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China Watch: LA Times Publishes Beijing-Funded Propaganda

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Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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  • News agencies controlled by the Chinese government have in recent years paid millions of dollars to American newspapers to publish paid inserts that contain pro-Beijing articles and columns.
  • The Los Angeles Times is the latest paper to publish one of the inserts, distributed by China Daily. 
  • China Daily is a registered foreign agent of the Chinese government and has disclosed payments of nearly $20 million to U.S. media in the past several years, including over $650,000 to the LA Times. 

The Los Angeles Times ran a paid insert over the weekend from China Daily, a news agency controlled by the Chinese Communist Party that has forked out millions of dollars to American newspapers as part of Beijing’s foreign influence operations.

The eight-page advertorial, called “China Watch,” was tucked towards the back of the paper’s 61-page Sunday edition.

With articles designed to look like legitimate newspaper columns, the insert presents a rosy view of the Chinese economy and its businesses. The advertorial also included stories suggesting that the United States and China should maintain a positive relationship despite diplomatic and economic tension surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

Absent is any critique of the Chinese government’s handling of the pandemic, which originated in Wuhan last year and has spread across the globe.

“Decoupling supply chains imprudent, say experts,” reads one story in the insert, which argued against a push from some U.S. policymakers to make American businesses less reliant on Chinese companies for raw materials and other supplies.

A story in the insert headlined “Conflicted we fail, connected we succeed,” quotes David Firestein, the president of the George H.W. Bush China Foundation.

Firestein touted the organization’s role in procuring medical equipment from China to provide to American hospitals to fight coronavirus. He also offered a subtly critical view of U.S. policymakers’s outlook towards China.

He called the recent breakdown in relations between China and the U.S. “very short sighted and very unfortunate.”

The insert discloses that it is an advertising section and that it is published by China Daily without editorial input from the LA Times. U.S. newspapers have cited those disclosures to defend publishing what is widely viewed as a form of foreign propaganda.

Experts who track China’s foreign influence activities say the communist regime uses the inserts to push subtle messages to American audiences who may be unaware that they are reading content created at the direction of the Chinese government.

“The trained reader notices the ‘health warning label’ about a ‘paid advertisement,’ but others might not notice that the inserts are pure Communist Party propaganda,” reads a June 2018 report from the Hudson Institute regarding China’s foreign influence operations.

“The ads bring in substantial revenues, which may make it difficult for cash-strapped U.S. news companies to wean themselves off this parasitic relationship.”

Freedom House, a pro-democracy think tank, also addressed the communist regime’s use of the paid inserts in a January 2020 report titled, “Beijing’s Global Megaphone.”

“Chinese state media have also used more unusual and arguably more opaque methods to exploit foreign media outlets,” the report says. “Chinese officials and state media documents have referred to this practice as ‘borrowing the boat to reach the sea.'”

“One of the most prominent examples is the periodic inclusion of a paid news-like advertising supplement from China Daily called China Watch in the print editions of papers like the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times.”

The Trump administration has designated eight Chinese media outlets, including China Daily, to be “foreign missions.” The classification means that the news agencies must disclose information about their employees and real estate holdings.

The Justice Department requires China Daily and other agencies, including CCTV and CGTN, to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

As the Daily Caller News Foundation reported last month, China Daily Distribution Corp. disclosed in a June 1 filing that it has paid American newspapers nearly $20 million since late 2016 on advertising and for printing services.

The company paid The Wall Street Journal nearly $6 million and The Washington Post more than $4.6 million in that time span, mostly for “China Watch” inserts. China Daily paid $657,523 to The Los Angeles Times, according to the filing.

The propaganda mill also paid for advertising in several other newspapers, including The New York Times, Foreign Policy, The Des Moines Register and CQ-Roll Call.

It spent a total of $11,002,628 on advertising in U.S. newspapers, and another $265,822 on advertising with Twitter. (RELATED: NYT, WaPo Aiding China’s Propaganda Efforts, Watchdog Warns)

There is no direct evidence that the newspapers’s relationships with China Daily and other Beijing-controlled news organs has shaped overall news coverage in the American outlets.

While many conservatives have accused establishment media outlets of giving the Chinese government a free pass on its early response to coronavirus, officials in Beijing earlier this year ordered reporters from The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal out of the country over those outlets’ reporting on the pandemic.

The LA Times published a critical account of China’s education system in its Sunday edition. The report, “China’s teaching elites are its latest targets,” told the story of Chinese educators who have been reprimanded for teaching dissenting views about the government and the Cultural Revolution, launched by Chairman Mao Zedong in the 1960s.

The Los Angeles Times did not respond to a request for comment on how much China Daily paid for the insert.

The advertorial also highlights how Chinese media outlets rely heavily on American foreign policy experts and businessmen to advocate for Beijing’s position vis-à-vis the U.S.

In addition to quoting Firestein, the president of the Bush China Foundation, the insert included an article from Jeffrey Sachs, a Columbia University professor who supports closer ties between Beijing and Washington. Another article quoted the communications director for the U.S.-China Business Council.

Neil Bush, a son of the former president and chairman of the George H.W. Bush China Foundation, is also an oft-cited American voice for Chinese propaganda agencies.

While Bush was not cited in the L.A. Times insert, he has featured in “China Watch” advertorial that The Wall Street Journal published in 2018. The insert quoted Bush criticizing President Donald Trump over his support for more U.S. tariffs against China.

“It likely will backfire. He’s terribly unpopular among the general population. It will be a tough November for the Republican Party,” Bush said.

“There is propaganda and demagoguery in the US political process that misleads everyone, including my Chinese friends, that there is a giant dependence on Chinese goods in the US,” he added.

Bush has drawn scrutiny over the years for his business dealings in China. He is a co-founder of CIIC, a Chinese real estate development company, and also a founder of the Great Texas Regional Center, a firm that helped wealthy Chinese nationals obtain green cards in exchange for investments in U.S. businesses.

China’s news agencies have most recently quoted Bush criticizing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

“My first question would be, what freedoms are you seeking that you don’t already enjoy? What setbacks have you incurred,” Bush said in a Dec. 6, 2019 interview with CGTN, another Beijing-controlled news agency.

He also suggested that outside forces were behind the protests.

“It makes you wonder whether there is something driving this movement, because people aren’t out on the streets in some educated way, as far as I can tell,” he said.

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