The Washington Post’s controversial editorial partnership with the Chinese government is drawing renewed scrutiny from a prominent Chinese dissident and from lawmakers on Capitol Hill who recently petitioned the Department of Justice to crack down on the paper’s unregulated promotion of authoritarian propaganda.
The Post has repeatedly come under fire from lawmakers on Capitol Hill and foreign policy experts opposed to its publication of China Watch, a print and online advertising supplement that runs content produced by an organ of the Chinese Communist Party. The articles and features portray the Chinese government and its human rights record in a glowing, uncritical light.
The paper’s refusal to comprehensively explain its profitable advertising partnership with the People’s Republic of China recently led Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R., Calif.) to petition the DOJ to search for potential violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which stipulates general guidelines about filing and labeling political propaganda.
It also has driven Chinese dissident Harry Wu to pen a sharply worded letter to Donald Graham, the Post’s Chairman and CEO, chastising the paper for embracing the Communist regime "with open arms."
While China Watch remains one of the most glaring examples of the Communist Party’s campaign to influence American thought leaders, lawmakers warn that China is engaged in a well-funded and wide-ranging relationship with American businesses, lobbyists, and other entities across the U.S.
China’s goal, they say, is to whitewash its human rights record, foster sympathy for its cause, and infiltrate U.S. markets, potentially endangering the country’s national security.
"The Party engages in proactive perception management [and] part of that activity includes distributing its propaganda in the form of newspapers around the country and even in the halls of Congress," said Rohrabacher, who recently crafted legislation aimed at combating China’s influence. "From my reading of the Foreign Agent Registration Act, that material should be marked with a statement labeling it as the product of a foreign government, but it is not."
By exposing the Post’s relationship with China, lawmakers such as Rohrabacher hope to expose the Communist regime’s effort to push its propaganda across the U.S.
"China Watch is propaganda directly from the Chinese Communist Party," Rohrabacher, chair of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, told the Free Beacon.
"The Washington Post is well aware that the China Watch section is designed to look like the rest of their paper and to fool readers," said Rohrabacher, who petitioned the DOJ last month to examine the relationship’s legality. "Just because they put ‘advertising supplement’ at the top in small print does not relieve them of the moral responsibility of knowingly supporting the world’s worst human rights abuser, the Chinese Communist Party, at a time when they are engaged in a belligerent military build up and are making aggressive territorial claims."
China Watch—which publishes content produced by China Daily, an English-language new site that toesthe Communist party line—grossly misleads American readers and had led the Post to compromise "its quality in the name of profitability," according to dissident Wu, a longtime anti-Communist leader who serves as executive director of the Laogai Research Foundation, an organization that exposes China’s human rights violations.
"The China Watch advertising supplement and China’s English-language China Daily are more riddled with CCP Propaganda than even the PRC’s own domestic Chinese-language papers," Wu wrote. "The Post cannot deny that each week, it presents information to the American public that is without historical context or clarification of bias, and which blatantly and deliberately omits relevant facts that would have been included in real journalism on these issues."
Rima Calderon, spokesperson for the Post’s Graham, declined to comment.
The Post’s communications director Kris Coratti defended the relationship in March, saying, "The section is clearly labeled as advertising so that our readers know it is not Washington Post news content. As for what’s in the ads, we have always given advertisers wide latitude to have their say, whether the advertiser is a business, person, or a group."
Both Wu and Rohrabacher believe that the Chinese companies responsible for China Watch are misrepresenting the material they publish in the Washington Post, in violation of FARA regulations.
"Two tentacles of the Chinese Community Party"—China Daily Distribution Corp and Hai Tian Development USA—"are avoiding compliance with FARA," Rohrabacher writes in his letter to the DOJ, which has not yet responded to his request.
The Post supplement is legally required to offer "a conspicuous statement" on any material "distributed by an agent for a foreign principal," the letter explains. "Yet the China Daily (and the news inserts they place in the Washington Post and Express under the title of ‘China Watch’) are not marked in any such way."
China Watch’s online portal, which operates under a Washington Post domain, contains a small block of text in the website’s right-hand corner that offers an ambiguous disclaimer: "A Paid Supplement to The Washington Post."
Wu, who was imprisoned in Chinese labor camps for 19 years, charges that the Post’s deal with China is tantamount to abetting other rogue regimes, such as Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party.
"It seems preposterous to suggest that a company like the Post would have accepted an advertising deal with Hitler’s Nazi regime or with the Soviet Union’s Cold War era communists," Wu writes in his letter to the paper’s chairman. "Although China Daily is registered under FARA, it appears that today, this registration is purely procedural, as no real monitoring or restriction on content from foreign entities has occurred."
The Post is not the only U.S.-based entity to partner with the Chinese government. Multiple lobbying firms have signed up to do public relations work on behalf of the government and its corporations, according to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC).
They include: McDermott Will & Emery; Patton Boggs; Hill & Knowlton; Hogan & Hartson; Jones Day; Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; Public Strategies; International Government Relations Group; and Vinson & Elkins.
Chinese firms such as the Lenovo Group and Huawei Technologies Company have hired former U.S. officials and legislators to lobby on their behalf.
Experts on Capitol Hill say that American businesses are happy to accommodate the Chinese government in exchange for access to its lucrative markets.
"American businesses serve as some of the best lobbyists for Communist China because the PRC is a large market, and they dream of making huge profit there," said one senior GOP aide familiar with the issue.
"But the Communist Party demands that in order to have market access, those companies must do joint ventures with Chinese partners, relocate research centers to China, or in some way give the PRC access to their technology and knowhow. China uses those transfers, together with espionage and outright theft to build up their own industrial capacity and strip ours."
In April, for instance, the SEC launched an investigation into accusations that the studio of Obama bundler and DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg had bribed Chinese officials to obtain distribution rights in the country.
In order to shield reputations from American consumers, "American companies keep quiet about these underhanded practices because they do not want to be forced out of China," the GOP source explained.
On the media front, there are around "14 different PRC government news organizations and agencies, all of which respond to the Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party and the PRC government"—and each of these outlets have planted reporters in the U.S., according to Larry Wortzel, a member of the USCC.
Permitting these reporters free reign potentially imperils the country’s national security, Wortzel said.
"Having all of these representatives of the Chinese government in the U.S. creates a huge counterintelligence problem for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and it provides many opportunities for the Chinese government and Communist Party to deliver tailored messages to the U.S. in what is supposed to be news," he explained. "Simply stated, there is no media freedom in China."
To help create parity, Rohrabacher has crafted the Chinese Media Reciprocity Act, which would foster objective reporting forcing China to grant U.S. reporters unregulated access to the country in return for access to U.S. markets.
"What it comes down to is ideas," Nick Zahn, Asia Communications Fellow and Director of The Washington Roundtable for the Asia Pacific Press at the Heritage Foundation, told the Free Beacon. "The U.S. does and should stand for a set of ideas."
China, added Zahn, "is ruled by a very different form of government with a very different outlook on individual dignity. When you have these resources going into China spreading its version of news, and it’s important for our ideas to prevail."