Asia, Lobbying law, Media wars, Top Stories, US-China tensions

Revealed: China media arm spent more than $10 million on US newspaper advertorials

The Chinese government has spent more than $10 million to get its point of view in front of American newspaper readers in recent years, newly disclosed lobbying filings reveal.

The China Daily Distribution Corp., which publishes the global edition of the Chinese Communist Party’s English-language newspaper, disclosed the payments for the first time in a lobbying filing for the six months ending in April. The corporation also amended older filings dating back to November 2016, disclosing similar payment information that had not previously been included.

The new filings notably reveal that the corporation paid the Wall Street Journal $5.3 million and the Washington Post $4.6 million during that time period for “advertisement expenses.” The corporation, which represents the interests of China Daily of Beijing, also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on printing in regional outlets including the Los Angeles Times, the Seattle Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Houston Chronicle, the Boston Globe and Florida’s Sun Sentinel Company, as well as newspapers in Canada and Brazil.

Over that time period, the China Daily Distribution Corp. received about $1 million per month from its parent in China to publish the China Daily global edition and produce coverage about the United States for coverage in China Daily’s flagship edition in China.

The financial disclosures come as US newspapers have come under increasing criticism from China hawks to stop publishing the Chinese government’s China Daily supplement. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., urged the News Media Alliance and American Press Institute in November to ask its members to stop publishing the content.

“Growing up I cannot imagine American newspapers including an insert paid for by Communist Soviet Union,” Scott said. “When did American newspapers stop caring about American values and simply sell access to their readers to the highest bidder?”

The Chinese supplements are clearly labeled as advertorials separate from the editorial content of the newspapers that run it, most if not all of which have published stories at times critical of China and its policies.

US lawmakers have also asked the Department of Justice to investigate whether the corporation was flouting the US foreign lobbying law known as the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) by failing to disclose itemized payments.

“China Daily’s important role in China’s foreign disinformation campaign warrants a full-fledged investigation into the extent of China Daily’s FARA violations,” a group of hawkish lawmakers wrote to Attorney General William Barr on Feb. 6. “We request that the DOJ promptly review and produce a report on China Daily’s compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act. We request that the report include a description of China Daily’s potential FARA violations and recommended actions for Congress to consider. We also would appreciate a briefing from DOJ officials on the findings of this report.”

The China Daily Distribution Corp. noted in its filing that it was amending its past reports “to correct a deficiency,” suggesting the lawmakers’ request was heard loud and clear. The corporation’s offices in New York could not be reached for comment (phone mailboxes were full and an email to the editor bounced back as undeliverable).

“We expect all registrants to be in full compliance with their filing obligations and also expect deficient filings to be corrected so that the public receives the full transparency the FARA statute is meant to ensure,” Department of Justice spokesman Marc Raimondi told Foreign Lobby Report.

Screenshot from China Daily Distribution Corp. lobbying filing

The reports also shed light on targeted ad campaigns in specific outlets, including a four-page supplement in a September 2018 issue of Iowa’s Des Moines Register aimed at undermining support for President Donald Trump‘s trade war with the country among farmers in the Midwest. That campaign cost the China Daily Distribution Corp. $34,600, the documents reveal.

Other advertisement expenses include:

  • $50,000 spent with The New York Times in November 2018;
  • $20,000 per month in spending in Foreign Policy starting in November 2019;
  • $76,000 spent in CQ-Roll Call in August and September 2018;
  • $38,000 spent in Brazil Infoglobo in September 2017;
  • $85,000 spent in Canada’s Globe and Mail in December 2016, and another $49,000 in November 2017.

The increased scrutiny comes as the Trump administration announced in February that it would treat the China Daily Distribution Corp. and four other major media entities — the China Global Television Network, Xinhua News Agency, China Radio International and Hai Tian Development USA, Inc — the same as foreign embassies. The president is expected to designate at least four additional state-run Chinese media outlets as early as this week, Reuters reported Wednesday.

The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Foreign Policy did not respond to requests for comment.