peter Flaherty, in a letter to Fink, requested that BlackRock divest itself from the 137 Chinese companies – all controlled by the communists and many with more than 30 percent control by China’s government – listed on American stock exchanges. Flaherty cited a litany of egregious activity by the Chinese, including suppression and persecution of its own people – including Hong Kongers and Muslim Uighurs – as well as its irresponsible role in the release and spread of the coronavirus, which has killed millions and destroy economies worldwide.

But the plea to Fink fell on deaf ears.

As BlackRock has enhanced its ties to Biden, who has his own history of coziness with the Chinese, as indicated by the “family business” that his son Hunter has cited to help cut deals with his Sino partners, which scored him $6 million, according to a Senate Oversight and Government Reform Committee report last year.

And Fink himself has used his influence to move the Biden presidency forward. In a joint letter earlier this month – before the Senate’s counting of Electoral College votes in which some battle ground states were going to be challenged by some Republican members – Fink and other top business leaders pleaded for confirmation of the Democrat’s victory.

“We urge Congress to fulfill its responsibility in counting the electoral votes, the Trump administration to facilitate an orderly transition for the incoming Biden administration, and all of our elected officials to devote their energies to combating the pandemic and supporting our economic recovery,” the business leaders wrote.

“Attempts to thwart or delay this process run counter to the essential tenets of our democracy…,” they added. “There should be no further delay in the orderly transfer of power.”

Now that Fink has his man in the White House and key BlackRock vets in positions of influence, it still remains to be seen what Biden’s policies on China will be.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who the Senate confirmed on Tuesday, gave mixed messages during his confirmation hearings when asked about the communist state. He told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he agreed with President Trump’s tougher stance against China, but disagreed with some of his tactics.

“As we look at China, there is no doubt that it poses the most significant challenge…,” he said. “There are rising adversarial aspects of the relationship; certainly, competitive ones, and still some cooperative ones, when it is in our mutual interests.”

An encouraging note is that Blinken endorsed outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s formal judgment that China has engaged in genocide against the Uighurs.

“So on the Uighurs, I think we’re very much in agreement, and the forcing men, women, and children into concentration camps, trying to, in effect re-educate them, to be adherence to the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party, all of that speaks to an effort to commit genocide,” he said during the hearing.

Of concern, however, is his receipt of $22 million in anonymous Chinese donations to the  Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, which Biden established in 2018 with the University of Pennsylvania, where Blinken was managing director and other Biden aides from the Obama Administration operated as the government-in-waiting.

The specific sources of the donations have never been disclosed.

And as Politico reported yesterday, for Biden and BlackRock to achieve their clean energy goals, they can’t avoid China:

The U.S path to clean energy goes straight through China.

President Joe Biden’s plan to green the economy by 2035 will require cooperation from America’s largest trading partner, which controls a vast share of the minerals used in electric batteries, the cheap materials that make up solar panels and the guts of wind turbines.

China has locked up resources even beyond its borders, buying mining rights in Africa and South America and solar manufacturers in Malaysia…

“China has really put a clear flag in the ground that clean energy is going to be their version of natural gas,” Miranda Ballentine, CEO of the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, said in an interview.

But China’s green-tech leapfrogging has come at a heavy price: rampant forced labor, unchecked pollution and great geopolitical risk. Biden needs China, but his green future can’t afford the social and environmental price that China demands.

Or can it? The President, his new Secretary of State, and BlackRock have shown they are more than willing to look the other way when it comes to China.

Will Blinken’s view of China’s human rights record mean anything when the pull of policy and financial deals are so strong?