‘Hiding In Plain Sight’: Elite DC Think Tank Hired High-Ranking Chinese Communist Party Scholar After Obscuring Ties

  • Post category:News / US News
  • Carnegie Endowment for International Peace appears to have knowingly hired a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) member a month after obscuring his CCP ties within an English-language press release, the nonprofit’s records reveal.
  • Carnegie hired Tsinghua University professor Shi Zhiqin while he served as his department’s deputy party secretary, Tsinghua’s website confirms. 
  • “What would be a surprise is any suggestion those involved were somehow not in on the joke,” Steve Yates, a former Chinese language analyst for the National Security Agency, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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A decade-old Chinese-language press release reveals an elite Washington, D.C., think tank knew of a prominent Chinese academic’s high-ranking Communist Party position before hiring him a month later — an affiliation the think tank omitted from the English-language press release heralding the opening of their new center in Beijing.

This new revelation comes as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace takes fire from Republicans on Capitol Hill after a Daily Caller News Foundation investigation found the think tank employed at least 20 Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members during current CIA director William Burns’ tenure as the group’s president.

“The amount of CCP infiltration at Carnegie shows that Director Burns was aware and intentionally concealed it from the American people, or he was grossly incompetent,” Texas Republican Rep. Lance Gooden told the DCNF. “Anyone who enables our top adversary is not fit to lead a U.S. intelligence agency.”

Carnegie opened its Beijing headquarters, Carnegie-Tsinghua, in partnership with a Tsinghua University humanities department in April 2010. Carnegie published two conflicting announcements in Chinese and English, both of which quoted Shi Zhiqin, who in the English-language release was described as “deputy dean” of Tsinghua’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

However, the Chinese language release referred to Shi as “deputy party secretary” of the CCP for that department.

Carnegie did not respond to questions about why this discrepancy existed between the versions of the press release.

“It comes as no surprise that differing titles would be chosen for different target audiences, but what would be a surprise is any suggestion those involved were somehow not in on the joke,” Steve Yates, a former Chinese language analyst at the National Security Agency, told the DCNF.

Besides the way in which Shi is identified, the English and Chinese-language notices are practically identical in commemorating the April 2010 Beijing headquarters launch. In both versions, Shi is quoted calling Carnegie’s new headquarters a “symbol of friendship” between the U.S. and China which would “contribute to strengthening our mutual understanding.”

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Carnegie’s April 2010 Chinese-language announcement is unambiguous about Shi’s CCP affiliation, Yates said.

“Whether or not this distinguished professor also carried the title of ‘deputy dean’ is beside the point,” said Yates. “What is crystal clear is that the most important title to the Chinese reading audience according to Carnegie and its partner organization is ‘deputy party secretary’ — and it’s hiding in plain sight in the Chinese language press release.”

A 2008 Tsinghua press release supports the Chinese-language version of Carnegie’s April 2010 announcement in identifying Shi as his department’s “deputy party secretary.” Moreover, a 2013 Tsinghua announcement revealed that by that time Shi had been promoted to full “party secretary.”

Although Shi was not among the original six experts which Carnegie’s Beijing center employed at launch, he joined one month later in May 2010. This time around, both Carnegie’s English and Chinese-language notices failed to acknowledge Shi’s CCP membership and simply identified him as “a professor in Tsinghua University’s Department of International Relations.”

Before joining Carnegie, Shi attended the CCP’s Central Party School and also served as an agent of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tsinghua’s records reveal. As a Carnegie expert, Shi has promoted Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative — which some have called “debt trap” diplomacy — and has also penned pieces framing China as the West’s “partner,” rather than as a “competitor.”

“Western republics should not view the Chinese political paradigm as a threat to their own political future,” Shi wrote in a 2013 piece published on Carnegie’s website.

Shi has interacted with academics, ambassadors and has even gained access to the family members of senior American politicians while at Carnegie. Shi also moderated a discussion featuring Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, and other family members in October 2015. The discussion reportedly centered on “the importance of education and people-to-people exchanges for U.S.-China relations,” Carnegie’s summary states.

Although Shi has been listed as an active resident scholar at Carnegie since 2010, it appears there are no other instances in which the nonprofit acknowledged his CCP affiliation in later press releases.

Yet, Shi is not the only individual tied to the Chinese government whom Carnegie appears to have knowingly allowed to join — the think tank also welcomed Zhang Yichen to its board of trustees in 2016. Zhang is an individual whom Carnegie acknowledged at the time was a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which directs Beijing’s influence operations, according to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC).

“We are very fortunate to have Zhang Yichen on our board,” Burns said, according to Carnegie’s 2016 press release. “I look forward to working with him to make Carnegie an even finer institution.”

Carnegie’s ties to China became a matter of public interest during Burns’ February 2021 CIA confirmation hearing when the career diplomat told Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio that “not long after” becoming president he’d ended the nonprofit’s relationship with the China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF) — a Chinese government-backed group.

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz described CUSEF as a “pseudo-philanthropic foundation” tied to the CCP in 2018, the same year that its founder, Tung Chee-hwa, was characterized as “clearly associated” with CCP influence operations by the USCC.

However, Carnegie not only continued to accept hundreds of thousands of dollars from CUSEF years into Burns’ presidency, but the think tank also employed undisclosed CCP members and former government employees like Shi with CUSEF ties, the DCNF previously determined.

Gooden sent a letter to the CIA on Sept. 12 urging Burns to address his “strong ties” to the CCP after the DCNF revealed that former Chinese government employees — including one CCP member — worked on Department of Defense grants related to nuclear warfare worth hundreds of thousands of dollars at Carnegie during Burns’ tenure.

The CIA and Burns did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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