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China’s Xinhua resisted US push to label it a foreign agent for 10 years; Ethiopian diaspora group warns Biden against Tigrayan lobbying; law firm discloses $1.4 million in legal work for Germany in Nazi art theft case

Revealed: Xinhua resisted US requests to register as Chinese propaganda operation for a decade

Chinese news agency Xinhua resisted the US government’s request to register as a foreign agent for almost a decade before finally complying earlier this month, according to newly disclosed documents from the Department of Justice.

Xinhua News Agency North America finally signed up under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) a couple of weeks ago, Foreign Lobby Report first reported May 8. The Wall Street Justice reported in September 2018 that the department had required its registration, but the new disclosures show the US push dates to much earlier.

Indeed, the department’s FARA unit sent a letter to Xinhua North America as early as May 17, 2011 seeking documents to assist the department in determining whether the agency should register. Following a November 2011 meeting with FARA officials, then-director Zeng Hu sent a letter in January 2012 disputing that the agency carries out political activities. The issue appears to have lain dormant until July 26, 2018, when the FARA unit asked Xinhua North America to update its responses to previous questions.

In a May 18, 2020 letter, the then-chief of the FARA unit, Brandon Van Grack, laid out the unit’s rationale for determining that Xinhua should register. The FARA unit found that Xinhua journalists were in fact propaganda agents for Beijing and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), as demonstrated by how Xinhua “presents the news as advocacy on behalf of the government.” It also found that its reporting aimed to influence US policymakers and public opinion on behalf of the Chinese government, based on the one-sided viewpoint of pieces on such controversial issues as Tibet, Hong Kong, the Uyghurs and China’s claims on the South China Sea as well as their effusive praise of President Xi Jinping.

“These articles and posts were not ‘cherry-picked,’ as Xinhua North America claims,” Van Grack wrote in a Dec. 3, 2020 letter to Xinhua’s attorney, Robert Kelner of Covington & Burling,. “Rather, they are representative of its propaganda when it comes to issues of US domestic and foreign policy about which the CCP and the PRC [People’s Republic of China] seek to persuade US public opinion and that of the rest of the world.” After a couple of meetings between Kelner and FARA officials earlier this year, the unit’s new chief, Jennifer Kennedy Gellie, wrote a final letter to Kelner on April 20, 2021 giving Xinhua 15 days to register.

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Latest in lobbying

Africa

Ethiopia: The Colorado-based Ethiopian American Civic Council wrote a letter to President Joe Biden on May 20 urging him to ignore critics of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed‘s response to the violence in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region. The letter signed by the council’s chairman, Yoseph Tafari, argues that the former Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) battling federal troops in Tigray had embezzled millions of dollars when it ruled the country from 1991 to 2018 and that money is now funding some of the government’s critics. “It is incumbent on the United States to look beyond the portrayal of orchestrated biases that seek to erode the legitimacy of actions of the government of Ethiopia,” Tafari wrote. The letter also took issue with the State Department’s recent call to withdraw Amhara regional forces from the region, calling it an interference in the country’s national security.

The letter comes as the council has been stepping up its influence operations as rival diaspora organizations critical of Abiy have done likewise. In recent weeks the council has hired former Colorado state lawmaker Joe Miklosi (D-Denver), Democratic strategist Ted Trimpa and Monica McCafferty and her Colorado public affairs firm MCM Strategies. Meanwhile advocates for the Tigrayan community celebrated this week after the Senate unanimously passed a resolution from Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member James Risch (R-Idaho) calling for Eritrean forces to leave Tigray and for an independent investigation into the violence.

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Asia

China (Hikvision): BCW (Burson Cohn & Wolfe) has registered executive vice president for Global Public Affairs and Crisis Solutions Dan Doherty as a foreign agent on its contract with the US affiliate of Chinese video surveillance giant Hikvision. The firm has advised Hikvision on public affairs and policy issues, strategic planning and guidance, and media relations since 2018 and disclosed $1.78 million in fees and expenses from the company in 2020.

The disclosures come as Hikvision has been accused of posing a cybersecurity risk and enabling human rights abuses against ethnic Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang region. Mercury Public Affairs and Sidley Austin also represent Hikvision.

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Europe

Germany: Connecticut law firm Wiggin and Dana has belatedly registered as a foreign agent for the German government and the government-funded Stiftung Pressischer Kulturbesitz (SPK) cultural foundation for its work on behalf of the SPK since 2015. The firm is representing the SPK in litigation concerning allegations that one of its collections of medieval reliquaries was sold by Jewish art dealers to Nazi leaders under duress in the 1930s. The Supreme Court ruled in February that the SPK is protected from having to provide restitution under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

The firm registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) after concluding that its hiring of public relations firm Karv Communications and its own contacts with the media fell under the scope of the law. The new lobbying disclosures reveal new details about the firm’s work with Karv. The firm also disclosed $1.39 million in payments for legal services from the Federal Republic of Germany between April 2015 and November 2020. The firm also registered three attorneys as foreign agents on the account: Benjamin Daniels, Jonathan Freiman, David Hall, David Roth and Tahlia Townsend.

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Ukraine: Yorktown Solutions, which lobbies for Ukraine’s gas industry, is sharing articles with US policymakers that highlight Poland’s concerns over President Joe Biden‘s decision to waive sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany and Russia’s delight.

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Middle East

Libya: The Libyan transitional government’s stepped-up engagement with the United States appears to be causing some confusion in Washington. Mercury Public Affairs is passing around a fact sheet on behalf of the Government of National Unity (GNU) that spells out the respective roles of the GNU’s special envoy to the US Mohammed Ali Abdallah and Libyan Ambassador Wafa Bughaighis.

The special envoy:
• Acts as primary point of contact for high-level US government and congressional officials regarding top-focus items in Libyan-US relations including:
_ Cooperation on counterterrorism;
_ COVID-19 pandemic support for Libya;
_ Oil & energy sector collaboration; and
_ Legal cooperation between judicial authorities.
• Leads engagement with the US congressional leadership regarding the Libya Stabilization Act;
• Promotes the Libyan government’s agenda with US commercial organizations and connects the proper stakeholders from the Libyan government with appropriate private sector organizations, paving the way for initiatives that will help achieve stability in Libya; and
• Represents the Libyan government in any other topics deemed necessary by the Libyan Presidential Council, Prime Minister or Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The firm also highlighted this week’s meeting between Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dabaiba and Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood, the highest US official to visit Tripoli since 2014.

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Saudi Arabia: Account coordinator Amy Luong has left the Iowa-based Larson Shannahan Slifka Group (LS2 Group) as of May 19 and is no longer a registered agent for the government of Saudi Arabia. Luong had been one of the original agents on LS2Group’s $126,500-per-month contract with the Saudi embassy in Washington to boost outreach to US heartland states, registering in December 2019.

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