A column this week by former Defense Secretary James N. Mattis that blasted President Trump’s “America First” theme did not disclose that Mr. Mattis holds a senior position at the Cohen Group, a firm that dedicates itself to making business deals in China.
Mr. Trump’s get-tough approach toward China — tariffs and prohibitions on Beijing’s cyberproducts — is generally counter to the Cohen Group’s objective of bringing Chinese and U.S. companies together in multimillion dollar deals.
The Cohen Group, founded by former Defense Secretary William Cohen and staffed by a number of former high-ranking government and military leaders, has two of its four overseas offices in China.
Mr. Mattis’ Nov. 23 ForeignAffairs.com column was co-authored with three other national security experts, but it was his name that gave it weight in the news media. The article’s thoughts resemble the Obama administration’s China approach. It could be a window into how presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden pulls back from Mr. Trump’s hardline.
Mr. Mattis is identified in his column as a former defense secretary and fellow at the Hoover Institution, but not as a senior counselor at the Cohen Group global consulting firm in Washington.
In the column, Mr. Mattis rejects Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s campaign of rallying Asian countries against China’s drive for dominance. Mr. Mattis does not mention China’s declared economic war against U.S. ally Australia in retaliation for Canberra calling for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.
China has yet to explain and document exactly how the pandemic began in Wuhan, where the virus was first discovered in 2019.
Mr. Mattis wrote, in a broad indictment of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy: “Crucially, the United States should not press countries to choose outright between the two powers. A ‘with us or against us’ approach plays to China’s advantage, because the economic prosperity of U.S. allies and partners hinges on strong trade and investment relationships with Beijing. Rather than treating countries as pawns in a great-power competition, a better approach would emphasize common codes of behavior and encourage states to publicly promulgate a vision for their country’s sovereign future and the types of partnerships they need to pursue it.
“It would also expand the cooperative space in which all countries supporting a rules-based order can work together to advance shared interests. Cooperation across different ideological systems is difficult but necessary, and there should be opportunities to cooperate with China in areas of overlapping interests, such as pandemic response, climate change and nuclear security.”
Mr. Mattis urged Mr. Biden to remove “America First” from all foreign policies.
The Cohen Group announced Mr. Mattis’ hiring in September 2019 as a “senior counselor,” calling him a “national treasure.” His photo is prominently featured on its home page. “China is a market of enormous opportunity and complexity,” the firm states. “The Cohen Group’s (TCG) China Practice has a solid record of success with professionals in offices in Beijing, Tianjin and Washington, D.C.
“Building upon decades of experience, on-the-ground management expertise, and longtime personal and professional relationships throughout the region, TCG’s China Practice helps companies succeed in the Chinese market. TCG enables Fortune 500 companies, as well as small- and medium-sized enterprises, to achieve their commercial goals in China through tailored government, business and media relations strategies.”
Citing a recent “success,” the website said, “TCG facilitated discussions between a global pharmaceutical company and relevant Chinese government entities regarding the regulatory framework for a high-profile drug, resulting in a mutually beneficial solution for both the company and the Chinese healthcare community.”
Mr. Mattis, a highly decorated and respected Marine Corps four-star general who oversaw all Middle East troops as Central Command head, resigned as Mr. Trump’s defense secretary to protest planned troop withdrawals from Syria.
American forces are backing Syrian rebels fighting Islamic State terrorists. Mr. Trump argues he smashed the ISIS hold on Syrian territory. About 500 American troops remain in Syria.
Robert Gates, a Republican and President Barack Obama’s first defense secretary, has praised Mr. Trump’s foreign policy.
“At least he has not started any new wars,” Mr. Gates said on “Meet the Press.” “And he has robustly funded the military. … I thought his challenging China was about time.”
Mr. Gates has said that the Western powers welcomed China into the family of nations some 20 years ago and China reacted by violating trade rules to gain advantages.
Led by Mr. Pompeo, the Trump administration unleashed a series of actions against China’s drive to lead the world. It uses tariffs to rein in what it calls unfair trade practices and calls out China for the illegal theft of U.S. inventions and personal identities and for rampant spying in colleges, businesses and government.
The FBI says it opened numerous counter-intelligence probes into Chinese nationals. It estimates that China has broken into computer networks and stolen the personal information of half the American population.
The Trump administration shut down a Chinese consulate in Houston, calling it nothing more than an intelligence collection hub. Mr. Trump has blocked U.S. businesses from doing deals with Chinese companies supporting the People’s Liberation Army. It has called China’s telecommunications giant Huawei a spying tool. He has required China’s propaganda arms in the U.S. to register as foreign agents rather than continue operations as journalists.
Mr. Pompeo and congressional Republicans have accused China of covering up the coronavirus outbreak by telling the world initially that it was not contagious as travelers arrived in the U.S. and Europe where the virus went on to infect millions.
As vice president Mr. Biden was the Obama administration’s point man on China while his son, Hunter, engaged in networking with Chinese billionaires. He eventually worked out multimillion-dollar deals for himself and uncle James Biden.
A Senate Republican report documented the flow of cash based on Treasury Department suspicious activity reports (SARS) filed by lending institutions because they suspected illegality such as money laundering.
In 2011, Mr. Biden delivered a speech in China as Hunter was making business contacts there, promising to integrate China into American life.
“In order to cement this robust partnership, we have to go beyond close ties between Washington and Beijing, which we’re working on every day, go beyond it to include all levels of government, go beyond it to include classrooms, and laboratories, authentic fields and boardrooms.”
Mr. Biden returned to China in 2013 with Hunter onboard Air Force 2.