In Beijing and Abu Dhabi, Signs of Bannon’s Continued Influence


WASHINGTON — Stephen K. Bannon met privately with a top Chinese government official and a key leader in the Persian Gulf during a recent trip to Asia and the Middle East, demonstrating that President Trump’s former chief strategist is still viewed as an influential figure abroad.

In Beijing, Mr. Bannon spent 90 minutes with Wang Qishan, a powerful member of the standing committee of the Chinese Politburo who is leading President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign. In the United Arab Emirates, he met the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who arguably has more sway over American policy in the region than any other Arab leader.

The trip earlier this month came just a few weeks after Mr. Bannon was forced out of the White House, returning to his role as an outside agitator for his nationalist agenda. But if Mr. Bannon’s day-to-day access to Mr. Trump has diminished, his reputation as an ideological bomb-thrower has not, particularly in countries like China that zealously monitor American politics.

John L. Thornton, a former Goldman Sachs president who has taught at Tsinghua University in Beijing and has longstanding ties to the Chinese leadership, helped arrange Mr. Bannon’s meeting with Mr. Wang, which was first reported by the Financial Times on Thursday.

He met with two other Chinese officials while in Beijing, one of whom selects articles from the People’s Daily for the Chinese leadership, according to two people briefed on the meetings. The purpose, these people said, was to discuss the rise of economic nationalism and populism.

Earlier, in Hong Kong, Mr. Bannon spoke behind closed doors to investors at a conference sponsored by a politically connected Chinese investment bank. Among his themes was that China and other Asia countries had thrived against the West by running mercantilist trade systems.

“To avoid a trade war,” Mr. Bannon told his audience, “China must cease its economic war against America.”

His meeting with Prince bin Zayed came at a sensitive moment, days after Mr. Trump failed to broker a resolution to a bitter dispute pitting Qatar against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Qatar’s neighbors cut off diplomatic ties and imposed a blockade after accusing Doha of a multitude of sins, from financing militant groups to currying favor with Iran.

Mr. Bannon got to know Prince bin Zayed during the presidential transition when the Emirates royal met him at Trump Tower, along with Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Michael T. Flynn, who was to become Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser.

The crown prince, several officials said, helped cement ties between the White House and Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. Mr. Trump initially sided with the Saudis and Emiratis over the Qataris in their dispute, though more recently, he has played a mediating role.

Mr. Bannon declined to discuss the details of his meetings. But it is not hard, given his views and recent proximity to Mr. Trump, to guess why foreign leaders would seek him out. He still talks to the president from time to time, even if the White House plays down the frequency of those contacts.

More than his value as a conduit, Mr. Bannon is viewed as the intellectual force behind the political movement that carried Mr. Trump to the White House. Now back in his old job at the alt-right media outlet, Breitbart News Network, he is pushing his agenda and punishing those whom he believes are traitors to the cause.

For Mr. Bannon, getting time with Mr. Wang put him as close as he could get to President Xi himself. A former mayor of Beijing and executive vice governor of Guangdong Province, Mr. Wang, 69, is the president’s right-hand-man, particularly in carrying out his crackdown on corruption in the Communist Party.

Mr. Wang meets regularly with prominent Americans, including Henry A. Kissinger, the former secretary of state, and Henry M. Paulson, the former Treasury secretary. People who know Mr. Wang describe him as well-read, intellectual curious, and unafraid to engage in fierce debates with his visitors.

“Wang met with Bannon for two reasons,” said Jeffrey A. Bader, who served as President Barack Obama’s top adviser on China. “He was persuaded that Bannon still has influence with the administration. He’s also a guy who likes to think on a big scale, and likes to talk other people who think on a big scale.”

Mr. Bannon, who once lived in Shanghai, has said he views China as the greatest long-term threat to the United States. “A hundred years from now, this is what they’ll remember,” he declared in a recent interview. “What we did to confront China on its rise to world domination.”

“China right now is Germany in 1930,” Mr. Bannon said. “It’s on the cusp. It could go one way or the other.”



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