A top investor in TikTok comes from is a China-based private equity firm with deep Chinese Communist Party ties, counting investments worth billions into entities including Chinese government-run artificial intelligence projects and companies designated “tools of the Chinese government” by the U.S. State Department.
Time’s Up On TikTok.
Headquartered in Beijing and founded by Chinese national and Hong Kong government advisory board member Zhang Lei, Hillhouse manages a $50 billion dollar portfolio including American companies Zoom, Facebook, and Amazon. Also tucked in their portfolio are CCP-linked companies Tencent and Alibaba.
For example, Tencent, similarly under fire from the Trump administration for its CCP ties, has been described the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation as a “tool of the Chinese government,” noting it retains “no meaningful ability to tell the Chinese Communist Party ‘no’ if officials decide to ask for their assistance.”
And its CEO has direct CCP links, currently serving as a Congressional Deputy and a member of the premier CCP body, the Standing Committee.
And TikTok, according to Wall Street Journal reporting, has been on the Hillhouse rolodex since before August 2018.
Follow the red brick road.
Hillhouse’s founder has extensive connections to the CCP – an alarming relationship given the Chinese app is legally required to pass along user data to the CCP should the government request it.
Zhang serves as vice-chairman of the board of directors at Beijing-based Renmin University, one of the country’s top universities controlled and funded by the CCP responsible for training many of the highest-ranking party apparatchiks. It also actively participates in the regime’s global propaganda operations, spearheading the formation of 12 Confucius Institutes overseas. Confucius Institutes serve as the international propaganda arm of the CCP and are hotbeds for intellectual property theft, “undisclosed ties to Chinese institutions, and conflicted loyalties” according to the FBI.
What’s more, Zhang donated over $45 million to Renmin to form the Gaoling School of Artificial Intelligence (AI), a joint venture with the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST), whose charter defines its mission as “serv[ing] as a bridge that links the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government to the country’s science and technology community.” During the center’s grand opening, CCP officials declared the center would follow President Xi Jinping’s quest “to develop an AI system that is suitable for the government to provide services and make policy decisions.”
The school has also hosted seminars on how to best assist the CCP by “strengthening the combination of AI and social governance and strengthening the integration of government information resources and public demand forecast.” Representatives including the Director of Policy and Regulation at the CCP’s Propaganda Department were also in attendance.
Zhang is also a governing board member of the China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF), a CCP-funded propaganda initiative chaired by Tung Chee Hwa, high-ranking CCP apparatchik and former head of Hong Kong. The controversial foundation is a registered Chinese foreign agent that targets American universities with offers to fund policy research, high-level dialogues, and exchange programs. Many schools, however, have divested from CUSEF in light of these ties.
Former Hillhouse employees have also progressed to work for TikTok and its parent company ByteDance.
Josh Gartner, the former Executive Director of Hillhouse’s Corporate Communications, now performs that same duty for TikTok. He serves as TikTok’s Director of Corporate Communications and spokesperson.
Additionally, a former ByteDance investment associate at now assists with Hillhouse investment strategy in the technology, media, and telecom sectors. Another individual, who worked for ByteDance “on online advertising/media buying, acquisition, spend allocation, and overall growth strategy for TikTok,” now serves as a Hillhouse investment associate.