STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visits Beijing this weekend. His first visit to China coincides with news of a possible business deal, which involves China and President Trump's extended family. A Chinese company reportedly has negotiated to buy a stake in a New York City office building owned by the family of Jared Kushner. He's the president's son-in-law. Now, to be clear, this deal, from what we know, appears not to be complete. But NPR's Rob Schmitz is following what is known from China's business capital, Shanghai.
So what is the business deal?
ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Well, Bloomberg reported this earlier in the week. And this is about the family of Jared Kushner, who's the son-in-law of Donald Trump. And he's been in talks - his family's been in talks with a prominent Chinese company interested in investing $400 million in the Kushners' Manhattan office tower on Fifth Avenue in New York City.
Now, this is a property that Jared Kushner himself bought in 2007, before the financial crisis hit. And then it lost a lot of money and almost became insolvent. And according to documents that Bloomberg obtained and then circulated to experts, the Kushner family began negotiating with the Chinese company in earnest in January as part of this ongoing effort to bail it out. And neither side has refuted that.
INSKEEP: OK, just to underline who the players are here, Jared Kushner is not just the son-in-law of the president, the spouse of Ivanka Trump. He's also a close adviser to the president...
INSKEEP: ...Regularly seen in White House photos of the president. Now, the other party here, Anbang Insurance, what is it?
SCHMITZ: Anbang is an insurance company worth nearly $300 billion that owns the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. And they own many other foreign assets and companies. The problem with Anbang is that it's never been clear who its shareholders are. But we know it has had ties to the families of China's top leadership. And that's why whenever Anbang buys property in the U.S., it raises security concerns. Last year, Anbang tried to buy a hotel property in California, for example. But the U.S. government wouldn't approve it because it was too close to a naval base. So Anbang has certainly been kept at an arm's length by the U.S. government. And that's why Anbang's dealings with the Kushner family is raising some big concerns.
INSKEEP: But let's underline another thing here. Isn't Jared Kushner now separate, in business terms, from his family? Didn't he get himself out or promise to get himself out of his family's business dealings as he moved into the White House?
SCHMITZ: Right. And that also extends to this deal. He later sold this building to the rest of his family in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Now, I spoke to Attorney Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, to check and see if this deal, should it go through, would be problematic given Kushner's role in the Trump administration.
And she told me that a theoretical Anbang payment to the Kushners wouldn't seem to be a conflict of interest from a legal perspective. But she says because Kushner has already met with Chinese leaders as an adviser to the president, we as U.S. citizens should ask ourselves the following question.
KATHLEEN CLARK: Is it reasonable for us to trust that Jared Kushner actually has the interest of the public at heart when he is advising the president or dealing with the Chinese, who have apparently just enriched his family to an extraordinary degree?
SCHMITZ: And at this stage, Steve, I think whether this rises to the definition of conflict of interest seems a little irrelevant because from the Chinese perspective, if you've got Anbang's prospective payment of $400 million to the Kushner family, I think it's fair to say that China's government would already believe that it has bought influence in Washington. And of course, that could have big ramifications for the entire country when U.S. and Chinese leaders meet to negotiate thorny topics, like trade, like North Korea or the South China Sea.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Rob Schmitz in Shanghai. Rob, thanks as always.
SCHMITZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.