Cindy Yang - Chinese sex trafficker and influence peddler... complicit with Xiaoqi Wang.
From PB Post March 22, 2019
Cindy Yang wanted a new life, a life away from running massage parlors,a life that eventually would put her in the orbit of powerful politicians.
So she donned a red dress adorned with a white “Jeb!” sticker and attended her first major American political event: Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign kickoff in Miami on June 15, 2015. At the time, the Chinese-born American citizen had never voted and she certainly had never donated to a political campaign.
Photos from the rally show Yang, 45, posing with Chinese-American friends who, like Yang, would appear at future events with political bigwigs including President Donald Trump, Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott.
Also like Yang, at least eight others at Bush’s rally got involved in politics around the same time while also belonging to or leading organizations tied to the Chinese government, The Palm Beach Post found.
These ties might have gone unnoticed had Yang never captured national attention after New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was charged in February with soliciting a prostitute at a Jupiter massage parlor Yang once owned.
But it’s Yang’s appearances with Trump and links to Communist China that now draw scrutiny. National security experts say her behavior exhibits signs of Chinese influence.
And she’s not the only one.
The Post identified the eight others in Yang’s circle using photographs from the Bush rally, pictures and descriptions of events hosted by Beijing-linked groups on Chinese-language blogs and social media.
Only one of the eight, Boca Raton tech entrepreneur Zhonggang “Cliff” Li, spoke with The Post. Six of them did not respond to phone calls. One did not appear to have an address or phone number in the United States.
Li, 53, founded a chapter of a group that experts describe as a vehicle for gathering information on behalf of the Chinese government, a claim he called “absurd.”
He portrayed his longtime friend Yang as a political innocent, too naive to ever be “a spy.”
“Back (in 2015), she probably thought the Second Amendment was her God-given right to take a picture with the president,” Li said. “Don’t go thinking she has some political motive for doing everything. She’s not that sophisticated.”
Direction from China
Three weeks before the Bush rally, on the other side of the globe, China signaled that it would ramp up efforts to covertly shape policy in foreign countries.
President Xi Jinping convened the first conference in nine years for China’s United Front Work Department, a branch of the Communist Party, which experts say is indistinguishable from the Chinese government. The department is devoted to establishing influence overseas, collecting information on behalf of the Chinese government and winning support for China’s political agenda, according to Chinese media and a U.S. intelligence report.
A Chinese-language website, AsianAmericanforJeb.com, that launched the day Bush kicked off his presidential campaign, featured photos of the event. A tab on the site that reads “Why Jeb” links to biographical details about Bush, but doesn’t explain why political novices in the Asian-American community decided to throw their support behind the former Florida governor.
Bush’s family has deep ties to China. His father, former President George H.W. Bush, served as chief of the U.S. Liaison’s Office in Beijing in the 1970s before becoming the head of the CIA.
Jeb Bush, too, had ties to China. He visited Beijing after leaving the governor’s office, though the trip wasn’t reported by American media outlets.
In January 2012, Bush met with Xi, who was China’s vice president at the time, according to an online news release from the Chinese embassy in Washington. A Chinese website published a photo of Bush and Xi in China.
Three years later, a super PAC supporting Bush’s presidential run illegally collected $1.3 million from a Chinese-owned company, prompting a reported $390,000 fine against Bush’s PAC.U.S. politicians are banned from accepting campaign money from foreign nationals.
Shift to Trump
Bush’s rally launched Yang’s new life. She and her collaborators ingratiated themselves into local political circles, snapping pictures with top Republicans and frequenting fund-raisers at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach.
Their behavior follows China’s documented pattern of influence tactics, said June Teufel Dreyer, a University of Miami professor and expert on China and national security.
“It fits in perfectly with what we know about United Front,” Dreyer said. “They try to mobilize all available segments that might be sympathetic to their cause and draw them to their side.”
The United Front is known for recruiting Chinese-born citizens in foreign countries in positions to push China’s agenda, she said.
Top Democratic members of Congress have called for an intelligence investigation into Yang’s ties to China and Trump.
After Bush withdrew from the presidential race in February 2016, Yang’s sights turned to then-candidate Trump.
She has personally donated $37,000 to pro-Trump political committees since then, according to an analysis of federal contribution records. Yang’s campaign contributions helped her earn a signed photo with Trump.
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But she didn’t vote in the 2016 general election, Palm Beach County voting records show.
She did, however, post pictures with Trump and other Republicans on her company’s website, which peddled access to Trump to Chinese nationals, Mother Jones magazine reported (this article is linked next on this site)Yang founded the company, GY US Investments, in 2017.
Yang told The Post last week that she couldn’t remember going to the April conference.
“I go to a lot, hundreds of events,” she said.
Li, Yang’s longtime friend, said that though Yang’s actions might appear suspicious to those who don’t know her, he believes she had no nefarious motives.
“If someone tried to spy for the Chinese government, it’s pretty stupid to put that information out on websites,” Li said, referring to Yang’s GY US Investments. “She’s not sophisticated enough to know the political significance behind her actions. ... If you have a concern, investigate her. I don’t know how important she is.”
Yang, born in Heilongjiang Province in northeast China, wrote in a February name-change application filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court that she spent four years studying at Wuhan University, ranked among the Top 10 schools in China. Yang, who changed her first name from Li Juan to Cindy, moved to the United States 10 years later, court records show.
In February, Yang attended Trump’s Super Bowl party at his West Palm Beach country club where she snapped her now-viral selfie with the president, first reported by The Miami Herald.
Yang at one point held a top spot in a group directly linked to the Chinese government. She was vice president of the Florida Association for the Reunification of China, a chapter of the flagship China-based organization the Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China.
The council, which advocates for communist China to unite with independent Taiwan and Tibet, is directly under the Chinese government and has chapters in several countries, said John Dotson, an expert with research group The Jamestown Foundation in Washington.
It’s “the most prominent front organization employed by the United Front and the Chinese Communist Party,” Dotson said. “Bear in mind that the people who are representatives of these organizations are not really running genuine grass roots organizations. They’re operating groups that are fronts for the Chinese government.”
An August U.S. intelligence report that cites Dotson’s findings on the United Front says that, though Chinese officials are often candid about influence-peddling goals, “the breadth and depth of this issue remain relatively unknown to U.S. policymakers.”
In interviews, Yang has denied having ties to the Chinese government.Her attorney, Evan Turk, told The Post last week that Yang is being attacked because of her devotion to Trump.
“She’s another casualty as a supporter of our president,” Turk said.
On March 10, the same day Mother Jones revealed Yang’s role in the reunification chapter, the organization’s board voted to dissolve the chapter, Florida corporate records reveal.
The group’s president, Xianqin Qu, of Miramar, attended the 2015 Bush rally and several events featuring Trump’s family and his top staffers. Qu could not be reached for comment.
Another Bush event attendee, Xiao “Alex” Ling, a Boynton Beach man who owns a Broward County fish market, was also on the board of the reunification chapter.
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.”
His interest in politics wasn’t abrupt, he told The Post. He said he was involved in campaigns long before Bush’s run, but he couldn’t name a political event he had attended or a donation he had made before 2015.
They didn’t vote
Li was the only person in Yang’s orbit who was as successful at gaining access to officials as she was.
The one-time engineer at IBM’s Boca Raton campus took his wife and two children to the White House Easter event last year and has been to Mar-a-Lago at least three times, photos on social media show.
Li spent the two months before the 2016 presidential election campaigning for Trump, appearing at his rallies and encouraging fellow Chinese-Americans to do the same.
But like Yang, Li didn’t vote in the 2016 general election, Palm Beach County voting records show.
Li submitted paperwork that March to switch his political party affiliation from no party to Republican, but didn’t vote in any of the three elections that year.
A month before Trump appointed him to a campaign board for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Li founded the South Florida chapter of the China Association for Science and Technology.
The main China Association for Science and Technology is based in Beijing, but has chapters in several countries.
“It’s known as an intermediary for establishing contact with and cultivating ethnic Chinese overseas to encourage them to return knowledge to China,” said Dotson, the Jamestown Foundation expert.
Though Li described Yang as unsophisticated, he gave her a leadership role in the association: vice chairwoman.
But Li is adamant that the group is not linked to the Chinese government.
He says the chapter, which he founded in August 2016, only shares a name with the China-based association.
“It has no ties with Chinese government,” Li said. “However, yes, in terms of activities concerned, a lot of our members have some activities that have something to do with China. But the organization itself has nothing to do with China.”
At least one of the organization’s events featured a Houston-based ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, The Post found through pictures on a Chinese-language blog.
A Nov. 22, 2015, dinner in Miami — which drew as guests Yang and all eight of the Bush-rally attendees — honored Consulate General Li Qiangmin, a Chinese ambassador then based in Houston.
Among Yang’s collaborators at Bush’s rally were:
Miami lawyer Qian Wen, a board member of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce of Florida, another group with chapters linked to China.
Three members who once chaired the South Florida chapter of the China Association of Science and Technology: Jin Qing, of Delray Beach; James Xuefeng Zhang, of Weston; and Monica Shang, of Boynton Beach.
And Chen Zijing, described as a board member of the science association in a Chinese blog, but no U.S. addresses or phone numbers are associated with her.
Qu, the president of the reunification group, and Shang appear in photos of Asian-American GOP events. Qu, Shang and Ling, the other reunification member, attended a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago last year that featured Trump’s sister, Elizabeth Grau Trump, The Post found.
Many of them attended Trump rallies and small Republican gatherings in Palm Beach and Broward counties, but only a few got pictures with high-ranking officials.
Qu posed with Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Trump consultant Kellyanne Conway. Qing got a picture with former Congressman Allen West.
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Beginning in 2015, Li used social media and Chinese chat rooms to recruit members to political groups he formed: the Asian American GOP in Florida, the National Association of Asian American Republicans and the Asian American Pacific Islander Conservative Leadership Caucus.
In June 2015, just after the Bush rally, Li started a chat group called “Chinese Pro-politics — New Culture” on a Chinese messaging website, The Palm Beach Post found.
He called on the group’s 1,300 members throughout the country to get involved. He summed up the goal in an Aug. 4, 2015, message:
“Chinese Pro-politics — New Culture group aims to encourage all Chinese to participate in politics and get involved in politics, and also to let our voice be heard in education as well as other areas so that we can play a role in the 2016 election,” he wrote, according to a translation obtained by The Post.
In South Florida, the movement flourished.
“They grew to be a real force in the county Republican Executive Committee,” said Al Zucaro, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for Boca Raton mayor in 2017 and 2018.
Xiaoqi Wang, vice president of the Asian-American GOP in Palm Beach County, said she joined the group as a grassroots organizer in 2016. The group formed “naturally” after community interest in politics bubbled, she said.
“I think the Chinese community is a really good, hard-working community. After so many years, people want to get involved.”
It wasn’t all fundraisers and photographs. Some Asian-American GOP members donated considerable sums to conservative political committees.
Yang has donated $37,000 to pro-Trump PACs and about $8,600 to other committees since 2015, according to an analysis of federal contribution records. Yang’s husband and parents donated another $32,400 to pro-Trump PACs in 2018.
Yang’s husband, Zubin Gong, and her parents, Guiying Zhang and Fuming Yang, aren’t registered to vote in Florida. None of them had contributed to political committees before 2015.
Li has donated at least $7,900 to political committees over the past four years, but made no political contributions before 2015.
Wang, who appears in photos of 2017 events hosted by local Beijing-linked groups, has donated $11,300 since 2016, but gave no money to committees prior to that.
Wang, 51, isn’t registered to vote in Florida, records show.
Excluding Yang and Li, the seven other members of China-linked organizations who attended Bush’s 2015 rally have not donated to political committees, records show.
The Chinese government maintains its stronghold on overseas groups by appealing to ethnic patriotism or by offering “financial incentives,” said Dreyer, the UM professor.
“They basically say, ‘If you do what we want, your business will prosper,’ ” she said.
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.”
Staff writer John Pacenti and staff researcher Melanie Mena contributed to this story.