Thanks for the ‘heads up’ from Dale Gilles (Liberia 1964-66)
Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary, oversees the American maritime industry. Her family’s shipping company, Foremost Group, has deep ties to the Chinese elite.
- June 2, 2019
The email arrived in Washington before dawn. An official at the American Embassy in Beijing was urgently seeking advice from the State Department about an “ethics question.”
“I am writing you because Mission China is in the midst of preparing for a visit from Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao,” the official wrote in October 2017.
Ms. Chao’s office had made a series of unorthodox requests related to her first scheduled visit to China as a Trump cabinet member, according to people with knowledge of the email. Among them: asking federal officials to help coordinate travel arrangements for at least one family member and include relatives in meetings with government officials.
The family of Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary and wife of Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has high-level political connections not only in the United States but also in China. That gives the family unusual status in the world’s two largest economies.
Through interviews, industry filings and government documents from both countries, The New York Times found that the Chaos, and by extension Mr. McConnell, prospered as the family’s shipping company developed deeper business ties in China. Along the way, one of the company’s boosters was Ms. Chao, who now oversees efforts to promote America’s own maritime industry, which is in steep decline as China’s shipping sector rises in global dominance. Here are five takeaways.
The Chao family’s connections to the Chinese state go back decades
James S.C. Chao, 91, Ms. Chao’s father, studied navigation at a university in Shanghai before fleeing the mainland ahead of the Communist takeover in 1949. His schoolmate for a time was Jiang Zemin, who would become China’s president.