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NYC’s cops, firefighters, teachers and city worker pension funds have millions sunk in TikTok parent ByteDance

WASHINGTON Millions of dollars from US pension funds including those of New York’s police officers and firefighters are likely invested in ByteDance, the Chinese-controlled parent company of TikTok that is under a standing order from Congress to sell off the popular social media platform or face its banning.

The non-profit investment-watchdog group Future Union has identified 48 pension funds that have entrusted their money with venture capital and private equity firms known to have invested in ByteDance since 2012, according to a new report obtained by The Post Tuesday.

Six of the largest are directly tied to New York, including the state’s common retirement fund and teacher’s retirement system, as well as New York City’s employees’ retirement system, police pension fund and teachers’ retirement system.

Future Union was unable to track down exactly how much money was directly invested into ByteDance because its proprietary data “is not required to be publicly provided by the pensions funds.”

However, it confirmed that at least some of the investments went to ByteDance by assessing the investment firms handling their money.

“Future Union devised a [system] based on the amount of capital committed to known investors in ByteDance, combining the proprietary data on institutional investors with the timeline of ByteDance investments to report rank-order and show the magnitude of capital commitments,” nonprofit founder and venture capitalist Andrew King told The Post.

The report also found that some of the most notable American nonprofits and foundations have used investment funds that place their money in ByteDance, including the Mayo Clinic, the Bush Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

As Americas largest source of private investment dollars, the capital allocators the pensions, endowments and foundations make up the lion’s share of source funding for venture capitalists and private equity firms.

“Commitments by US public pension funds to venture and private equity funds that are known investors in ByteDance reached $8.1 billion, while US university endowments’ past commitments were $1 billion,” explained King, who advises the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party.

US nonprofit and foundations overall have made more than 620 commitments to Chinese and China-related venture capital and private equity funds, including some of the most powerful players in the field such as Sequoia Capital, Hillhouse Capital and Qiming Venture Partners, according to the report.

President Biden last month signed into law a bill that will force ByteDance to divest from TikTok after both Republicans and Democrats in Congress raised concerns about the social media platform’s tracking and reporting of its American users’ data to the Chinese Communist Party the US’ top adversary.

Beijing, through its state-run Internet Investment Fund, owns about 1% of TikTok shares, “illustrating the nearly indecipherable nature of the state and private sector companies in China,” according to the report.

Under Chinese law, the investment grants the government access to the social media platform’s data collected from its users, creating a national security risk for the US that led to the TikTok legislation’s passage.

“TikToks rise owes itself to the dozens of venture capitalist firms investing hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars from university endowments and US public pension funds into the Chinese company that Congress has forced to sell off the social media platform,” said King.

Experts also believe Beijing is using the app which is not available in China to influence US opinions in its favor, geopolitical consultant and former US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Kellie Currie told The Post.

“ByteDance is not a normal tech company and TikTok is not a normal social media app. It should be clear to anyone paying attention that TikTok is an enormously successful Chinese influence operation,” she said. “It has succeeded beyond the CCPs wildest imagination in advancing both direct CCP agendas as well as indirect influence operations that weaponize polarized issues.”

Aside from the moral quandary of investing in a company that presents national security risks to the US, the investment firms have now endangered their clients’ funds by tying them to a company that may soon be forced to give up its US operations.

“Many of our most powerful and prominent pension funds, university endowments and nonprofits/foundations have subsequently been involved in, and now may remain to subject to, a geopolitical risk premium in private market investing,” the report said.

That risk has always existed but was “long ignored,” according to Future Union, but is now unavoidable since the TikTok legislation passed, “resulting in vastly reduced exit opportunities for Chinese companies like ByteDance.”

As investors, were all capitalists here and the goal is to make money. Yet we can no longer make investments that directly imperil the long-term success of our free market system,” King told The Post. “As TikTok shows, the investment choices that venture capitalists and private equity investors made today, at the earliest stage and in the most critical technologies, have ramifications that reverberate for years.”

Future Union, which has produced two other reports on US investments in Chinese competitors, added that the ByteDance investments are part of a troubling trend of American firms risking financial and national security in exchange for the possibility of big short-term returns from the Asian market.

“This highlights a general trend that, despite the geopolitical tensions, US fund managers continue investing in the startups they view as leading in technology advancement and capable of generating higher returns even if it means ignoring the long-term implications of supporting an adversarial ecosystem,” the report said.

Still, Currie said that “nobody should feel the least bit sorry for (US investors in ByteDance) if they lose money,” since the professional investment and VC firms either were or should have been aware of the associated dangers.

“Every investment carries risk, and this one more so than most,” she said. “These are very sophisticated investors … [who] knew or should have known the risks they were taking by investing in a Chinese company that has been marked with major political, regulatory and operational problems from day one.”

While the US funding is important, that’s not the only benefit reaped by Chinese companies.

Because venture capitalists are required to make the most money possible for their clients, they also offer “intangible relationship elements and knowledge that is far more impactful and dangerous if transferred to an adversary like China,” King said.

“Venture capitalists are a conduit, and if they invest in Chinese startups, their duty to prioritize returns requires them to help these startups, and thus China,” he said. “In doing so, they offer China the nearly priceless value of some of a lifetime of experience and learnings from … expertise in business best practices and the networks developed over a career touching the smartest founders, wealthiest investors, and most politically connected powerbrokers.

“This is an invisible threat worse than mere capital.”

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