Basic information provided in the media about CEFC says that it is the largest private company in Shanghai and the sixth largest company in China, achieving in 2014 a revenue of 220 billion CNY (35 billion USD). 1 Given the importance of such a company, the information about it available on the internet is surprisingly meager and at certain points contradictory. 2
The name and structure of the company and the kind of business it is involved in is quite complicated. On its main website it claims the following: “China Energy Company Limited (hereinafter referred to as “CEFC China”) is a private collective enterprise with energy and financial services as its core business. As the corporate name implies (i.e. the Chinese name Zhongguo Hua xin), CEFC China speaks for the credibility of the Chinese. The strategy of the company seeks to serve the national industrial interest by building a modernized economic community to compete as a multinational enterprise that expands cooperation in the international energy economy and achieves influence in the energy industry.” 3
The claim of building up “a multinational enterprise” is supported by listing seventeen “joint stock companies” of CEFC. Ten of them are in China and Hong Kong, and no real international presence is visible there. The remaining seven companies include “DostykGazTerminal” in Kazakhstan, which states its mission on its website in political rather than economic terms, such as: “to promote economic development and strengthening of partnership and friendly relations between Kazakhstan and China by providing domestic and foreign customers with services for trans-shipment of liquefied petroleum gases, storage and other related services, and the development of services in the field of transportation of liquefied petroleum gases to global standards, with the achievement of the relevant requirements of the founders of the profits.” 4
Other international companies listed on the CEFC website are J&T and the four Czech companies to which CEFC acquired access at the end of 2015 during its “shopping spree” in Prague, including the Slavia Football Club.
The company further states that its ambition is “to be a global trader and establish a global trading system of oil and natural gas, … to establish strategic cooperation with major energy traders in the world, and … to establish large-scale linkage system on energy reserves and sales networks in Europe, Middle East and China and RMB denominated energy trade”. 5
Countries (not companies!) in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia, as well as Russia, are mentioned as its main partners. One of CEFC’s recent projects is to build a mammoth oil storage facility on Hainan Island in the South China Sea to store a large share of China’s strategic oil reserve. CEFC also offers investment and financial services, so far targeting the oil and gas sector.
Given the nature of the Chinese political and economic system, it is highly improbable that a company with such goals and global ambitions within strategic industries such as oil and energy investment could be private. Even though economic liberalization is being conducted in China, the Chinese government still ensures control over all strategic sectors of its economy.
CEFC’s position in Chinese international business circles related to strategic resources (not to mention its philanthropic activities which primarily serve as propaganda to bolster China’s international standing and will be covered later in this article) suggest that the company cannot be just an ordinary private business. Rather, it must be in some way closely related to the highest levels of China’s party-state.
NGO and promotion of culture
The company strongly advertises its philanthropic and charitable aims, with a special interest in promoting Chinese culture internationally. It has established an NGO under the name of the China Energy Fund Committee, registered in Hong Kong and with branches in the USA and elsewhere in the world. 6 In fact, the abbreviation used by the company in English fits its NGO rather better. The Chinese names are better differentiated. The company is called Zhongguo Huaxin, which could be translated as Trust in China, while the NGO is Zhonghua Nengyuan Jijin Weiyuanhui, the direct equivalent of “China Energy Fund Committee.”
This NGO is very active in organizing all sorts of international conferences and discussion forums. It has established links to respected non-governmental organizations all over the world; among others, it boasts of its consultative status to the UN Economic and Social Council on its website. 7
Like its mother company, the CEFC NGO also offers a surprising mixture of activities in the areas of energy, sustainable development and culture, describing itself on its website as a “high-end strategic think tank engaged in energy strategy research, energy and public diplomacy, as well as global energy cooperation and cultural exchanges.”
The very nature of CEFC’s (Zhongguo Huaxin’s) business in the area of strategic resources provokes questions about the relationship between the company and the Chinese party-state, most notably the military and intelligence branches. The NGO helps to promote the official policy of the People´s Republic of China in the guise of scholars’ and other independent experts’ opinions. For example, it has launched annual Sino-US colloquiums with the aim to promote cooperation between the two countries. The ninth colloquium, held in January 2016, was dedicated to security issues. 8 On the other hand, the CEFC NGO has also become involved in the territorial disputes about the islands in the South China Sea, publishing “independent” expert articles on its website which support China’s claims to the territory.
The most notorious indirect involvement of the CEFC NGO in this dispute – which has implications for the whole Pacific Region, including the US – are the articles and comments by one of CEFC’s “strategic analysts,” Dai Xu (sometimes writing under the name Long Dao, “Dragon Plan”). This man is renowned for his nationalistic statements calling for the use of force in order to resolve the South China Sea islands controversy as well as in other matters.
Dai Xu is an Air Force colonel, a professor at the National Defense University, and head of the army-sponsored Marine Institute for Security and Cooperation located in Hainan (i.e. in the same place where CEFC is building the oil strategic reserves storage facility). He represents the assertive anti-US position held by the most conservative circles in the Chinese military and the Communist Party leadership. 9
Another NGO platform for CEFC’s activities connected with spreading a positive image of China is provided by the China Academy of Culture. The CAC presents itself as a non-profit organization, with Ye Jianming as its Chairman of the Board and Xu Jialu, former vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, as its President. 10
According to its website mission statement, the Academy is “aiming at ‘Inheriting Chinese Culture and Harmonizing World Civilizations’, serving the National cultural development strategy, ‘go global’ strategy of Chinese culture as well as the growing cultural needs of the ordinary people, reflecting the consciousness, self-confidence and self- strengthening of Chinese culture. The China Academy of Culture is committed to the research of traditional Chinese culture and spreading the essence to the world, with the goal of developing the Chinese Cultural Development Think Tank. Through the integration of cultural strengths, uniting cultural organizations around the globe, creating a high-level platform for cultural communication and exchange [sic].” 11
The most visible of this organization’s activities is the Nishan Forum on World Civilizations, established in 2008 as a response to the United Nations resolution on a global agenda for dialogue among world civilizations. Xu Jialu, the President of CEFC’s China Academy of Culture, is also president of the forum. 12 The Nishan Forum has become known for its promotion of Confucianism and emphasis on the uniqueness of Chinese civilization, which in turn implies a rejection of universal values such as human rights and democracy.
As has already been pointed out by researchers, among the members of the organization committee of the Nishan Forum are high-ranking officials of the General Political Department (GPD) of the Central Military Commission and its Liaison Office (LO), a special unit responsible for international security analysis and friendly contact – in other words, intelligence and propaganda. 13 The Central Military Commission is controlled by the Politburo and headed by the Secretary General of the CCP and the President, i.e. currently by Xi Jinping.
Who is “Chairman Ye?”
A closer look at Mr. Ye Jianming, or “Chairman Ye” as he likes to be addressed, further solidifies the impression that he may not be just an “outstanding Chinese entrepreneur and philanthropist” as the CEFC website would like us to believe, but rather works for the Central Military Commission GPD, and that the primary goal of his activities is not private business, but strengthening China’s position globally.
This aim is, after all, openly acknowledged in the patriotic slogans on the company website – at least in its Chinese version – and is echoed in the (not very rich) publications about Ye Jianming and his company on the Chinese internet. The opinion that Ye Jianming and his CEFC are part of the Chinese military is expressed both by scholars and by Chinese netizens in blogs which usually soon disappear. 14The same implications have been made in private communication with Chinese citizens living in Prague.
Ye Jianming holds a unique position within his CEFC empire. He is the chairman of the Board of Directors, with Chan Chauto as the President under him. Chan Chauto is also the Chinese president of the Czech-China Mixed Chamber mentioned in our previous article. The company has four executive directors, but two of them are again Ye and Chan. No other senior representatives are visible in the company’s public activities. Ye Jianming also chairs the NGOs (again in tandem with Chan Chauto, who is his vice chairman); in this case the public face of the NGO is mostly represented by Dr. Patrick Ho. In addition, Ye Jianming is also chairman of the China Academy (as well as the Institute) of Culture.
Ye Jianming likes to behave like a Party official rather than a businessman, giving speeches full of guidance and instruction. His “speeches” dominate the website, together with all kinds of uplifting slogans. To anybody knowledgeable about China’s recent history, “Speeches by Chairman Ye” immediately bring to mind associations with another well-known author of “speeches,” Chairman Mao, and there is indeed evidence placing Ye Jianming firmly within the faction of Communist Party princelings related to early Mao associates – a group to which today’s CCP Secretary General and President Xi Jinping belongs as well.
There are speculations on the Chinese internet, quoted by some scholars, that Ye Jianming may be a close relative to the late Marshall Ye Jianying, who is regarded as one of the spiritual leaders of this faction. This possibility cannot be discounted; however, it is equally possible that Ye Jianming has a completely false identity, including his name, as other netizens claim. 15
Ye Jianming’s speeches contain a mixture of trivial statements whose phraseology echoes Maoist classics and today’s propaganda, at times colored with a touch of oriental wisdom. The word “Dao” is used along with references to Buddhism. Here is a short excerpt of Ye Jianming’s rhetoric, which is claimed to be the basis of his “innovative management strategy” and the key to the skyrocketing success of his company:
“Everything develops in conflicts. Where there is a need for development, there undoubtedly will be new conflicts and difficulties. If preparation for addressing difficulties is not done in advance, then development is not possible. The most important and valuable asset to a company is its credibility. Credibility should be prioritized when it comes to interpreting the definition of ‘culture’ or ‘cultural spirit’. After all, winning the trust from other people and the society brings about the strongest power. Everything happens in both time and space. However, time and space are relative but absolute, as things change along with temporal and spatial factors. For example, conflicts of today might not be conflicts of tomorrow. What is eternal? Only what meets the needs of the society is eternal…. Meeting one’s material requirement has only achieved the lower levels of human needs. Only by advancing human pursuit to the upper levels in the hierarchy of needs, spiritual needs, could an extravagant life be avoided.” 16
Ye formulates his management strategy using variations on the slogans of official ideology, such as promoting the “three-in-one” management model integrating “entrepreneurship, Confucianism, and military-style regimentation” with the principle of “one company, two systems.” These strange formulations immediately bring to mind the official Party theories of “three represents” (sange daibiao) and “one country, two systems”.
If we search for the personal history of Ye Jianming, further questions arise. Ye has a page on the Baidu Baike encyclopedia, 17 where his photo with President Zeman at Prague Castle has been chosen as the main illustration photo, followed by Ye’s photo with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. 18
Baidu gives his basic data as follows: “Born in 1977 in Fujian province, Han nationality, Chinese Hong Kong citizenship, an entrepreneur and philanthropist.” Besides his position in CEFC – both the company and the NGO – his other NGOs are mentioned as well, together with his positions as advisor to the Czech President, Political Advisor to the New Party in Hong Kong (a conservative pro-Bejing party aspiring to take over leadership in Hong Kong), and Honorary Chairman to The Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS) in Washington D.C. In an earlier version visited last September, the website also included information that Ye Jianming holds a university graduate degree (BA) in an unspecified subject and is continuing his education in the Master’s program; this detail is now missing.
The history of Ye Jianming’s career in CEFC is not clear from his Baidu biography, which only says that he has worked in the company for “more than ten years” and during this time raised it to its current position of “one of China’s most influential business companies with annual revenues exceeding RMB 220 billion as declared by the Fortune Magazine in 2014, and tenth most influential charity.” Quite an achievement for a young man in his 30s!
Baidu dedicates considerable space to CEFC’s role in promoting “Secretary General Xi’s strategy of One Belt One Road” and, in this context, to the Czech Republic as well. It highlights the agreement with the J&T investment group and Daniel Křetínský’s related EP Energy in 2014. This information is followed by a few lines about the strategic position of the Czech Republic in Europe.
Beyond that, the webpage mainly extols Ye Jianming’s patriotism (including his sustained effort to “gain the power of discourse for the Chinese”) and his unique company management strategy which we have already introduced. Here it is characterized as a “fusion of the essence of Western and Chinese culture.”
Elsewhere on the Chinese internet we can read that Ye Jianming started to work for CEFC in 2002. However, independent research reveals that between 2003 and 2005 he was working in a high position at the China Association of International Friendly Contacts (CAIFC), 19 i.e. the International Liaison Department under the General Political Department in the Central Military Commission – the highest military intelligence. 20
It is perhaps not without significance here that Ye Jianming’s close associate Jaroslav Tvrdík started his China career in a China friendship organization. In fact, the cultural and philanthropic activities in which CEFC’s NGOs are engaged are quite similar to what the international friendship organizations financed by the Chinese government are doing within the scope of China’s soft-power policy.
When I started to follow information on Ye Jianming half a year ago, there was nearly nothing about him except for the previously quoted entry on Baidu and frequent questions asked by netizens: “Who is Ye Jianming?” and “Who is Ye Jianming’s father?” Recently Ye’s appearance on the Chinese internet has become more frequent. He is regularly reported in the official media as attending important international events and, in addition, sometimes honored at these events with the title of “honorary chairman.” This information cannot be confirmed from other sources, even the websites of the organizations which are said to have honored him, and an impression arises that a false image of him as an internationally recognized authority is being intentionally created.
Various Chinese internet media have reported that on December 7, 2015, Ye Jianming met with Robert C. McFarlane, former U.S. President Reagan’s national security adviser and current chairman of The Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS) in Washington, D.C. It was reported that on this occassion. Ye Jianming was named Honorary President of IAGS. 21
This information is also available in English on the CEFC company website. 22 The IAGS website, however, does not even report Ye’s visit, much less his honorary presidency. 23 The same is the case with Ye’s being named Honorary President of the Club of Rome; the honor is said to have been delivered personally by Ulrich von Weizsäcker in Ottawa on September 19, 2013, during the annual conference. 24 On the Club of Rome website, Ye Jianming is not mentioned at all. 25
Photographs of Ye Jianming with political representatives from all over the world published on the CEFC website and elsewhere are consistent with an effort to present the man in the company of respectable people in high political positions in order to gain importance and credibility (see also his English page on Wikipedia, only recently set up). Czech politicians figure prominently among them.
- Company Overview of CEFC China Energy Company Limited, Bloomberg Business, 28.1. 2016, http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=275515786; Chris Johnstone: Major Chinese player CEFC fills up basket in Czech Republic, Radio Praha, 7.9. 2015, http://www.radio.cz/en/section/business/major-chinese-player-cefc-fills-up-basket-in-czech-republic . ↩
- For example, English-language Wikipedia (with reference to the Taiwan-based English news website WantChinaTimes. the source of which is currently inaccessible) claims that most of the company is owned by the Shanghai Energy Fund Investment Ltd (SEFI) registered under Ye Jianming. This is, however, not confirmed on the company’s website, which otherwise describes its organizational structure in such detail that it even provides information on the Party and Communist Youth organizations (the existence of Party organizations in a private company is not a rule in China today). ↩
- CEFC, http://en.cefc.co/index.php. ↩
- DostykGazTerminal, http://www.dostykgasterminal.kz/index.php/en/. ↩
- CEFC, http://en.cefc.co/index.php. ↩
- China Energy Fund Committee, 29.6.2014, http://english.cri.cn/12394/2014/09/26/2982s845633.htm. ↩
- China Energy Fund Committee (CEFC), http://www.cefc.org.hk/. ↩
- CEFC Convenes Colloquium on Sino-US Security Relations: Chinese and US Think-Tanks Make Recommendations for Next US President, 24.1.2016, http://www.cefc.org.hk/a/36651-eng ↩
- Dai Xu is a Chinese author, social commentator, and president of the Marine Institute For Security and Cooperation; he is also a professor at the National Defense University. He holds the rank of Senior Colonel in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. He is a supporter of communist orthodoxy and has expressed strong nationalist sentiments. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dai_Xu; See also Martin Hála: Who is the mysterious Chinese investor or on Miloš Zeman and the Dragon’s strategy / Kdo je tajemný čínský investor aneb Miloš Zeman a dračí strategie, 11.9.2015, http://ceskapozice.lidovky.cz/kdo-je-tajemny-cinsky-investor-aneb-milos-zeman-a-draci-strategie-phv-/tema.aspx?c=A150911_112139_pozice-tema_kasa. ↩
- CEFC, http://www.cefc-culture.co/en/about/. ↩
- China Academy of Culture Ltd. website http://www.cefc-culture.co/en/about/. Interestingly, two names are used on the website – not only China Academy of Culture, but also China Institute of Culture. It is not clear if these are two different translations of the Chinese name Zhongguo Wenhua Yuan, or yet another subsidiary of CEFC. ↩
- For details see the Nishan Forum website http://www.nishan.org.cn/eng/background/201204/t20120419_7052607.html. ↩
- J. Michael Cole: Chinese Propaganda: Coming Soon to a Conference Near You. The Diplomat, 23.9.2015, http://thediplomat.com/2015/09/chinese-propaganda-coming-soon-to-a-conference-near-you/. J.M. Cole uses the name of China Institute of Culture Limited. ↩
- “The term Netizen describes a person actively involved in online communities or the Internet in general. The term commonly also implies an interest and active engagement in improving the Internet, making it an intellectual and a social resource, or its surrounding political structures, especially in regard to open access, net neutrality and free speech. /…/ In Chinese, the terms wǎngmín and wǎngyǒu are commonly used terms meaning “Internet users,” and the English word “Netizen” is used by mainland China-based English-language media to translate both terms, resulting in the frequent appearance of that English word in media reporting about China, far more frequently than the use of the word in other contexts.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Netizen. See also another definition: “Netizen: a person who actively uses the Internet especially in a proper and responsible way.” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/netizen. ↩
- Andrew Chubb: The enigma of CEFC’s Chairman Ye, Southseaconversations, 7.6. 2013, https://southseaconversations.wordpress.com/2013/06/07/the-enigma-of-cefcs-chairman-ye/; Mark Stokes and Russel Hsiao: The People’s Liberation Army Genral Political Department: Political Warfare with Chinese Characteristics, Project 2049 Institute, 2013, http://www.project2049.net/documents/PLA_General_Political_Department_Liaison_Stokes_Hsiao.pdf; and other sources published in the Chinese language in Taiwan. ↩
- Abstract of Speeches Delivered by Chairman Ye Jianming in Several Meetings Ye Jianming, Chairman of Board of Directors, CEFC China Energy Co., Ltd., CEFC China, http://en.cefc.co/detail/zxjh/553?lang=cn. ↩
- “Baidu is a Chinese web services company. Baidu offers many services, including a Chinese language-search engine for websites, audio files and images. Baidu offers 57 search and community services including Baidu Baike (an online, collaboratively-built encyclopedia) and a searchable, keyword-based discussion forum. /…/ Baidu Baike is similar to Wikipedia as an encyclopedia; however, unlike Wikipedia, only registered users can edit the articles due to Chinese laws. While access to Wikipedia has been intermittently blocked or certain articles filtered in China since June 2004, there is some controversy about the degree to which Baidu cooperates with Chinese government censorship.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baidu. ↩
- Baidu Baike profile, http://baike.baidu.com/view/10931497.htm. ↩
- http://www.caifc.org.cn/en/. The relation with CAIFC is mentioned in the Wai Can journal following Chinese politics and government and published in New York (No. 61, 18.5.2015. p. 71). Ye Jianming’s position is sometimes specified as “deputy secretary-general.” See J. Michael Cole, National Interest. ↩
- Mark Stokes, Russell Hsiao: The People’s Liberation Army General Political Department. Political Warfare with Chinese Characteristics, 14.10.2013, Project 2049 Institute, http://www.project2049.net/documents/PLA_General_Political_Department_Liaison_Stokes_Hsiao.pdf . This opinion is echoed by Michael Raska in his recent article Hybrid Warfare with Chinese Characteristics, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, No. 262, 2.12.2015, https://www.rsis.edu.sg/rsis-publication/rsis/co15262-hybrid-warfare-with-chinese-characteristics/#.Vq4ijPnhDb2. ↩
- 11.12.2015, http://finance.ifeng.com/a/20151211/14120676_0.shtml. ↩
- Ye Jianming Engaged as Honorary Chairman of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, CEFC China, 7.12.2015, http://en.cefc.co/detail/news/642?lang=cn. ↩
- The Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS), IAGS in the News, http://www.iags.org/iagsnews.html. ↩
- 20.9.2013, http://news.xinhuanet.com/world/2013-09/20/c_117436863.htm. ↩
- Ottawa: Annual Club of Rome Conference 2013, http://www.clubofrome.org/?p=6211. ↩