Steven Bannon, Outspoken Critic of China, Has Subtler Message in Hong Kong Visit

Steve Bannon has said that China’s younger generation is ‘so patriotic, almost ultranationalistic’. Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP

In the White House, Stephen K. Bannon helped shape President Trump’s nationalistic rhetoric that blamed China for economic woes in the United States.

Now, less than a month after leaving the government, Mr. Bannon, the former chief strategist to Mr. Trump, has come to Hong Kong, at the invitation of a company controlled by the Chinese government, where he called President Xi Jinping of China a wise leader.

Mr. Bannon dined on Tuesday with a small group of hedge fund managers and investors, and later gave a keynote address at a major investor conference, where he spoke about the rise of populism in places like the United States and the Philippines.

Mr. Bannon was invited by CLSA, a Hong Kong brokerage firm owned by Citic Securities, a Chinese investment bank. Citic, the brokerage arm of a major state-owned financial conglomerate, has deep connections to China’s political elite.

The visit was Mr. Bannon’s first high-profile overseas trip since he left the White House in August and returned to Breitbart News, the right-wing news outlet.

CLSA would not say whether it had paid Mr. Bannon for his appearance. “CLSA does not discuss any agreements that we might have with speakers,” said Simone Wheeler, a spokeswoman for the firm.

Over lunch in a private room at the Grissini restaurant in the Grand Hyatt hotel, overlooking Victoria Harbour, Mr. Bannon shared his insights on a range of topics — including the United States electoral system, immigration and the escalating conflict over North Korea — with a small group of investors, according to two people who were in attendance.

The event was organized by CLSA for important clients of its brokerage business.

During the lunch, which lasted more than an hour, Mr. Bannon told the group that Mr. Trump had great respect for Mr. Xi and felt that the two leaders could find a solution to the North Korea crisis, according to the two investors in attendance, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

In his keynote address, in a crowded Grand Hyatt ballroom, Mr. Bannon discussed economic nationalism in the United States and its spread across the globe, including in Britain. He called the U.K. Independence Party, which pushed successfully last year for Britain’s exit from the European Union, a professional version of the Tea Party movement in the United States, according to one audience member. The address was closed to the news media.

Some people in the audience left with the impression that Mr. Bannon, though no longer in the White House, still had direct knowledge of the inner workings of Mr. Trump’s administration. At one point, he joked that there were White House officials who felt, as he did, that Facebook and Google should be public utilities. Several attendees expressed surprise that Mr. Bannon was so articulate.

Mr. Bannon has not been shy about his views on China. In an interview with “60 Minutes” that was broadcast on Sunday, Mr. Bannon said that the United States needed to take a tougher stance against Beijing. He said that China was “at economic war with the U.S.” and that it was Washington’s turn to respond.

In an August interview with The American Prospect, a left-leaning magazine, Mr. Bannon predicted that within a decade, the United States would go to war in the South China Sea, where Beijing has been building military installations. Mr. Bannon was removed from the White House soon afterward.

During Tuesday’s events, Mr. Bannon seemed more subdued about the purported Chinese threat, talking more broadly about global trade imbalance, according to people in attendance.

While it was Mr. Bannon’s first trip to Hong Kong since leaving the White House, it was not his first time in the city.

A former Goldman Sachs banker, Mr. Bannon in 2005 helped secure $60 million in funding for Internet Gaming Entertainment, a company based in Hong Kong, from investors including Goldman Sachs, according to a new book by Joshua Green, a Bloomberg Businessweek reporter.

According to Mr. Green’s book, the company got its start by hiring Chinese workers at low wages to play World of Warcraft, the online multiplayer fantasy game, earning points that could be traded for virtual goods, which would then be resold to players for real money.


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