What the heck is China doing in Utah?

Andy Wong

When I opened up my newsfeed this morning, I almost immediately spotted a headline from the AP that made me wonder if I was still asleep and experiencing some sort of dystopian dream from an alternate reality. The title was, “China finds an unlikely friend in Utah.” Huh? At first, I assumed that this was yet another story of the Chinese buying up land in rural portions of the United States, such as they’ve done in North Dakota and Oklahoma. But while there may be some of that happening, what China really seems to be buying in Utah is influence. And they’ve been surprisingly successful at it. Possibly even stranger is the report that the Mormon Church is somehow involved in all of this.

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China’s global campaign to win friends and influence policy has blossomed in a surprising place: Utah, a deeply religious and conservative state with few obvious ties to the world’s most powerful communist country.

An investigation by the Associated Press has found that China and its U.S.-based advocates spent years building relationships with the state’s officials and lawmakers. Those efforts have paid dividends at home and abroad, the AP found: Lawmakers delayed legislation Beijing didn’t like, nixed resolutions that conveyed displeasure with its actions and expressed support in ways that enhanced the Chinese government’s image.

It’s not as if China is trying to keep this secret. A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington responded to a reporter’s question by saying that China “values its relationship with Utah.” He went on to say that anyone who questioned or “smeared” Beijing’s relationship with Utah is “driven by ulterior political purposes.”

According to the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, China has been doing this for quite a while. They have been cultivating relationships with state and local officials in the United States in an effort to groom them. If they rise up further in the ranks, they will then be ready to “take a call and advocate on behalf of Beijing’s agenda.”

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Beijing gained a lot of traction in Utah over the past couple of decades. They were able to open “Confucius Institutes” at some of Utah’s top state colleges. When an effort to close them down began, “Chinese-friendly” state lawmakers worked to stall the legislation, though they were eventually closed. In 2020, a class of Utah fourth-grade students send cards to Xi Jinping wishing him a happy Chinese new year. Xi responded with a message sent directly back to the students, thanking them and encouraging them to become “young ‘ambassadors’ for Sino-American friendship.”

How the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ties into the picture is less clear. One person convicted of spying for the Chinese a few years ago told undercover investigators that he had been baptized in the church as an adult and had been traveling there often to meet with local officials. Others suggested that plying the church with donations was a good strategy because so many state and local leaders are members of the church.

All of this information brings the picture of what’s been going on between China and Biden Incorporated into sharper focus. How long did China spend “grooming” Hunter Biden and his business partners with millions of dollars for “positions” Hunter had absolutely no qualifications to hold? And now they have “the Big Guy” in the Oval Office.

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We’ve been spending a lot of time fixating on China’s expanding military capabilities and the possibility that they might cross the Strait of Taiwan. Perhaps we should have been watching what was going on in our own backyard more closely.

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David Strom 3:30 PM | June 20, 2024
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