Guo Wengui, also known as Miles Kwok, has levelled personal accusations against Wang Qishan, China’s powerful anti-corruption tsar, from his home in Manhattan. The unproven, but gripping, allegations have transfixed the Chinese public as elite factions jockey for influence in the ruling Communist party.
In response, Beijing has entangled Mr Guo in at least five lawsuits, marking an unprecedented engagement with the US judicial system. That could prove an expensive distraction for Mr Guo, who relies on Twitter and overseas Chinese media for free airtime.
“No one anticipated that lawsuits against Mr Kwok would come out in such scale,” said Tao Jingzhou, of Dechert, a law firm in Beijing. Chinese companies have been defendants in the US but rarely initiated a complaint in a US court, he said.
Many believe that Mr Guo is attempting to drive a wedge between Mr Wang and Xi Jinping, China’s president.
Guo Wengui has been a thorn in Beijing’s side for months, lobbing explosive allegations against Wang Qishan in order to tarnish the leader of Xi’s anti-corruption purges. Many suspect Guo is being fed information by Wang’s rivals to undermine him before the Party Congress. For that reason, Guo should be seen as more an aggrieved, self-interested insider than a noble whistleblower. Regardless, his revelations have cast an unflattering spotlight on elite party machinations, while dragging the U.S. into a loaded factional battle in Beijing.
Earlier this year, in April, Voice of America abruptly cut short an interview with the tycoon after allegedly being pressured by Beijing. But China’s attempts to silence Guo have otherwise proven fruitless, while its arguments for extradition have fallen on deaf ears. The legal pursuit of Guo in the U.S. could signal a new tack, as Beijing seeks to bury Guo with litigation and catch him with violations of American law.
The dispute certainly could complicate Sino-American relations. Apart from the litigation, China is surely exploring diplomatic channels with the Trump administration to secure his return, and it is not lost on China’s leadership that Guo happens to be a Mar-a-Lago member. Whether the pressure on Guo in the U.S. will actually change the situation, however, is far from clear. In many ways, China’s attempt to silence a dissident oligarch in the U.S. is just a sign of basic patterns reasserting themselves, as the gaps between the U.S. and the illiberal giants of Eurasia continue to shape world politics in the Trump era.