China sends sanctioned official to AmCham dinner in Beijing

National People's Congress vice-chairman Wang Chen said he hoped that AmCham could play an active role in facilitating the two countries "re-launching dialogue, returning to normal tracks and rebuilding mutual trust". PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - Beijing sent a top official sanctioned by the United States to an AmCham China dinner, in a show of defiance that could feed criticism of the business group in Washington.

The Chinese government was represented at the annual American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) event on Thursday (Dec 10) in Beijing by Mr Wang Chen, a member of the Communist Party's Politburo.

Mr Wang is also vice-chairman of the National People's Congress and among the 14 officials sanctioned by the US 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. Mr 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.

"Other developments this week involved political considerations, of which we're not a part," AmCham China Chairman Greg Gilligan said in an e-mailed statement, referring to the tit-for-tat sanctions imposed on officials from both countries.

"We are an independent organisation that aims to be a commercial bridge on behalf of our members between the US and China."

The group's members include some of the best known corporations in America, such as Walmart Inc and the Coca-Cola Co.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy declined to comment on Mr Wang's attendance, adding that no one from the embassy attended the event due to last-minute Covid-testing requirements.

'Totally friendly'

Mr Wang said Beijing would continue to create a favourable 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 AmCham 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 what 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 AmCham event could feed criticism in Washington that the US 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 DC politicians" after the remarks went viral in the US.

Mr Wang made no mention of sanctions during his speech and the tone of his remarks was "totally friendly" said Mr Henry Wang, president of the Centre for China and Globalisation.

He added said sending a Politburo member "shows the high level of importance" with which China treats the event.

"We believe that fostering better communication between the people of our two countries is needed now more than ever," said AmCham's Mr Gilligan.

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