Chinese trespasser at Mar-a-Lago was going to Cindy Yang event

Foreign Affairs

A few weeks ago, it was revealed that a Chinese businesswoman named Cindy Yang (Yáng Lì 杨莅), who had founded a chain of sketchy massage parlors in southern Florida, had a controversial side business selling Chinese executives access to Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club.

The story was sensational, as it was further revealed that Yang had ties to an organization connected with the Chinese government called the Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China (CPPRC). Yang was then fired from the National Committee of Asian American Republicans.

  • Her events at Mar-a-Lago were also cancelled, but promotion of those events continued on Chinese social media, apparently as recently as last week.
  • A Chinese trespasser was arrested at Mar-a-Lago this past weekend. The Washington Post reports that her name is Yujing Zhang. She gained access only because confused security personnel thought she was related to a club member with the (very common) Chinese surname Zhang.
  • Zhang was later stopped, questioned, and searched, and a USB drive with malware was discovered. The U.S. Secret Service did not specify what kind of malware, though malware on USBs is also very common and not necessarily remarkable. So here’s the most significant part, as reported by the New York Times reports (porous paywall):

Ms. Zhang told the agent who questioned her on site that she was there for a “United Nations friendship event” and had arrived early to see the pool and take photos. She showed the agent an invitation to the supposed event — but it was in Chinese and no one present could read it…

During the second interview, Ms. Zhang told the authorities that a Chinese friend named Charles had told her to travel from Shanghai to Palm Beach in order to attend the United Nations friendship event and said that she should try to speak with a member of the president’s family about Chinese and American foreign economic relations.

Although no United Nations-related event was on the club’s social calendar, Zhang was likely referring to two events originally scheduled for that day and promoted by Yang.
One event, a “Safari Night” held to benefit a local youth charity, was canceled…
On the website for her consulting business, Yang also advertised a March 30 “International Leaders Elite Forum,” calling it a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” and the first event at Mar-a-Lago with “the Chinese as the protagonist.” That event also did not take place…

Yang worked with a Chinese event promoter named Charles Lee to advertise Safari Night and other galas and political fundraisers featuring the Trump family at Mar-a-Lago over the past year.

Lee runs a group called the United Nations Chinese Friendship Association, similar to the name of the event Zhang said she wished to attend. The group, which is not affiliated with the U.N., has promoted the Chinese Communist Party, and advertised events at Mar-a-Lago as ways for Chinese businessmen to participate in President Xi Jinping’s so-called business diplomacy agenda — essentially, an effort to have Chinese executives make friends with important people abroad.

  • “Federal authorities are investigating possible Chinese intelligence operations targeting President Donald Trump and his private Palm Beach club, Mar-a-Lago,” the Miami Herald further reported today. It is “spearheaded by the FBI” and “began before the Herald revealed Yang’s business of selling access last month and focused on other Chinese nationals doing business in the region.”

More reporting and commentary on the Mar-a-Lago trespasser:

  • Chinese woman arrested for unauthorized entry at Mar-a-Lago / Bloomberg (porous paywall)
  • Chinese woman arrested at Trump resort with malware on USB drive / AFP
  • Matt Schrader on Twitter: “Lee org’s website is down now. Which is a shame, b/c right at the top is a picture of him and You Lantian. You was deputy director of the United Front Work Department, and secgen of the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification.”
  • Maggie Haberman on Twitter: “Secret Service throwing management at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago under bus in statement on malware episode: ‘The Secret Service does not determine who is invited or welcome at Mar-a-Lago; this is the responsibility of the host entity.’”
  • Bill Bishop in Sinocism (paywall): “She may be a bumbling grifter looking to use proximity to US power to further business interests, and all her devices may be innocuous, and she may have had no idea there was malware on the USB drive. But given the stakes, no responsible law enforcement or intelligence professional would not have alarm bells ringing over the close proximity [of] so many people with ties to the PRC have to the US President.”