A venture capital firm backed by Kobe Bryant – the late National Basketball Association star – has invested in several Chinese Communist Party-linked companies, including those flagged by the U.S. State Department as “tools” of the Chinese government.
The firm – Bryant Stibel – began operating in 2013, counting $100 million in funding from the National Basketball Association (NBA) all-star. Among the companies funded by the investment arm are companies with Chinese Communist Party ties: Alibaba, VIPKid, and Full Truck Alliance.
Since 2016, the firm has invested in the online learning platform VIPkid alongside Tencent, which has been described as a “tool of the Chinese government” by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation. Noting the company has “no meaningful ability to tell the Chinese Communist Party ‘no’ if officials decide to ask for their assistance,” the department also counts Tencent as providing the “foundation of technology-facilitated surveillance and social control” in order for the Chinese government “to shape the world consistent with its authoritarian model.”
VIPKid, which has partnered with state-run media outlets such as China Daily, has even been criticized for attempting to influence school curricula by firing teachers who show maps with an independent Taiwan and Hong Kong and accurately describe the brutal Tiananmen Square massacre.
In contrast, during a 2016 interview at a Wall Street Journal forum, Bryant praised the company and its CEO, noting “it’s really about inspiring kids in to understand that there’s a much much bigger world out there.” VIPKid, however, has also expanded its reach into American classrooms, “donating” its services to several public school districts.
The Bryant Stibel fund has also invested in the China-based technology and e-commerce giant Alibaba alongside China Investment Corporation, a Chinese Communist Party sovereign wealth fund led by current and former high-level apparatchiks. In addition to Chinese Communist Party links at Alibaba’s leadership level, the company is also key to the country’s quest to overtake the U.S. in technology.
Similarly, the NBA-linked fund has also invested in the Chinese company Full Truck Alliance, the “leading online commercial freight platform in China in the full-truck-load segment.” Among the company’s funders is China Reform Fund Management, a private equity firm operating under the control of the Chinese Communist Party.
The fund’s holding company, as outlined by state-run media outlet China Daily, is “a wholly state-owned company approved by the State Council and an investment institution authorized by the State.” One of its primary objectives is “to support the Central Government’s technological innovation and industrial upgrading.”