Huntsman advisor: Romney must disclose his Chinese business ties

Huntsman advisor: Romney must disclose his Chinese business ties

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney should explain his past business dealings and relationships with Chinese state-owned companies and the Chinese government, the new foreign policy director for Jon Huntsman’s presidential campaign told The Cable today in an exclusive interview.

"You have to look at every candidate and look at where their personal interests overlap [with] their policy pronouncements and look for inconsistencies, and I think this is something that bears closer examination," said Randy Schriver, who took up the post of foreign policy director for the Huntsman campaign this week. The Huntsman campaign has weathered a bit of turmoil this week due to the release of internal e-mails by ex-campaign staffer David Fischer that voiced concern with what he saw as a state of disarray.

Schriver, though, is part of the Washington policy team, not the Orlando political headquarters. He said that the  business done by Bain Capital, which Romney co-founded, with the Chinese needs to be disclosed in a transparent manner.

"Part of it is, when you’re doing business with state-owned enterprises, you are also doing business with the government. You are involved in ventures that, even on the margins, are potentially supporting elites and government officials. You need to take account for that," Schriver said.

Bain Capital, the firm that Romney founded, has been active for years in trying to help Chinese corporations acquire U.S. technology firms. In 2005, Bain teamed up with Haier Group, China’s largest appliance maker, and private equity firm Blackstone Group in a failed attempt to acquire Maytag for more than $1 billion. In 2007, Bain joined Huawei Technologies in an attempt to acquire 3Com for $2.2 billion in cash, but later abandoned the deal because it could not satisfy the objections of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). The CFIUS review board was concerned because 3com makes hacking software for the U.S. military and Huawei has ties to the Chnese military.

In 2009, Bain announced a deal to acquire a 16 percent stake in Chinese electronics manufacturer GOME Electrical Appliances for $300 million, and then expanded its investment in 2010.

In the run up to Romney’s 2008 bid for president, Bain’s involvement with Huawei was raised by several public figures, including Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who called on Romney in November 2007 to come out against the Huawei deal.

"As the founder of Bain Capital, Governor Romney has an obligation to utilize his influence within the company to terminate the proposed merger between 3Com and Chinese defense contractor Huawei," said Hunter at the time. "It is increasingly more important that American military technology be protected from foreign companies, such as Huawei, that are closely aligned with the Chinese government."

Romney’s defense on these charges is clear, simply that he left Bain Capital in 1999 and was not involved in these deals. At the time, a Romney spokesman Kevin Madden responded that, "the governor is not currently involved in Bain Capital or their investment decisions." Today, the Romney campaign declined to comment for this story.

"What we see in Romney is someone who has been involved there through business practices but yet doesn’t have a formulated policy that takes into account the complexities. Romney is essentially weak on foreign policy and China is a complex issue to handle," said Schriver.

Huntsman should know. He spent the last two years as President Barack Obama‘s ambassador to China, and previously served as ambassador to Singapore and deputy U.S. trade representative, where he worked on China’s accession to the World Trade Organization. In his youth, Huntsman was a Mormon missionary for two years in Taiwan.

Schriver, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, was also chief of staff to Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and is a founding partner of the consulting firm Armitage International. He is also president and CEO of the Project 2049 Institute, a non-profit policy organization focused on East Asian security issues.

The Huntsman campaign is aware that other candidates are preparing to use the ambassador’s time as an Obama administration official to criticize him in the GOP primary. In June, Bloomberg reported that Huntsman Corp.’s revenues in China rose 57 percent while Huntsman was ambassador.

Last week, The Washington Post reported that Huntsman’s company has reduced its workforce in the United States and it moving its "center of gravity" to Asia. His father, Jon Huntsman, Sr., founded the multibillion-dollar chemical company. According to Hunstman Corps’ 2010 annual financial report, the company has numerous holdings in China, several joint ventures with Chinese firms, and owns exactly 20 Chinese subsidiaries.

But Team Huntsman is embracing, not shying away from their candidate’s China record.

"When the president asks you to serve your country, you should serve. As time goes on, you may think some things emerge where he might have done some things differently," Schriver said.  "The Chinese base their policy on [the question]: Do they think we’re strong? A Huntsman administration would have more credibility and would be a stronger administration and would come at the China policy from a totally different place."

Schriver, as the Huntsman campaign’s new foreign policy director, will be reporting up to the campaign’s policy director Mark McIntosh, who served as an environmental counselor to George W. Bush. Schriver will work alongside senior foreign policy advisor C. Boyden Gray, a former U.S. ambassador to the EU and special envoy for European affairs under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Richard Armitage is also involved in the campaign a senior advisor.

Schriver said that Huntsman’s campaign takes advice from a range of experts who aren’t necessarily full-time campaign staffers. He contrasted that model favorably with the Romney campaign, which he said is setting up an intricate internal foreign policy structure modeled after the National Security Council.

"There are people who may not be ready to date exclusively and are seeing other candidates, but who are actively involved" in the Huntsman campaign, he said. "Romney needs a mirror interagency, he needs a lot of briefings. We have less of an educational aspect to our campaign. We’ve got a foreign policy guy."