Politics & Policy

Jim Banks Urges Firing of California’s Public Pension Head over Ties to China’s ‘Thousand Talents Program’

Governor Gavin Newsom speaks at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention in San Francisco, June 1, 2019. (Gage Skidmore)

Representative Jim Banks (R., Ind.) sent a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday urging the firing of California’s public pension chief investment officer due to his participation in Beijing’s “Thousand Talents Program.”

Yu Ben Meng — a U.S. citizen who emigrated from China at 25 to attend the University of California, Davis — assumed his role as CIO of California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) in January 2019, after first working there in 2008. CaIPERS is the largest public pension fund in the country, with over $360 billion in assets.

But Banks warned that Meng’s job deserved further scrutiny.

“We found Chinese newspaper articles that take credit for him being in the position that he’s in currently,” Banks told Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo.

In between his two stints at CalPERS, Meng worked for three years, starting in 2015, as deputy CIO with China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE), which oversees China’s U.S. Treasury security holdings.

A 2017 article in China’s People’s Daily asserts that Meng was then recruited to the position at SAFE by Beijing’s Thousand Talents Program, which provides funding to U.S. citizens in exchange for information. “In human life, if there is an opportunity to serve the motherland, such responsibility and honor cannot be compared to anything,” Meng told the paper.

“Governor Newsom, if it were up to me, I would fire Mr. Meng immediately,” Banks wrote in the letter. “At the least, I think a thorough investigation of Mr. Meng’s relationship to the Chinese Communist Party and a comparison of CalPERS investments in Chinese companies before and after Mr. Meng’s 2008 hiring are both warranted.”

CalPERS CEO Marcie Frost defended Meng in a statement to Reuters.

“This is a reprehensible attack on a U.S. citizen. We fully stand behind our Chief Investment Officer who came to CalPERS with a stellar international reputation,” she said.

Banks says that financial records show billions of California pension dollars invested in Chinese holdings, a fact pointed out by secretary of state Mike Pompeo during a speech on Sunday.

“California’s pension fund . . .  is invested in companies that supply the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) that puts our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines at risk,” Pompeo said.

In November, a senior FBI official admitted that the U.S. government had not been proactive in preventing “Thousand Talents” participants from impacting the American academy, after a bipartisan Senate report accused federal agencies of failing to stop the systematic exploitation of U.S. research by Beijing. The head of Harvard University’s chemistry department was charged in January with hiding his participation in the plan from officials in the Defense Department and the National Institutes of Health.