China's Influence in Utah


By Veronica Harper

Everywhere you look your eyes can catch a glimpse of the beauty of this great state we live in. Utah has incredibly beautiful views. Take for instance, the Wasatch mountains, its peaks covered in snow. In fact, this year two of our ski resorts have recorded record-breaking amounts of snow. Down south we have the amazing red rocks that blaze like fire as the sun sets, casting vibrant reds, yellows, and hints of pink and purple in the evening sky. Yes, everywhere you look you can find beauty in the natural surroundings. 

In addition to our beautiful landscape, Utah is also home to an abundance of natural resources. Crude oil, natural gas, coal, uranium, base and precious metals, which include, copper, magnesium, molybdenum, iron ore, beryllium, vanadium, gold, silver, and most recently tellurium. The list continues, potash, salt, and magnesium chloride, phosphate, sulfuric acid, gilsonite, bentonite, common clay, high-alumina clay, expanded shale, gypsum, and halloysite. Renewable resources include geothermal, wind and solar energy, and timber. The majority of Utahns may not be aware of the rich and abundant natural resources the state possesses.

               However, the Chinese Communist Party is very aware of the resources of other countries. It is no secret and in fact, it is widely known that China places high emphasis on global influence. They play the long game and have spent years garnering influence around the world, including right here at home. One of the ways China has been able to gain influence and power in other countries is through what is called “debt traps”. The Chinese government will go into poorer countries and help them with their infrastructure projects. They will provide loans to these poorer countries with what seems like good terms for both parties. However, certain stipulations are put into place that give China “power and leverage if those countries cannot pay back the loans which is oftentimes the case” (Ajnoti, n.d.). However, the Chinese government deals in a more subtle strategy when it comes to Utah. At the national level, the United States and Chinese government have strained relations but here in Utah, there seems to be a different story unfolding. Think about why China would want to gain influence in our state and how they would do it.

Why is China so interested in using their influence in Utah? For that, let’s look back into the not-so-distant past. “In the 1990’s, the U.S. was the largest producer of lithium, in stark contrast to the present.  In fact, the U.S. accounted for over one-third of global lithium production in 1995.” However, Australia, Chile, and China took over as the three largest lithium producers in the world. The U.S. dropped to number eight. With the current shift to clean energy and the push to take everything away from coal and gas and shift to electric, including the push toward electric vehicles, lithium production has quadrupled from 2010. In 2021, the amount of lithium production went beyond 100,000 tonnes  (Metz, n.d.).

Even though China is the third-largest producer, they continue to maneuver their way up the ladder in hopes of being the dominant world leader in lithium production.  They have a strong hold in the supply chain area, they have developed domestic mines, and they have acquired over “$5.6 billion worth of lithium assets in countries like Chile, Canada, and Australia over the last decade” (Bhutada, n.d.).

How does all the global talk about lithium affect Utah? What future does the Great Salt Lake hold in terms of lithium production and how does China tie into this scenario? Let’s look. The good people of Utah may not realize just how invasive China has become right here at home.  China is very interested in our state and has been for some time. They understand they cannot use the debt trap against us and as such, they have taken a different approach. It may surprise you to know just how closely China is tied to our state and our legislators.  For example, an investigation by ABC News found that China has spent years building relationships with Utah’s officials and lawmakers. Why pick Utah? Could it be due to the dominant religion or our conservative and submissive nature?

Utah may be the perfect place for the Chinese Communist Party to infiltrate. According to the Associated Press (AP), the years spent building those relationships have paid off. “Lawmakers delayed legislation Beijing didn’t like, nixed resolutions that conveyed displeasure with its actions and expressed support in ways that enhance the Chinese government’s image” (Metz, n.d.).  As the friction mounts between China and the United States, it doesn’t seem to be an issue with Utah and China as they have become quite cozy.

According to an article by the AP, “security experts say that China’s campaign is widespread and tailored to local communities. In Utah, the AP found, Beijing and pro-China advocates appealed to lawmakers’ affiliations with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as the Mormon church, which is the state’s dominant religion and one that has long dreamed of expanding in China” (Metz, abc News, n.d.).

Why would China want to work with local officials? According to the U.S. intelligence community “Beijing believes local officials are more pliable than their federal counterparts” (China campaign to influence local leaders bore fruit in Utah, n.d.). Is this true? Let’s continue and find out. FBI Director, Christopher Wray, warned against the deceptive practice of China influencing local officials. China seeks to have officials on standby and at the ready to take calls from Chinese officials to advocate for Beijing’s agenda. This seems contrary to national security efforts to keep China from infiltrating our nation. However, Utah seems to have open arms when it comes to advocating on their behalf.  

Ron Rockwell Hansen, a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer, from Syracuse Utah was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “attempting to gather or deliver defense information” (Former intelligence officer convicted of attempted espionage sentenced to 10 years in federal prison, n.d.). He was trying to sell classified information to China. Hansen was well known in Utah’s political circles as well as very instrumental in organizing the U.S. – China National Governors Forum back in 2011.

Other investigations found up to “25 Utah lawmakers routinely took trips to China every other year since 2007” (Alan Suderman, n.d.). You may be wondering who paid for those trips. Well, “lawmakers partially used campaign donations to pay for the trade missions” (Alan Suderman S. M., China’s global influence campaign finds an unlikely friend in Utah, and it may serve as a blueprint for ‘New York and elsewhere’, n.d.). Money not well spent for Americans but quite beneficial for the Chinese Communist Party and their agenda. According to Greg Hughes, Speaker of the House of Representatives, 2015-2018, “Utah is not like Washington D.C., Utah is a friend of China, an old friend with a long history” (China’s influence campaign thrives in Utah, AP investigation finds, n.d.).

Then there is Senator Curt Bramble. He seems to have ties to China as well. His private dealings as a business consultant overlaps with his legislative duties. He “had clients in China-a dozen at times-some of them on legislative tours, some on consulting”. He chose not to name them while downplaying fears of undue Chinese influence. He believes that trying to “understand” China’s global force is a “valuable endeavor” (Alan Suderman S. M., n.d.).

Adding to the list is Utah senator Jacob Anderegg. His photo was on the main page of back in October 2019. The caption reads: Utah building stronger ties with China. The article does not hide the fact that Anderegg “has strong personal ties with China”. Anderegg, a member of the Mormon church, “and scores of Utah officials visited China to promote the bilateral relationship”.  One of the many ties between Utah and China include the Utah Inland Port. According to Anderegg, “China played a key role in Utah’s railway construction; 30 percent of the labor force for the railway came from China. And now Utah is trying to set up an inland port and trying to be a global hub for trade. And China again will play a key role” (Yu’an, n.d.).

Another key figure, while not a legislator, is Taowen Le, a Chinese citizen and former paid representative of a Chinese province. He moved to Utah, converted to Mormonism, and began moving around the political circles in Utah. He is in a unique position to use his faith to garner support and move Utah ever closer to China. He “has quoted scripture from the Bible and the Book of Mormon in his emails and letters to lawmakers, and sprinkled in positive comments that Russell Nelson, the church’s president and ‘prophet,’ has made about China.” He certainly seems to be using his “faith” to garner support from lawmakers and church officials (Bush, China using Mormonism to influence legislation, lawmakers, and public opinion in Utah, n.d.).

Even state Senate President Stewart Adams got in on the game when he turned to Le for help in obtaining large quantities of drugs he thought “could be used as potential treatment against the coronavirus in early 2020. Le, who belongs to the same congregation as Adams, said in an email to another lawmaker that he was able to get the Chinese Embassy to assign two staffers to work “tirelessly” on the request until it was fulfilled” (Alan Suderman S. M.,, n.d.).

Finally, is our very own Governor Spencer Cox. Le was able to send him flowery messages after attempts by the embassy failed to get Governor Cox’ staff to schedule a meeting with China’s ambassador (Alan Suderman S. M., China finds an unlikely friend in Utah, n.d.). Le seemed quite adept at using his religious affiliation with our governor. It seems logical that people might wonder what is really going on.   

The ties show how pervasive and persistent China has been in trying to influence America and Utah is an important foothold said Frank Montoya Jr. He is a retired FBI counterintelligence agent who believes that if China is successful in Utah, then they can be successful in New York and other states (Bush, n.d.).   

There are many questions as to why our legislators would allow China to have so much influence and control over the state of Utah. From persuading “friendly lawmakers to hold off banning Beijing-funded Confucius Institutes at state universities – programs that US security official have described as a front for spreading propaganda (Moore, n.d.) to the Utah Inland Port, China has massive influence in getting what it wants from our legislators. One must ask if this is good for the state of Utah or are there other motives involved? Are our legislators working on behalf of the citizens of Utah or should Utahns dig deeper into the known ties between China and our lawmakers? Will China, through their massive influence, have a say in the Great Salt Lake and the lithium production taking place in the future? Will they try to tap into other natural resources?  Will they garner favor with the Utah Inland Port Authority for shipments coming in from China or will they control it outright? There are more questions than answers and it is time we find out why our lawmakers and governor are so cozy with China.

It isn’t enough to sit back and think someone else will find solutions to the challenges Utah faces. It is up to each person to look beyond the dog and pony show to find the truth. If “U.S. analysts and officials hold that it is part of a malicious influence campaign from the Chinese Communist Party meant to further Beijing’s interests through covert means”, (Know, n.d.) than Utah’s citizens should take heed, do some research, spread the word, and remember those legislators involved when election time rolls around. Utah is our state. It is time to call and email your representatives and senators and tell them you do not appreciate the role China is playing in our great state. Remind them they work for the people. Your voice as a citizen of the state of Utah deserves to be heard, so use it. You can go to to find your representatives and senators’ phone numbers and email addresses.  Call and/or write to them today. Take your state back and hold our representatives and senators accountable and vote them out if need be.   




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