China’s official state-run press agency has finally registered as a foreign agent three years after the US Department of Justice told it to.
Xinhua News Agency North America, which is based in New York, registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) on May 5, according to filings that were uploaded to the FARA unit’s web site on Saturday. The documents indicate Xinhua’s US operations were first organized in 2008.
In addition, four Xinhua employees registered as foreign agents: Xinhua North America director Ni Siyi; North America deputy director and Washington director Yan Liang; North America deputy director Xu Xingtang; and North America deputy director Xia Lin. The filings show the US operations received more than $8.6 million from Xinhua News Agency headquarters in China between March 2020 and March 2021 and spent $10.4 million during the period, mostly on salaries and rent.
The registration comes almost three years after the Wall Street Journal first reported in September 2018 that the Department of Justice had ordered Xinhua and China Global Television Network (CGTN) to register as foreign agents as the department took a more aggressive stance on what constitutes propaganda activities under the 1938 FARA law (see chart below). CGTN eventually registered in August 2019 but Xinhua, the largest media organization in the country, had resisted until now.
A third Chinese news outlet, China Daily, which publishes the global edition of the Chinese Communist Party’s English-language newspaper, registered as a foreign agent in 1983. China Daily however only recently disclosed millions of dollars in payments to publish its content in US news outlets including the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, as Foreign Lobby Report first reported last June.
Xinhua’s foot-dragging led to bipartisan demands from lawmakers including Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as well as Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) for the Donald Trump administration to compel the agency to register, deeming it an arm of the Chinese Communist Party. Pressure on Xinhua has continued to mount since then, with then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designating Xinhua and 14 other Chinese state-run media organizations as “foreign missions” in 2020, requiring them to register their personnel and property with the US government.
“These … US-based entities are not independent news organizations — they are effectively controlled by the [Chinese] government,” a State Department spokesperson said when Xinhua was first made to register as a foreign mission in February 2020.
Some media organizations including the Committee to Protect Journalists however have cautioned about the US government picking and choosing what constitutes legitimate journalism. The US foreign lobbying law does not per se restrict the activities of foreign agents but it does require them to disclose financial information and contacts with US officials and media, which can hinder media organizations’ news gathering activities.
Russian state-funded TV channel RT for example had its credentials yanked by the committee that governs Capitol Hill access for broadcast journalists after its parent company registered in November 2017. Suspension is not automatic, however, and the committee is expected to discuss Xinhua’s case at its next meeting in late May. The debate took on new urgency with the Trump administration’s demand in September 2020 that Al Jazeera affiliate AJ+ register as an agent of Qatar (AJ+ vowed to fight the decision and has yet to register more than six months after being told to).
The Department of Justice announced that the registration was coming in a tweet on Friday, praising it as part of the department’s “ongoing efforts to ensure the American public is informed about the source of media content.” A spokesman for the department had no comment about the delay in compliance or whether Xinhua had been legally threatened into registering. Xinhua could not immediately be reached for comment.
Timeline of recent foreign media registrations in the United States
Oct. 21, 2020
The US State Department designates six Chinese media outlets as “foreign missions”: Yicai Global, Jiefang Daily, Xinmin Evening News, Social Sciences in China Press, Beijing Review and Economic Daily.
Sept. 14, 2020
The US Department of Justice requires AJ+ to register as a foreign agent of the government of Qatar.
Sept. 14, 2020
Washington production company Ghebi registers as a foreign agent of Russia’s state-run Rossiya Segodnya news agency.
June 22, 2020
The US Department of State designates four Chinese media outlets as “foreign missions.” They are : China Central Television, China News Service, the People’s Daily, and the Global Times
May 21, 2020
The China Daily Distribution Corp. discloses for the first time how much it spends to publish the Chinese Communist Party’s China Daily alongside US newspapers.
March 12, 2020
Feb. 24, 2020
The US Department of State designates five Chinese media outlets as “foreign missions.” They are : Xinhua; China Global Television Network (CGTN); China Radio International; China Daily Distribution Corporation; and Hai Tian Development USA.