An 11-day, all-expenses-paid, luxury trip to China for a dozen Congressional staffers was financed by the Beijing government, it was revealed on Monday.
Only two days were spent on items related to national security — the official theme of the trip — with the others taken up by visits to tourist traps such as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, the Washington Post reports.
And it was all totally legal as part of a growing trend in which foreign governments sponsor such trips.
The Post says 803 overseas trips were reported by congressional staffers in the six years up to 2011. However, the paper says the actual number is almost certainly higher as only members of Congress and their most senior staffers have to report their trips.
Lawmakers themselves are going on the trips with more frequency, the Post reports.
“The trips highlight inconsistencies in tough ethics rules Congress set for itself,” the paper notes. “Although registered foreign lobbyists can’t buy a $2 cup of coffee for a congressional staffer in Washington, they are allowed to invite, plan and accompany a staffer on a trip costing $10,000 or more.”
The paper highlighted a 2011 trip to Thailand where staffers spent an afternoon at the beach at a resort town frequented by members of the country’s royal family, lunch at a winery and a visit to an elephant preserve.
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“Most trips to Thailand include a visit to the massage school at Wat Pho and an inexpensive tailor where staffers can buy suits and dresses.” an official in the Thai Embassy’s political section said.
The Post says that China is by far the most frequent sponsor of such trips, responsible for more than one-in-four. Taiwan paid for an additional 100 trips. Other countries that paid for 20 or more such visits include Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Jordan, Germany, France, the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Qatar and Egypt.
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