The Chinese government invited then-astronaut Mark Kelly, now an Arizona Democratic Senate candidate, to an all-expenses-paid retreat at a countryside resort in 2003. He left China five days later not only with a future spouse, former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D., Ariz.), but also with lucrative regime business contacts.
Kelly attended the annual Young Leaders Forum, a five-day junket cohosted by the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs, which is “under the leadership of the Communist Party of China.” The conference allowed Kelly an opportunity to mingle with high-profile Communist Party officials and rising stars in Chinese society. Attendees included Cui Tiankai, now Chinese ambassador to the United States; Fang Xinghai, former director of the CCP’s top committee on the economy; and Zhou Mingwei, the party’s former top foreign propaganda honcho.
China analyst Gordon G. Chang said that party connections—such as those Kelly fostered—are “absolutely essential” for securing Chinese business deals.
“The Communist Party tries to control everything, whether it’s a state enterprise or a private company,” he said. “And so it’s extremely important to have Communist Party contacts [to do business].”
Kelly has also had extensive ties with China since becoming a civilian. World View Enterprise, an aerospace company he cofounded and in which he still holds investments, received funding from Chinese tech giant Tencent, which censors the internet for Beijing. As the Washington Free Beacon reported, he also held a financial stake in a Colorado company that courted investments from a Chinese state-funded tech enterprise.
He now has assets worth up to $27 million, according to his financial disclosure.