China-owned oil company cozies up to Washington

China-owned oil company cozies up to Washington
© Getty

The Washington office of a Chinese state-owned oil company has turned to K Street to help it connect with the U.S. government amid tough talk on trade from President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE.

The work to represent the “myriad of interests” of Sinopec Group actually began in May 2016 — before Election Day — but paperwork only recently appeared in a Justice Department disclosure database. The contract appears to have been extended another year, until May 2018. Sinopec is paying $32,000 per month.

The effort includes Mark Cowan, a former CIA officer who held executive branch posts in three GOP presidential administrations, and Lynn Tian, the chairman of Sinowind Technologies who helped found the Asian Republican Coalition. Documents say they are handling the day-to-day management and coordinating the team’s overall efforts, respectively.

Cowan formed Cowan Strategies in 2013 and Tian runs Global Strategies, Ltd. Both firms report working on the contract.

Other lawyers and lobbyists — primarily from Patton Boggs, which has since merged to become Squire Patton Boggs — appear to round out Sinopec's team.

The firm, and Cowan, have both represented the Chinese government and the China Chamber of Commerce, which is part of China’s Ministry of Commerce. Squire Patton Boggs still represents the Chinese government, in addition to public relations firms MSLGroup and BLJ Worldwide.

One person listed in the engagement letter, Peter Mirijanian, who runs Peter Mirijanian Public Affairs, told The Hill he never worked on the contract.

Cowan, who signed the forms, did not respond to multiple inquiries from The Hill about why disclosures had not been filed to the Justice Department sooner. Tian and others listed could not be immediately reached.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) requires firms to file documents about lobbying, public relations or consulting work on behalf of or influenced by a foreign government or official within 10 days of an agreement.

Foreign agents are also supposed to update the Justice Department every six months with details about who had been contacted on the client’s behalf. Those forms are not available for Sinopec Group.

Sinopec is the world’s second-largest oil and gas company.

Among the efforts that Cowan Strategies, through Global Strategies Ltd., list undertaking for the company, the documents filed to the Justice Department specifically focus on criticism from Trump and Capitol Hill Republicans on China.

“One trend during the past year has been heightened attention by lawmakers on the actions of foreign (read Chinese) State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs),” the contract says. “The election of Donald Trump, who regularly criticizes China and foreign businesses, may embolden those who seek to punish SOEs for what they see as cheating.”

In recent days, Trump ordered officials to investigate whether China is stealing intellectual property from U.S. companies, and said he could “feel a lot differently toward trade” if China helped the United States with the threat of North Korea.

“This is just the beginning,” Trump said, of the desired investigation by U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerMORE.

In an interview with Prospect Magazine, then-White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon said that the detente with China is akin to “economic war.”

“We’re at economic war with China,” he told the left-leaning publication in a telephone interview. “It’s in all their literature. They’re not shy about saying what they’re doing. One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path. On Korea, they’re just tapping us along. It’s just a sideshow.”

Global Strategies has been providing advice and counsel for the Sinopec office, compiling weekly reports that detail legislative activities on Capitol Hill, regulatory actions in the executive branch, the “macroeconomics in the United States,” and oil and gas industry updates.

It provided the company a separate report on bipartisan legislation meant to reform the energy sector, Energy Policy Modernization Act (EPMA), and outlined the U.S. election, including a post-mortem “covering the results, how such a surprise occurred, and an overview of what policies a Trump administration might prioritize.” 

In March, Global Strategies says it coordinated meetings with Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and the documents say more meetings were being planned for April.

Sinopec operates in Oklahoma and opened a new office in Texas, and the contract emphasizes creating relationships with members in those states — in addition to federal and state officials.

It also wants to connect with lobbying groups, such as the American Petroleum Institute, and see energy industry reform legislation, the documents say.

Under a heading of “policy issues to watch for,” the firm lists the EPMA, which lawmakers recently reintroduced in the Senate under a different name, the Iran nuclear deal, trade and deregulation of the energy sector.

“The fate of many of the energy regulations passed under President Obama now hang in the balance, and a goal of the Trump administration is to roll back regulations and restrictions on coal, oil and gas development. The Clean Power Plan, currently tied up in court (thanks to a lawsuit previously filed by current EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt), will likely be undone, either in Congress, or the new EPA will simply decline to enforce it,” reads the firm’s engagement letter filed to the Justice Department.