4 Things to Know About Politically Connected, Activist BlackRock and Its China Investments

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BlackRock Inc., the largest money management corporation not only in America but the world, has emerged as a big promoter of social and environmental investing and of sending billions of U.S. dollars to China. 

A consumer advocacy group asserts that New York-based BlackRock’s push for investing in “environmental, social, and governance” issues, known as ESG, is intended to distract from the vast wealth that the corporation has injected into Communist China despite human rights abuses there.

“They are hamstringing U.S. corporations with bean counting on board membership and diversity quotas while they are pouring billions into China,” William Hild, executive director of the nonprofit Consumers’ Research, said of BlackRock in an interview with The Daily Signal. 

“They are virtue-signaling while having a relationship with a ruthless regime, and we believe one is being used to cover for the other,” Hild said of the politically connected corporation.

In late October, Consumers’ Research launched a digital and TV ad campaign that is heavily critical of BlackRock’s ties to China. 

“BlackRock is propping up Chinese Communist Leaders,” the advertisement says, adding: “Even left-wing billionaire George Soros knows BlackRock is harming US national security. [BlackRock] CEO Larry Fink loves to tell Americans how to live, but he negotiated against America, sucking up to China.”

BlackRock’s portfolio amounts to more than $9.5 trillion.

Former executives at BlackRock hold influential positions in the Biden administration, and were part of the Obama administration before that.  

“As a fiduciary to our clients, BlackRock focuses on matters like diversity in the boardroom and climate risk because we believe these are material issues that can affect the long-term value of our clients’ investments,” a BlackRock spokesman told The Daily Signal in an email statement. “Those are the issues the funders and leaders of this campaign do not appear to agree with.”

Here are four things to know about BlackRock and its ties to China. 

1. ‘Surveillance Companies’

The commercial from Consumers’ Research asserts that BlackRock is “putting money into surveillance companies used by the Chinese military.”

BlackRock has invested millions in the Chinese surveillance companies Hikvision and iFlytek, The American Prospect, a liberal magazine and website, reported. The U.S. government prohibits both companies from buying American products or selling to American companies. 

In 2019, BlackRock began investing in Hikvision and iFlytek, which are among 28 Chinese companies on the U.S. government’s “entity list” because of repression of the Uyghur Muslim population in China’s Xinjiang province.   

The BlackRock spokesman did not address China in the corporate statement, nor respond directly to The Daily Signal’s questions about surveillance. 

But the BlackRock website does tout the value of China for investors, saying

To help discover the opportunities these changes provide, you need a trusted partner who is not only an expert on China but can apply their knowledge, expertise and judgment in creating portfolios that can deliver the best of Chinese markets to you. BlackRock’s large and experienced team can provide you with a truly differentiated perspective on China and our breadth of solutions across active and index strategies give you a multitude of ways to access the market.

Hikvision has advertised itself as the world’s largest manufacturer of video surveillance technology; iFlytech is a voice recognition and AI company. 

BlackRock reportedly invested more than $15 million in Hikvision, but has a significantly more modest investment in iFlytech. 

2. George Soros: BlackRock Forced U.S. Investors to Fund Chinese Companies

The American Prospect isn’t the only critic on the left of BlackRock’s ties to China.  

In August, left-wing billionaire George Soros wrote an op-ed for Financial Times asserting that BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s focus on environmental, social, and governance issues would harm the United States and boost China. 

“In BlackRock’s ESG Aware emerging market exchange-traded fund, Chinese companies represent a third of total investments,” Soros wrote. “These indices have effectively forced hundreds of billions of dollars belonging to U.S. investors into Chinese companies whose corporate governance does not meet the required standard—power and accountability is now exercised by one man who is not accountable to any international authority.”

By “one man,” Soros was referencing Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has near total control in the communist nation.

In his op-ed, Soros called for U.S. government intervention:

The U.S Congress should pass a bipartisan bill explicitly requiring that asset managers invest only in companies where actual governance structures are both transparent and aligned with stakeholders. This rule should obviously apply to the performance benchmarks selected by pensions and other retirement portfolios.

3. Biden Administration Ties

Fink, BlackRock’s CEO, reportedly was under consideration by President Joe Biden’s transition team to serve as treasury secretary. 

In November 2020, shortly after the presidential election, The Wall Street Journal ran a story under this headline: “BlackRock Emerges as Wall Street Player in Biden Administration.That same month, the New York Post published a story with this headline: “BlackRock poised to replace Goldman Sachs inside the White House.”

The Biden team didn’t tap Fink for the Cabinet position, but at least two prominent former BlackRock executives play key roles in the Biden administration. 

Most notable is Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council at the White House. Deese was the global head of sustainable investing at BlackRock, where he focused on environmental, social, and governance issues. 

Deese previously served in senior roles with the Obama White House’s National Economic Council and in its Office of Management and Budget. 

Wally Adeyemo, deputy secretary of the Treasury Department, previously was a senior adviser to BlackRock. 

The BlackRock connection isn’t limited to the Biden and Obama administrations. During the Trump administration, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin hired former BlackRock executive Craig Phillips in 2017. 

4. Leveraging ExxonMobil Board

In May, BlackRock used its leverage to help an activist hedge fund group, Engine No. 1, replace three ExxonMobil board members with environmental activists who oppose further drilling for oil and gas.

In a February 2019 memo, BlackRock said: “Our work fuels our conviction that the future of investing is sustainable [energy].”

And in a January 2020 letter to CEOs of other corporations, Fink wrote that BlackRock “was a founding member of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures” and called on all companies to issue sustainability reports. He added: “We hold ourselves to this same standard.”

On environmental, social, and governance investing, or ESG, Fink wrote

Questions of racial justice, economic inequality, or community engagement are often classed as an “S” issue in ESG conversations. But it is misguided to draw such stark lines between these categories. For example, climate change is already having a disproportionate impact on low-income communities around the world—is that an E or an S issue? 

What matters is less the category we place these questions in, but the information we have to understand them and how they interact with each other. Improved data and disclosures will help us better understand the deep interdependence between environmental and social issues.

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