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Illustration: Mark Wilson/Staff Getty; Timothy A. Clary/Contributor; Aïda Amer/Axios

The mystery of who's funding Steve Bannon's work has been at least partly solved: Guo Media, a company linked to a controversial Chinese billionaire, has contracted Bannon for at least $1 million for “strategic consulting services,” according to contracts obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The billionaire fugitive — a man named Guo Wengui, also known as Miles Kwok — is embroiled in the U.S.-China conflict. He’s a vocal critic of the Chinese Communist Party and is reportedly a member at Mar-a-Lago. He’s on China’s most-wanted list for alleged bribery, fraud and money laundering, per the New York Times (he strongly denies the allegations).

  • Guo has been living in New York while he awaits a decision on his U.S. asylum application. And the Chinese government has asked the Trump administration to extradite him.
  • Bannon declined to comment.

The first contract, signed between Bannon and Guo Media, gives Bannon $1 million for one year of consulting services beginning in August 2018.

  • Bannon is specifically contracted to introduce Guo Media to “media personalities,” and advise the company on “industry standards.”
  • Bannon has made China one of his top issues since leaving the White House in the summer of 2017.

The second contract, which was set to begin in August 2019 and is unsigned, offered Bannon $1 million for consulting and set more specific expectations.

  • In addition to the services requested in the first contract, the second would have required Bannon to serve as senior editor for G News — Guo Media’s news arm — and help to elevate G News as a credible source of news on China.

Guo Media is owned by Saraca Media Group, a company incorporated in Delaware, according to the contracts. Per a March 2019 tax filing, the president and director of Saraca was an individual named Han Chunguang.

“[I]t is my understanding that given Mr. Bannon's cross-border financial expertise at Goldman Sachs and Societe Generale, Saraca previously retained him for strategic advisory work regarding media investments, M&A, joint ventures, and cryptocurrencies,” Daniel Podhaskie, a spokesperson for Guo, tells Axios in an email statement.

  • “Mr. Bannon's work in these areas was complete and he is currently not retained. Mr. Guo had no involvement in him being retained or his work for Saraca.”
  • “Mr. Guo has no financial interest in Saraca Media Group or its media platform known as ‘Guo Media.’ Mr. Guo is merely the face of Guo Media and was requested by Saraca to act in this capacity given Mr. Guo’s outspoken criticism of the Chinese Communist Party.”
  • “Mr. Guo agreed to work with Saraca, but insisted that he not be compensated given his prior emphasis that his fight against the CCP is not about money. His entire goal has been to take down the CCP and free his fellow countrymen in China.”
  • As to China's allegations, "the reality is that Mr. Guo is the most wanted person in China because of his outspoken criticism of the Chinese Communist Party; desire to eliminate the CCP’s stranglehold on the Chinese people and bring the rule of law to China," Podhaskie said.

The backstory: Guo and Bannon first met in October 2017, and the two have had numerous meetings since then, the New York Times’ David Barboza reports. Last year, they announced the joint launch of a $100 million “Rule of Law Fund” to investigate the deaths and disappearances of Chinese public figures.

  • Guo told Barboza, “We both naturally despise the Chinese Communist Party. That’s why we’ve become partners.”
  • Bannon also told the Hill he has recorded a radio show out of Guo’s New York apartment.

Although Guo’s spokesperson says the billionaire has no financial stake in Guo Media, Guo has a pervasive presence that dominates the platform.

Read the contracts:

Go deeper

Dave Lawler, author of World
7 mins ago - World

Latin America turns to China and Russia for COVID-19 vaccines

A healthcare worker prepares a Sinovac Biotech Ltd. Covid-19 vaccine in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo: Jonne Roriz/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Several countries in the Americas have received their first vaccine shipments over the past few weeks — not from the regional superpower or from Western pharmaceutical giants, but from China, Russia, and in some cases India.

Why it matters: North and South America have been battered by the pandemic and recorded several of the world’s highest death tolls. Few countries other than the U.S. have the capacity to manufacture vaccines at scale, and most lack the resources to buy their way to the front of the line for imports. That’s led to a scramble for whatever supply is available.

More schools are reopening in the U.S.

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More than 72% of K-12 students are now attending schools that offer in-person or hybrid models of learning.

The big picture: The U.S. is seeing an almost-universal return of schools that were in-person as of November, as well as a gradual return in parts of the country that had been virtual for almost a year.

The manufacturing boom's bottleneck

llustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The manufacturing sector has bounced back from its pandemic knockout. But as the economy reopens, factories can't keep up with orders.

Why it matters: The materials manufacturers need are hard to find and prices for them are soaring.