Sam Metz, Alan Suderman and Richard Bowmer told the tale of an unlikely friend of China in Utah, pointing out how Beijing’s global influence campaign reaches to the state and local level in the United States despite strained relations at the national level. Investigative reporter Suderman, based in Washington, acted on a tip from a national security source that he should look at China’s efforts to curry relationships with legislators in Utah, a deeply conservative and religious state with no obvious commercial or cultural ties to the world’s largest communist country. Along with Metz, AP’s Utah statehouse reporter, they started digging into the question, conducting interviews and reviewing an astounding array of emails, texts, reports and memos. Photographer Bowmer took portraits of lawmakers and of some of China’s U.S.-based allies.

The AP investigation concluded that China and its U.S.-based advocates spent years building relationships with Utah officials and lawmakers. The efforts have paid dividends at home and abroad: Lawmakers delayed legislation Beijing didn’t like, nixed resolutions that conveyed displeasure with its actions and expressed support in ways that enhanced the Chinese government’s image.