On Tuesday, as the AFP notes, President George W. Bush's younger brother, Neil, appeared to open an account on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo, describing himself as the "non-political member of a very political family." Today, as of this writing, the account has nearly 47,000 followers (PaidContent points out that over at Twitter, Neil has a mere 44). What is he saying to invite such interest? Writing in both English and Chinese with the help of an assistant, he's discussing his daughter Lauren's upcoming wedding, praising the hurdler Liu Xiang as a "hero," marveling at China's growth ("I have been to China 80 times and am in awe of its development"), and expressing optimism about the U.S.-China relationship ("The truth is we have a lot in common!"). AFP explains that while many followers are skeptical that Neil is behind the microblog, a Sina spokesman says the postings are authentic (we're not entirely sure how the spokesman would know). TXOil, which Neil runs, declined to comment about whether the account is genuine.
Whether or not the account is real, Neil does have longstanding commercial ties to China, which might explain his eagerness to open a Weibo account (or might explain an impersonator's sense of plausibility). In a highly critical piece for Salon last weekend, Ken Silverstein noted that Chinese firms hire Neil to "try to open doors in Africa" and help secure natural resource deals, which Silverstein says isn't that surprising given the Bush family's strong relationship with Chinese officials. (Bush Sr., for example, was a liaison in Beijing during the Ford administration.) What he thinks is surprising is that Chinese companies keep retaining Neil, who he claims has neither "brains nor wiles."
Last December he was named a director of China Timber Resources Group, which has forest resources in Guyana and China. Neil's director's fee is a mere $1,200 a month, which the company said "was determined with reference to his experience, scope of work, level of involvement, seniority as well as the prevailing market conditions." Ouch.
In 2009, Dow Jones reported that Neil was running a Beijing-based real estate company, working with steel maker Shougang Holdings to break into Africa, and representing Chinese oil giant Sinopec Group in its ultimately unsuccessful bid for part of an oil field in Ghana. Neil's business deals in China came under greater scrutiny six years earlier during his messy divorce from Sharon Bush. In one court exchange, Marshall Davis Brown, a lawyer for Ms. Bush, questioned Neil about a $2 million contract he had with China's Grace Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation to provide the company "from time to time with business strategies and policies; latest information and trends of the related industry, and other expertised advices." In the court transcript, the lawyer implied that the arrangement may have been more about influence peddling than consulting services (Neil was never found to have done anything improper):
''You have absolutely no educational background in semiconductors do you?'' Mr. Brown asked ...
''That's correct,'' Mr. Bush, 48, responded.
''And you have absolutely over the last 10, 15, 20 years not a lot of demonstrable business experience that would bring about a company investing $2 million in you?''
''I personally would object to the assumption that they're investing $2 million in me,'' said Mr. Bush.
Neil, who pointed out that he did have business experience in Asia, explained that he joined Grace's board at the suggestion of Taiwanese businessman Winston Wong, who had previously invested in Neil's educational software start-up, Ignite! When Neil traveled around the world to raise money for the venture, he dismissed the notion that a private dinner with former Chinese President Jiang Zemin and other political leaders had anything to do with the effort. "If I had any meetings with top-level China officials, the word Ignite never came into any conversation," he told the AP. As for Neil's latest Weibo effort in China? It appears to be earning him more fans than controversy.