The Chinese Communist Party’s massive foreign influence operation in the United States is heavily weighted toward television broadcasts, according to newly disclosed Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filings.
According to FARA filings compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, the state-owned China Global Television Network (CGTN) spent more than $50 million on its U.S. operations last year, accounting for nearly 80 percent of the total amount spent by the Communist Party to influence U.S. public opinion and policy. This is the first year that CGTN, which began broadcasting in the U.S. in 2012, reported the full amount of spending. in 2019, CGTN reported only a partial amount of spending, at approximately $11.4 million.
In total, the CCP spent nearly $64 million on propaganda and lobbying in the U.S. last year.
Including spending on Chinese television broadcast operations, the CCP spent more money on influencing U.S. public opinion than any other country. Qatar ranked second, reporting nearly $50 million, and Russia came in third, spending $42 million. Both Qatar and Russia have massive media operations in the United States.
Beijing is trying to improve its international image during the New Crown epidemic at a time when the Chinese Communist Party is throwing money around for overseas propaganda. The New Crown virus (CCP virus) originated in China’s Wuhan city more than a year ago.
The government-owned China Daily spent more than $3 million last year, including spending related to advertising in U.S. newspapers, down from more than $10 million in 2019, according to its filings. The Center for Responsive Politics said most of China Daily’s spending goes toward operating costs, but the paper also routinely publishes supplements in U.S. newspapers to influence U.S. policy and public opinion.
The Chinese Communist Party has long denied that it conducts influence operations in the United States.
Anna Massoglia, an investigative researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics, said it’s surprising that the CPC’s spending on influence operations has soared.
“It’s largely because of a registrant that was forced to register by the Justice Department,” she said.
Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, all foreign governments and other entities engaged in lobbying or influencing activities must disclose their activities to the U.S. Department of Justice. The law exempts news organizations, provided they are at least 80 percent owned by U.S. citizens.
The DOJ has said only media outlets that seek to influence U.S. policy are required to register under this law. in 2018, the DOJ ordered CGTN and Xinhua to register. CGTN implemented the requirement in 2019, and Xinhua began doing so only last week.
The DOJ has stepped up enforcement of FARA and forced foreign media to disclose their activities in the United States. Early in the Trump administration, the Justice Department forced Kremlin-controlled media outlets Russia Today (RT) and the satellite news agency Sputnik to register as foreign agents.
Last year, as tensions between Washington and Beijing grew during the outbreak, the State Department designated CGTN and four other Chinese media outlets as “foreign missions,” subjecting them to the same reporting requirements as foreign embassies and consulates.
Maria Repnikova, a professor and international media expert at Georgia State University, said it is significant that while relations between Beijing and Washington have escalated, the Communist Party has increased its spending to influence U.S. public opinion.
Repnikova said in an email, “This means that the Chinese government remains invested in influencing the perception of the American public and hopes to potentially improve relations or ease tensions in its favor.”
Of the $64 million spent by the Communist Party to influence the operation, nearly $10 million came from non-governmental entities. Telecommunications giant Huawei was the most funded nongovernmental actor, reporting nearly $3.5 million in lobbying expenditures. Last year, the Justice Department accused Huawei of conspiring to steal trade secrets and violate U.S. sanctions against Iran.
Massoglia said the money invested by Chinese telecom companies is part of a “trend we’ve seen recently” where companies “face various restrictions and controversies in the U.S.”
Chinese media outlets are not the only foreign media organizations that have been forced to register under FARA in recent years. The U.S. affiliate of Qatar-based Al Jazeera, as well as satellite news agencies and Russia Today, have all been forced to register, Massoglia said. Satellite news agencies and Russia Today account for the majority of Russian spending on overseas operations.
Russia retaliated with its own rules, imposing a large fine on the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and requiring the outlet to label its content as “exercising the functions of a foreign agent.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a sister station of Voice of America, is currently contesting the Russian government’s decision to require it to be labeled a foreign agent and to impose a fine.