In Depth

US election: why Donald Trump has a secret Chinese bank account

Questions are raised about the president’s business dealings in China

President Donald Trump holds a “secret” bank account in China and has paid thousands in local taxes, it has been revealed.

The New York Times, which obtained Trump’s tax records last month, says the president paid $188,561 (£143,875) in Chinese taxes over a two-year period before his election in 2016.

The findings stand in stark contrast to the president’s tax payments in the US, with records showing he paid as little as $750 (£572) in income taxes in 2016 and 2017, as well as his “unsubstantiated claims” about Joe Biden’s dealings with the global superpower, the BBC says. 

Beijing bucks

The Chinese account is controlled by Trump International Hotels Management LLC, and was set up while the president was “pursuing licensing deals there from 2013 to 2015”, the New York Times reports.

According to the documents, the company reported an “unusually large” uptick in revenue in 2017 to the tune of around $17.5m (£13.3m), which was subsequently followed by a $15.1m (£11.4m) withdrawal by Trump.

Almost a decade before, Trump commenced his dealings in the country with the pursuit of an office block contract in Guangzhou that ultimately fell through, before opening a Shanghai office in 2012. 

“After effectively planting his flag there, Mr. Trump found a partner in the State Grid Corporation, one of the nation’s largest government-controlled enterprises” before the collaboration was abandoned amid a corruption sting, the New York Times says.

The records also show Trump has invested “at least $192,000 (£146,393) in five small companies created specifically to pursue projects there over the years”, the paper adds.

Trump Organization lawyer Alan Garten said the president “opened an account with a Chinese bank having offices in the United States in order to pay the local taxes” that were incurred as a result of his business dealings. Garten, who refused to confirm which bank the account was held with, added: “No deals, transactions or other business activities ever materialised and, since 2015, the office has remained inactive.”

What about the trade war?

A key fixture of Trump’s presidency has been his willingness to engage in a trade war with China. His constant criticism of US companies doing business in the country has left industry leaders “incredulous” that he has benefitted from pursuing his own interests in China, the BBC says.

After entering the White House, Trump imposed tariffs on $400bn (£305bn) worth of goods shipped between the two powers, “disrupting supply chains - most noticeably, perhaps, in the technology sector”, the Financial Times says.

Threats to reignite the economic battle during the pandemic caused share prices to plummet and the president declared a desire to “strip government contracts from firms that continued to outsource work to China” as recently as August.

Tensions have continued to rise as election day draws closer. In a video address to the UN general assembly in September, Trump blamed the Asian nation for unleashing a “plague” on the globe, incorrectly stating that the World Health Organization is “virtually controlled by China”.

The discovery of Trump’s tax payments in China will inevitably “raise further questions” about the president’s combative rhetoric, Forbes says. 

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