Hudson Institute hit with cyber attack traced to China prior to postponing session with Guo Wengui
A Washington think tank, under pressure from China, on Tuesday canceled the first public meeting for dissident Chinese businessman Guo Wengui—one day before the event was to be held.
The Hudson Institute, a conservative-oriented public policy group, sent an email notice stating the widely anticipated session with Guo had been postponed.
David Tell, chief spokesman for Hudson, said the event was put off because of improper planning. "The planning just got away from us and we feel bad," he told the Washington Free Beacon.
Tell acknowledged the institute has been under pressure from China.
The Hudson Institute website was the target of a major denial of service cyber attack traced to Shanghai, Tell said. The cyber attack was thwarted and only caused a minor disruption, he noted.
Shanghai is home of the Chinese military's notorious Unit 61398, a military cyber espionage unit. Five of the unit's members were indicted in 2014 for hacking U.S. businesses.
Chinese involvement in a cyber attack against a U.S. academic institution highlights the priority Beijing appears to have placed on silencing Guo, a billionaire dissident who broke with the Chinese government and began speaking out about abuses of power and corruption. He is now living in exile in New York City and recently applied for political asylum.
Hudson's cancellation of the Guo meeting coincides with the visit to the United States this week by China's Minister of Public Security, Guo Shengkun.
Guo Shengkun is scheduled to hold talks at the Justice Department on law enforcement and cyber security talks with senior Justice and State Department officials, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday.
The State Department said in announcing the talks Sept. 28 that they will include discussion of the repatriation of Chinese fugitives.
China recently pressed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on the case of Chinese fugitives during a meeting of the international police organization Interpol in China, according to a Trump administration official.
The Justice Department has declined to comment on the Guo Wengui case. A spokesman said recently that the United States is not a safe haven for fugitives but requires proof of criminal wrongdoing from China.
Asked about Chinese government pressure, Tell, the Hudson spokesman, said, "From the get go we knew there were people in Beijing who would not be happy about this," referring to the Guo Wengui meeting.
The Chinese also sent emails protesting the institute's plan to host event, he said.
Tell insisted, however, "we don't give a rat's ass what Beijing thinks." Hudson has hosted several recent events on China, including a conference on Chinese encroachment in the South China Sea, he noted.
As for the optics of canceling a talk by a Chinese dissident wanted by Beijing one day before the event, Tell said: "We don't like to operate this way. But it is what it is."
Since announcing the hosting of its "Conversation with Guo Wengui" last month, the institute also received numerous protest phone calls from the Chinese Embassy in Washington.
The embassy threatened to cancel visits to China by institute scholars, according to people familiar with the calls.
A Chinese embassy spokesman did not return an email seeking comment.
"I am shocked at Hudson's cancelation, but at the same time I am also pleased the issue has proven to the American people and people of the world my repeated warning of the virulence and harmfulness of the Chinese kleptocrats' long reach," Guo said in a statement.
"The significance and value of this incident has surpassed my talk at Hudson."
The Chinese government intimidation of the Hudson Institute is the latest incident in what appears to be a Chinese government influence campaign in the United States targeting Guo.
China since earlier this year has been pressuring the U.S. government into forcibly repatriating the real estate mogul.
China also has been linked to another cyber attack against the Washington law firm Clark Hill that until recently had been representing Guo in his bid for political asylum in the United States.
Documents apparently obtained from the Clark Hill cyber attack were then posted on a pro-China Twitter feed, including Guo's government asylum appeal form containing personal data on the reasons why he fears political retribution if he is returned to China.
The law firm dropped its representation of Guo after the cyber attack. A spokesman for Clark Hill declined to comment.
Guo's wealth is said to be worth an estimated $28 billion dollars earned through real estate and other investments. China has cracked down on his businesses, detaining some employees and freezing a large portion of the assets.
China, through its influence in Interpol, also arranged for a "red notice" to be issued against Guo for alleged corruption. The notice is similar to an international arrest warrant but is suspect because Interpol's current president is a Chinese security official.
Earlier this year Guo began exposing high-level corruption among senior leaders in what he described as a "mafia-like" web of officials and their families who hold positions of power and have used those posts to obtain billions of dollars.
Through regularly posted, hour-long YouTube videos and news interviews, Guo has charged senior Chinese leaders have engaged in various corrupt practices.
Among those targeted by Guo was China's anti-corruption czar, Wang Qishan, a member of the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, the collective Communist Party dictatorship headed by Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Guo also has revealed details of Chinese intelligence operations and methods, including the dispatch over the years of tens of thousands of operatives to the United States.
Guo, who has said his asylum bid will not require him to disclose what he knows about the internal workings of the Chinese communist system, has the potential to be an intelligence bonanza for U.S. intelligence agencies lacking access to Chinese secrets.
Since his public pronouncements, Guo has become an internet sensation, garnering millions of supporters on Chinese and U.S. social media.
Online reaction to the event was negative.
The dissident Chinese news outlet Ming Jing News tweeted that the Hudson cancelation of Guo's first public speech appeared to be the result of Chinese pressure and a recurrence of an earlier incident involving Voice of America radio.
In April, the VOA cut off a live Chinese-language radio interview with Guo after an hour and 19 minutes and suspended four VOA employees.
The suspended employees have charged that the interview was curtailed under pressure from China, which protested VOA's plan to air the live, three-hour interview.
Congress has asked the State Department inspector general to investigate whether political motives were behind the cancelation of the VOA interview.
VOA has denied it acted improperly and said the interview format violated the radio's procedures.