The Chinese government has been influencing Utah lawmakers by appealing to their Mormon beliefs within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The highly coordinated effort has resulted in numerous propaganda victories that promote false positive images of China, delaying legislation for action against Chinese government propaganda, and even the complete cancellation of resolutions condemning the communist nation.
According to an investigation by The Associated Press, China capitalized on the Mormon Church’s long-held desire to expand to China.
Many of the ties between Utah and China can be attributed to Taowen Le, a Chinese citizen with links to the Chinese Communist government who moved to Utah in the 1980s and converted to the Mormon faith in 1990. He has promoted China to political and religious leaders in the state for decades.
Le has frequently cited the Mormon faith when pitching to lawmakers, the AP reported. In correspondence with state leaders, Le repeatedly quoted the Book of Mormon and also included positive remarks made about China by Russell Nelson, the church’s president-prophet.
Chinese officials have taken a similar church-first approach, meeting with top Mormon parishioners and lawmakers when visiting Utah, emails and other records revealed.
Frank Montoya Jr., a retired FBI counterintelligence agent who resides in Utah, commented, “Utah is an important foothold. If the Chinese can succeed in Salt Lake City, they can also make it in New York and elsewhere.”
According to the Daily Wire, Utah state lawmakers pushed back the closing of Chinese-funded propaganda Confucius Institutes by one year at all state universities within the state.
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A notable incident occurred when a Chinese fourth-grade teacher in Utah conducted a letter exchange with Chinese President Xi Jinping. President Xi corresponded back to the students and thanked them for their cards. The Chinese government then used the incident to portray the brutal and murderous dictator as a loving grandfather figure.
The AP report even highlighted how some state lawmakers were gushing over the correspondence between President Xi and the fourth graders.
The report also noted how the communist nation’s civilian spy agency, the Ministry of State Security (MSS), has been active within the state as multiple people have been convicted on spying charges within Utah.
It was further reported that up to 25 Utah state lawmakers took routine trips to China every other year since 2007. The lawmaker’s comments were later used in Chinese propaganda.
“Utah is not like Washington D.C.,” former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes told Chinese state media in 2018. “Utah is a friend of China, an old friend with a long history.”
This article has been updated to include examples of China’s link to Utah’s Mormon community.