Chinese Company Reportedly Linked To Genocide Is Sponsoring Washington’s Most Influential Newsletters

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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  • Alibaba, a company reportedly implicated in China’s genocide of Uyghur Muslims, has repeatedly sponsored content in Washington’s most influential news outlets.
  • Axios, Semafor, Politico and other outlets whose readers include top officials and policymakers have accepted Alibaba sponsorships.
  • The Chinese Communist Party has multiple ways of wielding control over Alibaba, according to multiple reports. 

A Chinese tech and e-commerce company with reported links to China’s genocide of the Uyghur people is sponsoring content from major news outlets with prominent readers in the policy-making world, according to a Daily Caller News Foundation review.

Chinese megafirm Alibaba Group has holdings in two companies that produce facial recognition technology, which China operates to monitor and control the Uyghur minority population, according to multiple reports. However, Alibaba sponsored newsletters from influential publications including Axios and Semafor, and has run content in other outlets, which often reach key audiences that control the levers of decision-making in Washington, D.C.

Semafor’s “Principals” newsletter arrived in recipients’ inboxes Monday morning with a note that the newsletter is “supported by Alibaba,” a screenshot of the email shows. Semafor’s creators founded the outlet in 2022 to provide a source of “journalistic transparency” in an increasingly interconnected global audience, the outlet’s About page says.

Axios, an outlet that aims to combat “the erosion of truth, trust, safety and sanity in news” and promises to abide by principles codified in the so-called Axios Bill of Rights, allowed Alibaba to sponsor the Jan. 19, 2023 edition of Sneak Peek, the outlet’s afternoon newsletter, a screenshot shows. “China’s influence is real and growing” is one of the outlet’s guiding beliefs, according to Axios’ About page. (RELATED: Below Their Lines: American Corporations Cancel Russia But Remain Silent On Uyghur Genocide)

Previous iterations of Axios Sneak Peek also were sponsored by Alibaba, according to a DCNF review. 

Alibaba invested in the companies Megvii and SenseTime between 2017 and 2019 and retains a financial stake in the two artificial intelligence firms, which the U.S. blacklisted in 2019 in part over concerns about the companies’ facial recognition technology and its use in China’s ongoing repression of and genocide against the Uyghur Muslims, ESPN, CNBC and The Guardian reported.

That surveillance is part of a broader scheme to control the Uyghur population in a way that amounts to genocide, the U.S. has said. Beijing is committing crimes against humanity on a mass scale, including “excessive surveillance,” a United Nations report found in August.

The Chinese Communist Party established an official representative at Alibaba in 2019, according to Bloomberg. In addition, Beijing wields influence over the company through “golden shares,” stakes in the company held by high-level government officials who can use financial leverage to dictate the kind of content Alibaba produces, CNN reported Friday.

However, U.S. news outlets have accepted Alibaba funding for years.

D.C.-focused Punchbowl News, which directly focuses content on the policymaking audience, sent out multiple April 2022 newsletters presented by Alibaba. The newsletter ran multiple ads touting Alibaba’s ability to connect American companies with more than one billion Chinese consumers as a “powerful growth engine for U.S. businesses,” the newsletters show.

Alibaba backed four of The Hill’s September 2021 editions of the Morning Report, a daily newsletter, and again on Oct. 1, 2021. The newsletters featured multiple Alibaba ads showing how American partners are using Alibaba’s services to grow their businesses.

In 2020, The Atlantic ran an article paid for by Alibaba that described a “promising” horizon for “American businesspeople who have put their hopes in the Chinese e-commerce market.”

The article “is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Atlantic’s editorial staff,” a disclaimer in the webpage’s footer reads.

Bloomberg published an Alibaba-sponsored article in 2020 hailing a massive online retail event and “artificial-intelligence driven manufacturing” that can help small businesses streamline the production process, according to the article.

Politico published an article by Alibaba, titled “Enabled by Alibaba,” in 2019 through the outlet’s Sponsored Content program, which allows advertisers to promote their own views on Politico’s editorial page. The article trumpeted Alibaba’s role as an intermediary between U.S. businesses and the vast Chinese market.

None of the outlets mentioned in this article immediately responded to the DCNF’s requests for comment.

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