(The story of how Cliff Li, now suspected of being a Chinese asset, and his associate Cindy Yang attempted to infiltrate the RNC to gather data on GOP elected officials and to illegally funnel Chinese money to Trump’s campaign in order to compromise him is a cautionary tale for anyone involved in politics; Beijing’s efforts aren’t limited to one party.)
As a (now former) RNC Committeewoman, Dr. Helen Van Etten says her primary role was to help Republican leaders win elections on the local, state, and national levels. As an immigrant who was born and raised in Taiwan, Van Etten also focused on Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) outreach for the RNC. So when Van Etten was recruited in 2016 to form and co-chair the RNC Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Conservative Leadership Caucus, she was excited and immediately jumped on board.
#APAHM Spotlight: Dr. Helen Van Etten
✅GOP National Committeewoman for Kansas
✅Co-chair of the RNC Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Conservative Leadership Caucus pic.twitter.com/83jRPWbXUW
— GOP (@GOP) May 28, 2020
Multiple AAPI RNC Committee Members were approached by Cliff Li, a conservative activist in South Florida, about the idea. Li is a Chinese immigrant who claims he moved to the United States after “seeing the events of Tiananmen Square,” Li founded the National Committee of Asian American Republicans in 2015 and had been an active part of Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential run before throwing his support behind the party’s nominee, Donald Trump.
Li was not an RNC member, but he routinely found his way to official RNC events by obtaining a guest pass and used those opportunities to network and build relationships with RNC members. As a non-member, he couldn’t hold an official position with the caucus but told Van Etten he’d be happy to volunteer his time to this important education and outreach effort. But Li’s true goal wasn’t to help elect more Asian Republicans to public office as he claimed; Li’s true goal, as Van Etten would learn in 2019, was to gain access to RNC meetings so he could share information with the Chinese Communist Party.
Speaking exclusively to RedState, Van Etten said:
Cliff told me we needed to make a long-lasting structure to elect more Asian Republicans to public office, which is in sync with the goal. I didn’t want to be fully in charge and responsible for the group, but another RNC Committeewoman told me she would co-chair, so we could do it together.
Cliff had a lot of experience with technology, and he told us he would help with the data, set up a website and social media.
Van Etten said Li did a great job building their website and social media accounts. He didn’t have a need to be at the AAPI Conservative Leadership Caucus meetings, which were held during official RNC meetings that are invitation-only. Li always found someone to issue him a guest pass, though.
In 2017 Van Etten was told by another RNC Committee member that Li had been observed visiting the United Front Work Department’s offices many times, and that if Li was working with United Front that would be a major national security concern.
For those unfamiliar with the United Front Work Department (UFWD), the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission described the group’s purpose and activities in a 2018 report (emphasis added):
The CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD)…mostly focuses on the management of potential opposition groups inside China, but it also has an important foreign influence mission.
To carry out its influence activities abroad, the UFWD directs “overseas Chinese work,” which seeks to co-opt ethnic Chinese individuals and communities living outside China, while a number of other key affiliated organizations guided by China’s broader United Front strategy conduct influence operations targeting foreign actors and states. Some of these entities have clear connections to the CCP’s United Front strategy, while others’ linkage is less explicit.
Today, United Front-related organizations are playing an increasingly important role in China’s broader foreign policy under Chinese President and General Secretary of the CCP Xi Jinping. It is precisely the nature of United Front work to seek influence through connections that are difficult to publically prove and to gain influence that is interwoven with sensitive issues such as ethnic, political, and national identity, making those who seek to identify the negative effects of such influence vulnerable to accusations of prejudice.
The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission was created by Congress in 2000 by the Floyd D. Spence National Defense Authorization Act of 2001:
“[W]ith the legislative mandate to monitor, investigate, and submit to Congress an annual report on the national security implications of the bilateral trade and economic relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, and to provide recommendations, where appropriate, to Congress for legislative and administrative action.”
Noting the expansion of UFWD efforts under President Xi Jinping and that the effort is “more expansive and more insidious than our government or nation has realized,” the Republican Study Committee’s national security task force released a set of recommendations in June 2020 calling for sanctions on UFWD officials. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), said:
“The American people need to know what the facts are about United Front Work Department, its origin under Mao [Zedong], its goal of political warfare, and then the incredible influence it has inside the United States.”
Clearly, someone who is supposedly a Chinese dissident wouldn’t be strolling in and out of the UFWD’s doors. Van Etten confronted Li, asking why he was at the UFWD’s offices. Angrily, he demanded to know who had given her that information, but she refused to tell him. Van Etten continued:
When I confronted him, he told me that he went there because his father was coming to the United States and he had to do some paperwork for that. I told him I knew that wasn’t true. Then he told me that he has to work with the UFWD because he still has his business in China.
Van Etten still didn’t believe his explanation. Following that episode, Van Etten and her co-chair worked to isolate Li, with the goal of gradually ending his involvement with the group. They knew that if they made a sudden move to oust him, that it would cause drama and gossip, and would be a tip-off that they knew he was working with the CCP.
Van Etten was later told by two separate sources that intelligence officials in two countries believe Li to be a UFWD/CCP asset and that at least one of his goals was to penetrate the RNC. A confidential source has confirmed Van Etten’s story to RedState, including that Cliff Li is believed to be a Chinese asset. By setting himself up as the data guru for AAPI, he had access to the contact information and mailing lists the group had and had the opportunity to befriend RNC committee members and elected officials.
In early 2019, after Li’s business associate Cindy Yang was accused of attempting to sell access to President Trump through events at Mar-a-Lago, Van Etten and her co-chair used that scandal as their reason to immediately bounce Li from AAPI. Van Etten didn’t seek re-election to her post at the RNC in 2020 due to family issues but is still heavily involved in Republican politics in her home state of Kansas.
Li is still running his National Committee of Asian American Republicans organization, also known as Asian.GOP. He claims to have 50,000 members, but there is no evidence of that; in April 2019 he told South China Morning News:
“The people no longer want to get involved,” said Li, who spends his time between Washington, where the Asian GOP is headquartered, and South Florida, where the committee’s Palm Beach chapter is now nothing more than “just a name”.
In other stories covering Yang’s activities, Li denied ever having spoken to United Front officials.
Both Yang and Li hadn’t appeared at political events prior to the Bush event, but Li said his political interests had nothing to do with parallel Chinese United Front’s expansion in 2015.
“This is a far stretch,” Li said. “Whatever happens in China is completely unrelated to us. The United Front — I’ve heard of them but I have never spoken to them.”
Li’s apparently feeling the sting of being frozen out of the RNC, because this year he’s been increasingly critical of President Trump. Over the past week, he has made multiple media appearances announcing his organization’s endorsement of Joe Biden.
Exclusive: the National Committee of Asian American Republicans has announced its support for Joe Biden. "We start to feel the country is further divided. And we don't feel safe," says the committee's executive director, Cliff Li. My latest on @newsy https://t.co/9uf80pdRh4 pic.twitter.com/Tssp8BtFGz
— Cat Sandoval (@mcatsandoval) October 30, 2020
Li’s interview with a Chinese news outlet drew a swift rebuke from a colleague of Van Etten’s, Solomon Yue, RNC Committeeman from Oregon.
Wow do you .@CliffZGL want 2 tell us why you AREN'T welcome 2 attend RNC meetings? Your RNC contacts were told not 2 sponsor you 4 our meetings. Whom are you really working 4? Not GOP. It must be very desperate 4 #CCP🇨🇳2 arrange 观察者网 2 interview you. https://t.co/7wLDEFxl7J https://t.co/B1LiYIca19
— Solomon Yue (@SolomonYue) October 21, 2020
Wow do you .@CliffZGL want 2 tell us why you AREN’T welcome 2 attend RNC meetings? Your RNC contacts were told not 2 sponsor you 4 our meetings. Whom are you really working 4? Not GOP. It must be very desperate 4 #CCP 🇨🇳 2 arrange 观察者网 2 interview you.
The home page of Asian.GOP (the website is not affiliated in any way with the Republican National Committee, even though it has a .GOP address) is now filled with a huge letter filled with MSM talking points, urging Asian Americans to vote for Joe Biden.
Li might have specifically targeted Van Etten becuase of her support for strengthening U.S.-Taiwan ties, a position Beijing is most assuredly not okay with.
Eighty-one members of the U.S. Republican National Committee (RNC) have issued a joint statement in support of further strengthening U.S.-Taiwan trade and investment ties.
The statement was initiated by Helen Van Etten, Republican National Committeewoman of Kansas, during the RNC’s 2015 Spring Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona.
It noted that the 2012 Republican Party Platform salutes the “sound democracy” of the Republic of China (Taiwan) and states that the United States and Taiwan are “united in our shared belief” in “free enterprise.”
The platform holds that, as “a loyal friend of America, Taiwan has merited our strong support, including free trade agreements status.”
The committee would therefore “like to reiterate its steadfast and staunch support of a robust partnership with Taiwan, in line with the U.S. desire to further peace and stability in Asia and strong trade and investment ties between the United States and Taiwan,” it said.
“The Republican National Committee supports as a high policy priority a U.S.-Taiwan Bilateral Investment Agreement (BIA) and Taiwan’s participation in economic integration in the Asia-Pacific region,” it added.
United Front’s efforts aren’t limited to penetrating Republican organizations. According to University of Miami professor June Teufel Dreyer, an expert on China and national security:
The Chinese government also has no interest in advancing a particular U.S. political party or candidate, she added, pointing to a scandal involving former Democratic President Bill Clinton.
A Chinese billionaire was accused of illegally funneling more than $1 million into Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign.
“They don’t care if it’s a Republican or a Democrat,” Dreyer said. “They look for a weakness and they exploit it.”
Perhaps Li’s activities in 2020 are designed to help him pivot and infiltrate the DNC. Time will tell.