How the Ford Foundation Became an Instrument of Chinese Foreign Policy
On the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration, 150 Democratic Party loyalists flocked to a strategy meeting hosted by far-left group Media Matters. Democrat donors, and activists, who were reeling from Hillary Clinton’s stinging defeat, used the confab to draw up the blueprint of the “resistance” movement.
In attendance was Hillary Clinton’s senior advisor on social justice, Maya Harris—sister of Vice President candidate Kamala Harris. Maya Harris led the “Trump’s First 100 Days” session described this way on the conference agenda:
After winning the Electoral College, Trump has the legal authority, but his opposition has the moral authority—and the moral responsibility—to resist his policies, corrupt deals and bad actor nominees at every turn.
Harris knew a thing or two about resistance. Prior to joining Clinton’s campaign in November 2015, Harris was VP at the Ford Foundation during the time the organization began bankrolling the groups that make up the Black Lives Matter movement.
A little historical background may help explain how America’s second wealthiest foundation has become so toxic. Ford foundation was founded in the 30s by auto king Henry Ford and his son Edsel as a way to shield the Ford Motor company’s profits from confiscatory taxes. The organization embraced a “socially conscious” grantmaking role in the 60s. Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute writes that the charity “sparked the key revolution in the foundation worldview: the idea that foundations were to improve the lot of mankind not by building lasting institutions but by challenging existing ones.”
Accordingly, the Ford Foundation concentrates its U.S. efforts on challenging the undergirding of America’s founding institutions with its training and funding some of the Marxist groups involved in the plundering some 140 cities across the country. The recent spate of Black Lives Matter protests and riots has cost U.S. cities collectively $2 billion in property damage, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
Meanwhile, in Beijing, the Ford Foundation is helping the Chinese government make money and enhance its reputation at home and abroad.
The Ford Foundation is one of a handful of foreign charities currently allowed inside China, where it has operated since 1979. Their ostensible goal early on was to help China improve its underdeveloped education and agricultural systems.
But Ford’s direction changed when the Chinese government enacted a law that gave security forces control over foreign charities in 2017. With that, Ford’s work in China fell under the supervision of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CAFFC), who is the face of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) foreign influence agency according to the U.S. State Department.
“The Ford Foundation shifted its approach to grant-making related to China,” their China director Elizabeth Knup told a state-run newspaper in 2019. “We hope that we’ll be able to make contributions to helping other countries understand the role that China can play in the global development process.”
Simply put, the Ford Foundation will fund organizations willing to trumpet the marvels of the China model: the communist, closed, despotic system upon which the People’s Republic operates.
One way the Ford Foundation does this is by funding the Chinese government itself. The China Development Research Foundation (CDRF) is one of Ford’s largest CCP-run projects, which received $2 million in 2018-19 to “advance good governance for more balanced economic and social development in China,” according to Ford’s grant database.
While on a trip to Vancouver last fall to promote Sino-development projects, CDRF assistant secretary general Yu Jiantuo explained China’s Muslim Uighur forced internment camps this way to the Vancouver Star:
Muslim Uighur minorities in the Xinjiang region of China “lack social and economic opportunities,” So the Chinese leadership “chose the approach to provide vocational educational training to them.” … “the camps were only “short-term training programs” and he wasn’t “sure if they were compulsory.”
For the CDRF, “advancing good government” really means “advancing CCP propaganda” when speaking abroad. The Ford Foundation did not return a request for comment on what role the CCP plays in the organization’s work in foreign countries on China’s behalf.
The nonprofit is also helping advance President Xi Jinping’s foreign policy crown jewel; the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Launched in 2013, the BRI is a strategic trade network for Chinese goods and services and has positioned China as an economic power-player on the global stage.
Ford’s Beijing team, which includes China’s former advisor and spokesperson for the BRI, is helping the CCP as they push the project in developing countries across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.
In a November 2019 Ta for Ta podcast, Knup explained that Ford helps government officials and civil society groups in developing countries find “the best way to work with China as it expands outward.” Yet, as it stands today, China does not require its BRI partners to meet rigorous standards related to anti-corruption or human rights.
This week, Human Rights Watch reported, “emerging norms on respecting human rights in development could have informed the Chinese government’s approach to the Belt and Road Initiative … but they have not.” The Ford Foundation’s website states, [Ford has] a commitment to making human rights a key part of all our work, not an isolated component but a deliberate and integral approach within how we pursue broader goals.
This is disingenuous. Ford Foundation’s President Darren Walker himself turns his back on human rights abuses while pursuing his “broader goals” at Ralph Lauren, where he sits on the board. The luxury fashion brand came under fire when it was revealed that the company’s manufacturers used Uyghur slave workers held in Xinjiang to make its clothing. At this writing, Mr. Walker has not publicly commented on the issue.
Back in 2017, former Obama top staffer-turned Ford VP Xavier Briggs began the foundation’s impact investing practice, which aims to link the quest for returns with social purpose.
Now Briggs sits on the board of the Global Impact Investing Network, another beneficiary of Ford’s largesse that advises BlackRock on its impact fund. The largest custodian of Americans’ pension funds, BlackRock has gone in big for impact investing, and also for China, with 40% of its emerging markets ETF consisting of China paper. Perhaps by coincidence, another Ford Foundation misson in China is helping the CCP ramp up its financial systems to bolster its impact investing market.
President Xi has long been wary of U.S schemes to subvert the Chinese government. Last year, Chinese Public Security Minister Zhao Kezhi went on the record about the need for China’s police to “stress the prevention and resistance of ‘color revolutions’ and firmly fight to protect China’s political security.”
Given that the Ford Foundation has been backing the very sort of things that seem to concern President Xi in the United States, like funding hard-left groups bent on destroying America’s institutions, engaging in a sustained campaign to defund U.S. police departments, not to mention the foundation’s historic relationship with the CIA, the Chinese government’s relative comfort with Ford is more than a little suspicious.
Sloan Rachmuth is the executive director of Pen & Shield Media, a nonprofit newsroom startup focused on covering government corruption, K-12 education, and religious bias in the U.S.