A Chinese businesswoman who specializes in connecting her clients with the powerful in China bought a $16 million penthouse in a building owned by Donald Trump, one of the first notable deals at any Trump property since he became US president.
Chen Xiaoyan (陈晓燕) purchased the four-bedroom, six-bathroom condo at Trump Park Avenue on Feb. 21, according to New York City property records. Before taking office, Trump removed himself from the board of directors of Trump Park Avenue LLC, which sold the unit, but he remains the entity’s owner.
Chen, who also goes by the names Chen Yu (陈妤) and Angela Chen, is the founder and managing director of Global Alliance Associates, a consulting firm that helps American businesses connect with powerful figures in China, and that is located in the same Trump building as the penthouse.
After first reporting the deal last month, US political news outlet Mother Jones followed up with a March 15 report on Chen’s ties to China’s elite and military intelligence service through a nonprofit.
Chen chairs the China Arts Foundation International, the New York branch of an organization founded in 2006 by Deng Rong (邓榕), the youngest daughter of Deng Xiaoping, China’s paramount leader throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Since 1990, the younger Deng has served as a vice president of the China Association for International Friendly Contacts (CAIFC), believed to be an affiliate of the intelligence service of the Chinese army. As Mother Jones notes, the CAIFC, which frequently works with China Arts Foundation, has previously prompted concerns in both the US Congress and the State Department over its links to military intelligence.
Chen’s purchase is among a series of recent deals that raise concerns over Trump’s potential conflicts of interest in China. Chen, the White House and the Trump Organization declined to comment on the real estate transaction when contacted by the New York Post and Mother Jones. A White House spokeswoman referred an inquiry from Quartz about the property deal to the Trump Organization.
“All transactions, including this one, are vetted in accordance with our ethical guidelines and procedures which include thorough background checks and independent analysis conducted by third parties,” said a representative for the Trump Organization in an email.
Angela Chen declined via email to comment at this time. China Arts Foundation International’s official website and Facebook page are offline. The group didn’t reply to an inquiry from Quartz via email. (Here’s an archived page of its board member information.)
Chen describes herself as a “respected and sought-after advisor on establishing business relationships in China” in her bio page on Global Alliance’s website, which carries slogans such as “Global Alliance opens the right doors to China.” Before founding her company, she managed portfolios for high-net-worth clients with Prudential in China, and oversaw the trading desk of Merrill Lynch’s international division, where she served big Chinese state firms such as Sinochem and China Ocean Shipping Group.
She is also a donor to the National Committee on United States—China Relations, a New York-based nonprofit that describes its mission as working towards a more constructive relationship between the two nations through the “education of senior policymakers—including military leaders, senators, congressmen, and their staff members—about the realities of Sino-American relations.” In 2015, the organization co-hosted a special dinner for Chinese President Xi Jinping in Seattle, during which he made his only public policy speech during his US visit.
At the New York-based China Arts Foundation International, aside from Chen, the group’s board has three other Chinese members: media tycoon Wang Boming (王波明), orchestra conductor Yu Long (余隆), and Yan Lan (阎兰), China head for asset management firm Lazard. Wang and Yan are known as China’s “princelings”—a term for sons and daughters of former high-ranking officials in the ruling Communist Party who now have influence in political and business circles.
Wang Boming, editor-in-chief of Chinese financial magazine Caijing, is the son of former deputy foreign minister Wang Bingnan (王炳南). Last November, Wang Boming, who helped launch China’s stock exchanges in the 1990s, resigned as chairman of SEEC Media Group, parent company of the influential financial magazine Caijing, for unspecified reasons. Wang Boming is also widely known as close to Wang Qishan, China’s top graft buster and close ally to president Xi. He is also the younger brother of Wang Dongming (王东明), retired chief of CITIC Securities, China’s biggest brokerage, which led the stock market bailout in 2015.
Yan is the daughter of Yan Mingfu (阎明复), a retired government official who was ousted for badly handling the 1989 student protests at the Tiananmen Square, but was later cleared and served as a vice minister of civil affairs in the 1990s. A veteran banking lawyer who has advised Chinese companies on investments in Africa and Europe, the younger Yan had stints at law firms Baker & McKenzie, and White & Case, and joined Lazard in 2011.
The New York branch’s parent, China Arts Foundation, acts as a magnet for China’s elite, perhaps thanks to its founder Deng Rong, who is also the nonprofit’s chairwoman. Mother Jones noted that a video originally posted on the New York branch’s website showed other associates, including honorary board members Li Zhaoxing, a former foreign minister, and Guo Shuqing, head of China’s top bank regulator.
Deng’s daughter, known as Zhuo Yue (卓玥), also serves as a vice director of the group. Zhuo, in her thirties, runs a PR firm in Beijing, and is the initiator of an annual philanthropy event that started in 2003, and had attracted more than 270 million yuan (around $40 million) (link in Chinese) by 2014.
Deng’s husband He Ping (贺平) also has deep ties in the military. In the 1990s, the former general helped found Poly Group, a state-run conglomerate that started off by selling weapons to the Chinese army, and later was made its president. He is still listed as honorary chairman of the company.
This article has been updated with comments from Angela Chen and the Trump Organization.