Lawmakers Demand Investigation Into Chinese Propaganda Published in NYT, WaPo

DOJ asked to review China Daily ads following Free Beacon report

Sen. Tom Cotton / Getty Images
February 6, 2020

Lawmakers are calling on the Justice Department to launch a "full-fledged investigation" into China Daily after the Washington Free Beacon found that the propaganda outlet ignored federal law.

China Daily has spent millions to publish state-sanctioned propaganda in top American newspapers without complying with disclosure requirements for foreign agents, prompting Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.), Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), and 33 other members of Congress to demand a probe into the outlet's activities. On Thursday, the group sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr asking that the Justice Department "promptly review and produce a report on China Daily’s compliance" with federal disclosure laws.

"Propaganda that seeks to obfuscate communist atrocities deserves to be counteracted," the letter says. "[The Foreign Agents Registration Act] already arms the federal government with tools to fight pernicious foreign influence. The DOJ should use them to clamp down on Chinese propaganda."

The Free Beacon previously found that China Daily ran hundreds of propaganda articles designed to resemble authentic news reports in the pages of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post. The propaganda outlet, which serves as the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, failed to report these ad purchases to the U.S. government for more than 30 years.

Banks compared tensions with China to the Cold War in an email to the Free Beacon. "We convinced the world that democracy was superior to communist authoritarianism. Well, it looks like we have to fight that battle again—this time against a far wealthier and equally determined adversary," he said. "The federal government must use every weapon in its arsenal to ensure the triumph of our values—the consequences of failure are unspeakable."

The letter, signed by 8 senators and 27 representatives, is not the first time Congress has pushed the Justice Department to take action against a Chinese state entity for violating FARA requirements. In 2019, the department ordered Chinese propaganda outlets Xinhua News Agency and CGTN America to register as a foreign agent after a bipartisan group of senators demanded an investigation into their activities.

CGTN America has complied with the federal order but Xinhua News Agency has yet to register as a foreign agent. Banks requested that the Justice Department look into Xinhua News Agency's registration status in January.

China Daily first registered as a foreign agent in 1983 and has published pro-China propaganda in the United States ever since. The Chinese mouthpiece has drastically expanded operations in recent years, spending more than $35 million since 2017. China Daily has run more than 500 print advertorials and 700 online articles in six U.S. newspapers since 2012.

Some of the advertorials that ran in mainstream American outlets whitewashed Chinese oppression. One propaganda piece published in the Wall Street Journal called China's detention of more than one million Muslim Uyghurs a "law-based campaign of de-radicalization." China Daily did not respond to a request for comment.

"Some of the articles are harmless—and tout subjects like the Chinese government's fitness initiative—but some are not," the letter said. "Such articles serve as cover for China's atrocities, including its crimes against humanity against Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region and its support for the crackdown in Hong Kong."

China Daily, which has a total circulation of 600,000 outside mainland China, has penetrated the highest halls of power. Banks previously tried to restrict the newspaper's distribution on Capitol Hill after he learned that the propaganda outlet delivered copies to the office of nearly every member of Congress.

The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.