An Associated Press investigation has revealed that China and its advocates based in the U.S. have been operating a successful influence campaign in the state of Utah.
The AP reported Monday that as a result of the efforts, “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.”
U.S. officials also said the campaign is a threat to national security.
“Utah is an important foothold,” Frank Montoya Jr., a retired FBI counterintelligence agent who lives in Utah, told the AP. “If the Chinese can succeed in Salt Lake City, they can also make it in New York and elsewhere.”
But a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington told the AP that 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.”
In Utah, the AP found, Beijing and pro-China advocates appealed to lawmakers’ affiliations with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as the Mormon church, which is the state’s dominant religion and one that has long dreamed of expanding in China.
The AP based its findings on dozens of interviews and hundreds of pages of records, text messages and emails obtained through public records’ requests.
It uncovered that China-friendly lawmakers, for example, delayed action for a year to ban Chinese-funded Confucius Institutes at state universities, according to the legislation’s sponsor. The Chinese language and cultural programs have been described by U.S. national security officials as propaganda instruments. The University of Utah and Southern Utah University closed their institutes last year.
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