BLJ Worldwide, a U.S. consulting firm that provides media services to the Chinese embassy, received a federal coronavirus relief loan of up to $350,000, The Daily Caller News Foundation reported Wednesday.
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HSBC Bank approved the loan worth between $150,000 and $350,000 on April 13 so that the New York-based company could retain 16 employees, according to a public Payment Protection Program loan database.
BLJ Worldwide received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., and the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation (CUSEF) between Jan. 1 and June 30, the DCNF reported, citing a Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) disclosure.
FARA, enacted in 1938, requires foreign agents representing certain countries who are engaged in political activity in the U.S. to occasionally disclose their relationships with those countries.
"From May 30, 2017, we have supported the PRC's Embassy to the United States in their communications and promotion efforts," the disclosure states. It also lists specific communication services for the embassy as "media training," "media monitoring," "social media, "media relations" and "influencer relationship building and networking."
As the DCNF noted, a November 2019 Facebook post from the Chinese Embassy accuses "Hong Kong rioters" of "ruining their homeland," adding that "their actions are on the brink of terrorism." Protests were ongoing in Hong Kong at the time amid tensions between the two nations as China began cracking down on what it described as separatist behavior from Hong Kongers.
A second November 2019 Facebook post calls Hong Kong protesters "a bunch of hot heads who do not understand the cost, pain and goal of a revolution," the DCNF reported.
Additionally, BLJ "shared information about the [CUSEF's] work to various audiences and provided support for delegations visiting China," and "supported trips to China" for media outlets including Vox, Slate, the Boston Herald, Boston Globe and Huffington Post.
CUSEF founder Tung Chee Hwa Tung serves as vice-chair of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an advisory group for the Chinese Communist Party, the DCNF reported.
U.S.-China tensions were high before the coronavirus pandemic, which has only escalated disagreements, amid an ongoing trade war.
The State Department ordered the Chinese consulate in Houston to close in July "to protect American intellectual property and American’s private information" after the Houston Chronicle reported that people were seen burning papers in what appeared to be trash cans at the building.
"The United States will not tolerate the PRC's violations of our sovereignty and intimidation of our people, just as we have not tolerated the PRC's unfair trade practices, theft of American jobs, and other egregious behavior," the Department said in a statement at the time.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act initially set aside $349 billion for the Small Business Administration's first round of PPP loans in early April. Those funds were quickly depleted, and Congress approved a second round of PPP funding worth $310 billion in late April.
A Sept. 1 report from Republicans serving on the House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis found that the program, which aimed to help businesses with less than 500 employees, has helped businesses support as many as 51 million U.S. jobs.