China Runs Propaganda Campaigns in Western Newspapers
I’m going to start today with what is, prima facie, a bizarre story from “China in Focus”. The story concerns China paying “The Washington Post” and “The Wall Street Journal” millions of dollars to run propaganda advertisements, known as “China Watch” that are designed to look like news reports. To be a bit more specific, according to the documents obtained by “China in Focus”, the “China Daily” has paid over $4.5 million to “The Washington Post” and over $6 million to “The Wall Street Journal” since November 2016 to run these “China Watch” propaganda pieces.
That is where the “China in Focus” story comes to an end which is disconcerting because the report raises far more questions than it answers. Why, for example, would American newspapers allow the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to run propaganda pieces in their newspapers? What exactly is China Watch and what is its purpose? Are these U.S. newspapers still running the articles given that China has, as of today 12th June 2020, murdered 423,901 people by deliberately releasing the CCP virus upon the world? Is “China Watch” published in newspapers in countries other than the United States? I decided to my own research into “China Watch” with these questions in mind.
“China Watch” Acts as an Agent of China Around the World
There is a much more comprehensive account of “China Watch” from “Crossroads”, a source that I have not used before. I will use it now because it provides information that I need but note to self to do a bit of research on “Cross Roads” regarding its reliability as news source.
“Cross Roads” adds “The New Your Times” to the list of newspapers that have carried “China Watch” propaganda pieces and reports that the documents detailing the payments made to these newspapers were filed with the U.S. Department of Justice. “Cross Roads” asked these papers to comment and they responded that the “China Watch” pieces were labelled as advertisements. If you visit the China Watch website you will see that these pieces are anything but advertisements. Furthermore, as reported by The Guardian these “advertisements” are actually being run by 30 newspapers around the world.
There is an even more interesting point from “Cross Roads”. “China Daily” “has had to register itself in the United States under the “Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”) [which] imposes disclosure requirements and other legal obligations on any individual or entity that becomes an “agent of a foreign principal“. Thus, “China Watch” which is published by the “China Daily” has been defined by FARA in terms of the publication acting as an “agent” within the United States for a “foreign principal”, namely China. Lawmakers in the United States are concerned that the “China Daily” has repeatedly violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act and they have pointed out to the Department of Justice that according to FARA receipts, China has spent over $35 million on “China Daily” since 2017. The point here is obviously that China is spending one heck of a lot of money to fund its propaganda campaign in the United States.
Are Western Journalists Being Co-opted by Beijing?
Now it’s time to look at Western journalists who have worked for Xinhua, the Chinese state-run news agency. On one reading of a report from “The Guardian“, these journalists essentially produced propaganda pieces for Beijing and in at least one case, a journalist eventually resigned after feeling that he had been put in a position whereby he was essentially spying for China. Whilst not quite as questionable, one might also point to journalists who have taken up the offer by the Australia China Relations Institute (ACRI), a thinktank based at the University of Technology Sydney to go on all-expenses tours to China. The Guardian reports that, the articles produced by these journalists were, to say the least, pretty complimentary towards China. ACRI maintains that the journalists who have gone on these trips have been free to write whatever they wanted to write.
There is another organization, the China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF), which was formed well before ACRI. CUSEF is headed by Hong Kong’s millionaire former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa and as such has had to register itself in the U.S. under the previously mentioned Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). “Since 2009, the China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF) . . . has taken 127 US journalists from 40 US outlets to China, as well as congressmen and senators.” One would think that Western journalists who value free speech would have some reservations about going on all-expenses paid trip to China. One would also hope that the same would be true of congressmen and senators. That said, until recently with the advent of Covid-19, the world seems to have been pretty happy to turn a blind eye to China’s authoritarian rule.
The PR firm BLJ Worldwide has worked for CUSEF since 2009 and, as reported by the Guardian, CUSEF has organised journalist tours to China whilst also seeking to cultivate third party supporters to write positive news stories about CUSEF and to report positively about China in the U.S. According to a Foreign Agents Registration Act document, in 2010 Brown Lloyd James (BLJ’s) target was to have three such stories published every week in influential U.S. newspapers. As a specific example of what such a story might look like, BLJ sought to produce “counter narratives” to defend China’s actions in Tibet. You can actually access the BLJ FARA document online and it makes for a really interesting read.
To give a couple of examples, “Appendix 1: Services” provides details of BLJs services in arranging for American journalists to visit China “in order to develop favourable coverage in key national media”. BLJ will also arrange “familiarization trips” for “a select group of students while they are still honing their craft.” The trips will offer these budding young students, “a fresh and positive look at China’s accomplishments.” BLJ also commits to facilitating partnerships between CUSEF and “high-profile Graduate Journalism Programs” to promote academic exchange programs between Chinese and American journalism students. Here we have the other aspect of China’s attempt at media discourse control. Get the journalists young and “teach” them how to report on China.
China is Seeking to Control Media Discourse at a Global Level
Early on in these posts I wrote a report that detailed how a CCP backed Chinese businessman in Australia, Tommy Jiang, owns dozens of news stations across Australia to broadcast CCP endorsed programming. Jiang’s control of broadcasting to the Chinese diaspora in Australia is only the tip of the iceberg. In the story from the Guardian, it is reported that “Global CAMG, and another of Jiang’s companies, Ostar, run at least 11 radio stations in Australia, carrying [China Radio International] CRI content and producing their own Beijing-friendly shows to sell to other community radio stations aimed at Australia’s large population of Mandarin-speakers.” China Radio International is a Chinese state owned radio broadcaster and a part of the China Media Group which means, of course, that nothing will be broadcast on these radio stations unless the CCP says that it can be so.
In 2015, Global CAMG was one of a network of 3 companies running 33 radio stations in broadcasting China Radio International content across 14 countries around the world. By 2018, those same companies had 58 stations across 35 countries. This is one of those facts that requires pause for thought. The CCP controls 58 radio stations across 35 countries. The Guardian, story continues by saying that China is “determined to increase its “discourse power” to combat what it sees as decades of unchallenged western media imperialism.” China also offers “free graduate degrees in communication” which train reporters to report positively on Beijing or “to tell the China story well“. What better way to have the world report from a Chinese perspective than to train the world’s journalists.
Another “player” in the Chinese media story is Xinhua, the Chinese state-run news agency. Here are two news headlines from Xinhua today, June 12th 2020. “Taiwan independence forces must immediately stop secessionist activities: mainland spokesperson” and “Interview: China’s fight against COVID-19 worthy of applause, says expert.” Those headlines should pretty much tell you everything that you need to know about Xinhua which has offices all around the world where it has employed foreign journalists to write stories for the media outlet. My summary of the Guardian’s details of the work of these journalists – based on their own accounts of their time at Xinhua – would be that they were basically writing propaganda for the CCP. Again, the moral qualm question should come to the fore but, for the most part, such does not seem to have been the case of with these journalists.
China Has Set Its Sights on the Media in Africa
In 2012 China launched China Central Television (CCTV) in Africa through its China Global Television Network (CGTN) which is the international arm of CCTV. Together, CCTV, China National Radio (CNR) and China Radio International (CRI) are collectively be known as the China Media Group which was officially inaugurated in April 2019. China was successful in recruiting well known African journalists, including Kenyan journalist Beatrice Marshal who has said that journalists are able to tell stories from their perspective. However, according to the Guardian report, “Vivien Marsh, a visiting scholar at the University of Westminster, who has studied CCTV Africa’s coverage, is sceptical about such claims.” Marsh analysed reporting of the 2014 Ebola Crisis on CCTV and found that 19% of the stories had to do with China playing a positive role in the crisis through providing doctors and medical aid.
Marsh says that, “Far from telling Africa’s story, the overriding aim appeared to be emphasising Chinese power, generosity and centrality to global affairs.” On the one had you might ask what exactly is wrong with China using one of its own news outlets to promote how it is helping out Africa by sending over doctors and medical aid. However, if you control the media then you control the truth. And it seems that China is all about controlling African media. The China Global Television Network (CGTN) has steadily increased its presence in Africa to the point where the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association has said that if the the Star Times – the Chinese media company that broadcasts for the CGTN in Africa – continues to expand, Ghana will essentially have given up its broadcasting space to Chinese control and content.
China’s Attempts at Coercion Are Evident for All to See
It is worth taking a moment to reflect here because, in my opinion, China now believes that it can basically act with impunity in threatening, intimidating and bullying countries around the world. Think carefully on this point. Hong Kong has already fallen to China. Meanwhile China continues to threaten Australia, by telling Australia “to keep new foreign investment policy ‘fair and non-discriminatory’ to Chinese firms“. The Chinese Global Times has warned Australia that, “The Australian economy will pay a heavy price if the country discriminates against not only Chinese people but also Chinese companies.” This comes after China has slapped 80% tariffs on Australian Barley, put an unofficial ban on importing Australian coal, stopped imports from 4 Australian abattoirs, warned its citizens not to travel to Australia for holidays and advised Chinese students to re-consider studying in Australia.
I do not believe that it would be an exaggeration to say that China has set about to systematically destroy the Australian economy with the likely aim of holding up Australia up to the rest of the world as an example of what happens when Beijing is not obeyed. This thought is not my own. ABC news has reported that, “The Chinese Government seems intent on using its economic heft to intimidate Australia and shape its behaviour“. China’s actions, as I have reported on many occasions, will cost the Australian economy billions and billions of dollars. For example, ABC News reports that in 2019, “Chinese students and tourists collectively brought in more than $18 billion to Australia, boosting government coffers and propping up countless jobs.”
And therein lies the problem, one which the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison now seems to have realized. Australia has been ridiculously over exposed to China for its economic wellbeing. Not only does Scott Morrison seem to have now realized this fact, Australian politicians are now referring publicly to Chinese “coercion” of Australia. Perhaps because of this fact Australia, a member of the Five Eyes Network with a membership that includes the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand is now looking to that network as a way out of Australia’s trading dependency on China. This will mean that the network will have to expand its focus from being an intelligence network to being a strategic network that can help to created trusted, global supply chains.
Beijing’s Belligerence and Arrogance Will Be Its Undoing
China is seeking to control the infrastructure and technologies that deliver the news around the world. China is also seeking to control the content of news stories and in some cases China is doing very well in this respect. China is also seeking to control the discourse on social media. However, China has, in my opinion over played its hand and the world has now seen Beijing’s real face reflected in the way that the CCP has behaved since it deliberately spread the virus around the world. The world has seen China’s arrogance, its bullying, its threats, and its attempts to intimidate countries that do not do China’s bidding. The world has also seen China acting on its threats through imposing the new security law in Hong Kong and through punishing Australia for taking the lead in calling for an independent inquiry into the origins of the virus. Discourse control does not really matter because the truth is out about China.
First Published June 12th, 2020