Biden’s Asian Foreign Policy Efforts and The Justice Department Goes After Abuses of The Paycheck Protection Program

Yesterday, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo met with the ambassador from the People’s Republic of China, Xie Feng, in advance of her trip to Beijing and Shanghai next week. China’s economy has been slowing down alarmingly recently, with falling consumer prices, a deteriorating real estate sector and market, high youth unemployment, and slumping exports, and international leaders are concerned that China’s economic troubles could spread.

Earlier this week, the Commerce Department removed 27 Chinese companies from export restrictions after they met checks about the end use of their products, that is, verified that U.S. exports were not being passed on to terrorists or countries under U.S. sanctions. China’s Ministry of Commerce praised that decision, saying it was “conducive to the normal trade between Chinese and American companies and is in line with the common interests of both parties…. It is entirely possible to find a solution that benefits companies on both sides.”

In China, Secretary Raimondo will meet with senior Chinese government officials and U.S. business leaders. National security advisor Jake Sullivan yesterday told reporters that 

“her trip is an encapsulation of the approach that the Biden administration is taking, where we are engaged in an intense competition with the PRC, but intense competition requires intense diplomacy to manage that competition so that it doesn’t tip over into conflict and also so that we create every opportunity to work together with the PRC on issues that are in our mutual interest.” 

He echoed the frequent statements of the administration when he continued: “Secretary Raimondo will carry with her the message that the United States is not seeking to decouple from China, but rather to de-risk, and that means protecting our national security and ensuring resilient supply chains alongside our allies and partners while we continue our economic relationship and our trade relationship.” 

Raimondo’s outreach comes as the administration announces another round of senior officials’ trips to Indo-Pacific countries. 

On September 4th, Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Jakarta, Indonesia, to attend the U.S.-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit. ASEAN stands for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a political and economic organization made up of 10 member states in Southeast Asia that have a total population of more than 600 million people. Harris’s mother was a doctor from India, and that personal connection to the Indo-Pacific has made her an especially effective U.S. leader in that region. This is her third trip to Southeast Asia in the past two years: she went to Singapore and Vietnam in 2021 and to Thailand and the Philippines in 2022. 

At the summits, she will work with other Indo-Pacific leaders—the U.S. is an Indo-Pacific leader itself, of course—to address the climate crisis, maritime security, infrastructure, and economic growth, and on efforts to uphold and strengthen international rules and norms in the region. 

Just as Harris is leaving Indonesia on September 7, President Biden will travel to New Delhi, India, for the Group of 20 (G20) Leaders’ Summit. The G20 is a forum made up of 19 countries and the European Union, and works to address major issues related to the global economy. In India, Biden will focus on issues from “the clean energy transition and combating climate change, to mitigating the economic and social impacts of Russia’s war in Ukraine, to increasing the capacity of the multilateral development banks, including the World Bank, to better fight poverty and take on the significant transnational challenges that are afflicting countries across the world,” Sullivan said.  

Of this laundry list, Sullivan said, Biden hopes to encourage countries of the Global South to get behind the modernization of development banks as an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure development strategy begun in 2013 to invest in more than 150 developing countries. Yesterday, Sullivan said that Biden is eager to reshape and scale up the World Bank to reduce global poverty and promote inclusive economic growth, “while also addressing global challenges from climate to migration and to the recovery from COVID-19.” 

Biden nominated Ajay Banga, an Indian-born American business executive, to be the president of the World Bank, Sullivan said, “precisely to make this vision a reality,” and has asked Congress to beef up funding for the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, proposals that Sullivan said “will generate nearly $50 billion in lending for middle-income and poor countries from the United States alone. And because our expectation is that our allies and partners will also contribute, we see these proposals ultimately leveraging over $200 billion. That is the proposal that President Biden will carry with him to Delhi and that he will work with the Congress on to deliver through the supplemental funding request,” Sullivan said. 

The U.S. must, he said, provide support to developing countries, maintain strong global solidarity in the face of Russia’s illegal war, and to offer “a credible alternative to the coercive and unsustainable lending practices at the PRC.” He noted that the U.S. ability to mobilize financial power is one of its most valuable assets (which, although he did not say it, is one of the reasons the Republican threat to undermine our finances is so enormously destructive). 

Reflecting the importance of the G20, Biden will commit to the U.S. hosting the G20 in 2026. 

If the U.S. is trying to expand its influence, things are not going swimmingly for the world’s autocrats. Today, a plane on which Wagner Group mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin of Russia was allegedly on board crashed, taking all three pilots and seven passengers’ lives. While it is not clear whether Prigozhin was actually on the plane, national security analyst Mark Hertling took the position that it doesn’t matter whether he was on board or not, because the loss of Prigozhin from the head of Wagner will infuriate the Wagner mercenaries, who are being merged with the regular Russian military, and who were much better paid under Prigozhin than are regular Russian soldiers.  

This fury will not calm things inside increasingly unstable Russia. As Ukraine’s troops are advancing, slowly but surely, “this is not a good time to start reforming the military,” Hertling told CNN. “Even if it’s part of a charade,” chair of the Human Rights Foundation (and world chess champion) Garry Kasparov wrote, “it reflects chaos among Ukraine’s enemies, murderous energy turned against one another. Dictatorships are stable until they are not, hard but brittle like glass.”

And then there are events here at home. Last night’s news that one of Trump’s aides at Mar-a-Lago had recanted previous false testimony and had outlined the involvement of the former president and his other aides in trying to destroy security recordings and then cover up that effort was just some of the chum that Trump world is stirring up lately. 

Those indicted alongside Trump on RICO charges in Georgia have been surrendering to authorities or making demands of Fulton County, Georgia, district attorney Fani Willis. Today, Trump lawyer Kenneth Chesebro asked for an exceptionally fast trial, likely hoping to get it over with before more information comes out, prompting Los Angeles Times senior legal affairs columnist Harry Litman to explain: “All of these moves—the latest being Chesebro’s speedy trial motion—bring home the elementary fact that now that the concrete prospects for trial and punishment are forcing a sober look at everyone’s self-interests, which means their departure from Trump’s. A critical time.”

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force (CFETF) established by Attorney General Merrick Garland in May 2021 to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud, announced its results today. The Department of Justice is brining federal criminal charges against 371 defendants for offenses related to more than $836 million in alleged COVID-19 fraud, most of it related to the two largest Small Business Administration pandemic programs: the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans, both funded by the March 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. In April 2020, Trump removed the inspector general tapped to chair a special oversight board Congress put in place to oversee the distribution of the act’s funds.

The release quotes acting director of the CFETF Michael C. Galdo, who “said that 63 of the defendants had alleged connections to violent crime, including violent gang members also accused of using pandemic funds to pay for a murder for hire. Twenty-five defendants have alleged connections to transnational crime networks.”

The Justice Department said that 119 of the defendants pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial, courts ordered $57 million in restitution, and prosecutors worked with law enforcement to secure forfeiture of over $231.4 million.

Tonight, eight Republican candidates for the presidency will debate on stage in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, without former president Trump, who is the front-runner for the nomination, participating. Trump’s people saw no reason for him to risk his position in a debate, and instead are using the event to conduct counterprogramming. After considering upstaging the debate by surrendering to authorities in Georgia at the same time, they settled on recording an interview with former Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson to be aired in a competing time slot. 

While Trump was not there, President Biden was: his “Dark Brandon” ads trumpeting his administration’s successes appeared before the broadcast.

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