Source: Christina Guest

The Biden family’s lucrative financial relationships with the Chinese are undeniable, but now it appears that the Renaissance man, Hunter Biden, toast of the art world, has even taken a leaf from the Deng Xioaping playbook on graft.

In the 1980s, Deng Xiaoping was the chief foreign and domestic policy maker and paramount leader of the Chinese Communist Party.  He held sway well into the 1990s.  Deng’s secret sauce was a ladleful of authoritarian communism with a dash of capitalism shaken in by privileged gang members.

Deng’s own family set the example, with his kids educated in the ritziest schools and waited on by servants in opulent settings.  Kids: He had five of them, though he engineered the “One-Child Policy” for his comrades.  Daughter Xiao Rong was personal assistant to her ailing dad, who was mostly deaf.  She would convey his garbled speech to listeners.

Alas, Deng and his children were sometimes chided for “trading on their family connections[.] … In keeping with the traditional Chinese strategy of spreading the risk, Deng’s offspring have diversified into politics, business and the arts[.] … ‘Politics is always uncertain, and to have the various sons and daughters split into various economic sectors is a way of protecting the family,’ explained one longtime China analyst.  ‘Whoever does well has obligations to the rest of the family.'” 

Daughter Deng Lin became a wildly successful artist, amazingly developing her skills after work on a farm and in a soy sauce factory.  One buyer, a real estate mogul from abroad, bought five of her pieces and then found himself able to build a shopping mall in Beijing.  “Foreign investors seemed anxious to curry favor” with Deng Lin (and family); as journalist Jan Wong says, “[c]ynics charged that Deng Lin’s paintings provided a genteel cover for influence peddling” (Red China Blues, Anchor Books, 1996, 371).

Sound familiar?  Biden revealed how his artistic temperament reaches across barriers recently on the Nota Bene podcast: when asked how he responded to skeptics about the pricing of his paintings, he said, “Other than f— ’em? … [S]ometimes it has nothing to do with anything other than, you know, the moment.”

This quote also manifests his scrupulous dedication to avoiding even the appearance of grifting for the Big Man, promising the public that buyers’ identities would be kept secret.  Yet he is said to be “looking forward” to mingling with interested buyers at events scheduled in New York and L.A.  This in spite of Jen Psaki’s assurances that buyers would remain anonymous:

“He is attending gallery events that had been prior planned and announced. That is different than meeting with prospective buyers[.] … The selling of his art will all happen through the gallerists and the names of individuals will be kept confidential. We will not be aware of, neither will he be aware,” she smirked.  Yet Richard Painter, chief George W. Bush ethics lawyer, tweeted, “Bottom line: Secrecy never works in ethics.”

Now we’ve learned that Biden’s art agent also has deep ties to China, according to Eric Mack, writing for Newsmax:

Amid the ongoing controversy of first-time artist Hunter Biden potentially selling paintings for as much as $500,000 with Georges Bergès Gallery, the gallerist’s deep ties to China have resurfaced.

Bergès not only told Resident in 2015 his ‘plan is to be the lead guy in China,’ but he told Quest magazine in 2014 he traveled to China ‘three or four times a year’ and he had a ‘solid group of about 25 collectors, most of them overseas.’ That was seven years ago.

After attending a Deng Lin one-woman show in Beijing, Wong confessed that the artwork “reminded me of nothing more than giant eyeballs and fishbones.  But others apparently loved them.  I could hardly fight my way through the thicket of congratulatory bouquets, potted plants, and floral stands from art lovers such as the Shenzhen Taxation Bureau” (Red China Blues, 372).  My examination of Hunter Biden’s oeuvre reminds me of those splashes of paint the machine at the state fair churns out for three bucks a pop.  But then, art is so subjective.

The foreign emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution may confine the Chinese government to the background of Hunter Biden’s painted landscape.  Litigation failed against Pres. Trump for maintaining his prior business while in office, but — just for future reference — it did result in quite a broad definition of emoluments.  The D.C. and Maryland attorneys general stoutly asserted in January that the case “will serve as precedent that will help stop anyone else from using the presidency or other federal office for personal financial gain[.]”

No word on how that precedent might apply here, but Walter Shaub, an ethics chief for Obama, said the situation was “the perfect mechanism for funneling bribes[.] … They have outsourced government ethics to an art dealer.”  Shaub took to Twitter to call for the White House to urge canceling of the sale, or for buyers’ names to be made public rather than being shrouded in the smug mystery anticipated by Psaki.

Hunter Biden’s art may look as though his left hand doesn’t know what his right hand is doing, but we can’t rest easy about influence-peddling à la Deng Lin until Shaub’s recommendations are followed, or else Congress approves all aspects of the sale under Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8 of the Constitution.  And that’s a whole other can o’ Not Gonna Happen.

Christina Guest is the pen name of a civil rights attorney and author in the Midwest.