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California Pension Fund Does Not Deny CIO’s Involvement in China’s ‘Thousand Talents Program’

State Senator Jim Banks of Indiana speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia )

The CEO of California’s public pension fund said Representative Jim Banks (R., Ind.) had made “baseless accusations” about the fund’s chief investment officer being involved in Chinese espionage — but did not deny that Yu Ben Meng had been recruited to the “Thousand Talents Program.”

Marcie Frost, the head of California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), also admitted that her organization — the largest public pension fund in the country with “approximately $400 billion in global assets — had increased its Chinese investments in 2019 after shifts in “well-established indexes.”

“CalPERS rebalanced its portfolio in light of these changes accordingly, resulting in the removal of 143 stocks and the addition of 198 stocks. Nearly half of the companies added were Chinese companies because the MSCI and FTSE indices changed to include China A-Shares,” she wrote in a Thursday letter to Banks.

Banks told National Review that Frost’s comments “failed to answer two fundamental questions raised in my letter to Governor Newsom,” which he sent last week over concerns about Meng’s history.

Meng emigrated to the U.S. from China to study at the University of California, Davis. He initially worked for CalPERS in 2008, before returning in January 2019 as CIO. From 2015 to 2018, Meng worked as deputy CIO with China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE), which oversees China’s U.S. Treasury security holdings.

In his letter to Newsom, Banks highlighted a 2017 Chinese article which mentioned Meng’s role in Beijing’s Thousand Talents Program, which provides under-the-table funding to U.S. citizens in exchange for valuable information.

“First question: Is Mr. Meng a member of the Thousand Talents Program, something the FBI called a ‘non-traditional espionage program?’” Banks said Friday after Frost’s response. “Second question: Since Meng came back as Chief Investment Officer of CalPERS, has CalPERS invested in companies that are affiliated with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army?”

The Indiana Republican added that he wanted to hear from Meng over comments he gave to “the Chinese communist rag People’s Daily.”

In the 2017 article, Meng mentions that his “roots were in China,” and says that “in human life, if there is an opportunity to serve the motherland, such responsibility and honor cannot be compared to anything.”

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