Matt Bush, FISM News
China has for years carried out a campaign in Utah that utilizes Mormonism to influence politicians and sway popular opinion on issues that affect the Chinese Communist Party, according to a report published Monday by the Associated Press.
“Lawmakers delayed legislation Beijing didn’t like, nixed resolutions that conveyed displeasure with its actions, and expressed support in ways that enhanced the Chinese government’s image,” the report stated.
U.S. officials have called this influence campaign in Utah a threat to national security.
Utah is an important foothold,” said Frank Montoya Jr., a retired FBI counterintelligence agent who lives in the state. “If the Chinese can succeed in Salt Lake City, they can also make it in New York and elsewhere.”
According to the AP, “The investigation relied on dozens of interviews with key players and the review of hundreds of pages of records, text messages and emails obtained through public records’ requests.” The investigative report revealed, “how pervasive and persistent China has been in trying to influence America.”
It has been widely known and reported that China puts a high value on global influence. In poorer countries, China employs a strategy known as “debt traps” to gain influence around the globe.
A previous FISM article describes these debt traps as,
Essentially, the Chinese government finds poor countries in need of loans to help with infrastructure projects including roads, electrical grids, airports, etc. and makes those loans on what appears to be good terms for both countries. However, there are certain stipulations that give China power and leverage if those countries cannot pay back the loans which is oftentimes the case.
PLAYING THE LDS LONG GAME IN UTAH
China’s work in Utah is much subtler, occurring over years and forging allies on the local level through community initiatives and affiliations. According to the AP report, this long-term effort to build ties with Utah lawmakers has been no less effective than the debt traps used in third-world countries.
One of the key takeaways from the report was the way in which pro-China advocates used the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), or the Mormon Church, to advance their agenda in Utah. Mormonism is the dominant religion in Utah with approximately 62% of the state’s population claiming membership in the Mormon Church.
For years the Mormon Church, which boasts membership in 176 nations and territories, has desired to “expand into China,” according to a CNN report. However, the LDS church is not recognized by the CCP. What LDS services are held in the country remain under CCP scrutiny and censorship and the LDS church does not publically send missionaries to or encourage evangelism in China.
Clearly, the CCP does not want the LDS Church to have influence in China. However, that hasn’t kept CCP associates from using Mormonism to influence the LDS Church in Utah.
The AP report claimed that Taowen Le, one of China’s biggest advocates in Utah, “has quoted scripture from the Bible and the Book of Mormon in his emails and letters to lawmakers, and sprinkled in positive comments that Russell Nelson, the church’s president and ‘prophet,’ has made about China.”
A spokesman from the Chinese embassy told the AP, “China values its relationship with Utah and any words and deeds that stigmatize and smear these sub-national exchanges are driven by ulterior political purposes.”
The LDS church, despite its name, is not recognized as a Christian church by most Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant denominations. It teaches that God was once a living man, denies the deity of the trinity, and teaches that mankind can obtain godhood.
CCP SHAPING GLOBAL ACTIONS
Whatever the CCP is doing in Utah, it is clear that it is doing more than “relationship building” in its global influence efforts.
A recent Newsweek article stated that the outlet has received a copy of the opening remarks from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s upcoming report.
“Under General Secretary Xi Jinping, China has dramatically expanded its efforts to shape the attitudes and actions of people outside its borders in ways that advance the CCP’s [Chinese Communist Party’s] objectives,” the remarks read.