A ‘Bridge’ to China, and Her Family’s Business, in the Trump Cabinet

Foremost has relied on the Export-Import Bank of China, or China EximBank, to finance at least four ships in the past decade. Its loans often come with lower interest rates and more generous repayment schedules than those made through some commercial lenders. As of 2015, the bank had made at least $300 million available to Foremost, it said at the time.

Angela Chao, in the interview with The Times, said that 2015 was the last year the company borrowed from the lender, describing its terms as less attractive than those of non-Chinese banks. She said the company never borrowed — “not even close” — $300 million, a figure she had not previously heard. “They are not a big part of our financing,” she said.

The Chao family’s connections run deep with the Chinese leadership, documents in China show.

As civil war raged across the country in the 1940s, Mr. Chao attended Jiao Tong University in Shanghai. A schoolmate was Mr. Jiang, who stayed in China after the Communist victory and ultimately became president. Mr. Chao went with the defeated Nationalists to Taiwan, where he became the youngest person to qualify as a ship’s captain, according to his biography.

Mr. Chao left for the United States in 1958, but a thaw in relations sparked by President Richard M. Nixon drew him back to his homeland in 1972, the first of a flurry of trips that established him as a successful member of the Chinese diaspora.

Mr. Chao got exceptional access. In 1984 he was invited to Beijing to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the People’s Republic and meet with the country’s top leader, Deng Xiaoping, according to materials at a museum in Shanghai dedicated to Mr. Chao’s wife, Ruth Mulan Chu Chao, who died in 2007.

Also in 1984, as China emerged from decades of political and economic turmoil, Ruth Chao bought a stake in a Chinese company that manufactured marine equipment, including radars, in partnership with Raytheon, the American defense contractor, according to Chinese corporate documents.

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