In 2021, the Department of Justice (DOJ) demanded that the Chinese language Sing Tao News Corporation register as a foreign agent. But the efforts from the U.S. government have done little to stop the media group from pushing the Chinese regime’s propaganda efforts in the United States.
Sing Tao Daily is the oldest and second-largest Chinese-language newspaper in Hong Kong. Chinese real estate tycoon Guo Yingcheng currently owns Sing Tao News Corporation.
The DOJ’s decision to list Sing Tao’s U.S. edition an agent of foreign influence was based on the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), a law that was enacted about 85 years ago in 1938.
Sing Tao did comply with FARA following the DOJ’s demand to register as a foreign agent. However, it is allowed to continue operating in the United States and has kept its anti-U.S. disinformation campaign from U.S. soil.
Sing Tao’s Anti-American Disinformation
Liang Jianfeng, the director and editor-in-chief of Sing Tao’s operations in U.S. western states, has a program that airs on local radio stations or YouTube once or twice a week. The name of the program is Editor-in-Chief Times. The program is presented in Mandarin or Cantonese, and a male or female host usually interviews Liang on his opinions. The length of the programs varies and often lasts from 40 to 70 minutes.
Liang’s opinions and comments are well-known by Chinese Americans in many U.S. cities and towns.
On Feb. 4, a Chinese balloon was shot down in U.S. sovereign airspace. The high-altitude object was identified by both U.S. and Canadian militaries as a spy balloon, while the Chinese regime maintained it was a civilian meteorological airship.
Liang made a program on Feb. 8 titled, “The Shot Down Balloon and Undecided Direction of U.S.-China Relation.” During the program, Liang first tried to make his audience believe the any conclusions reached about the balloon’s uses could only be opinion, not fact, and that it would never be possible to draw conclusions about the balloon’s actual purpose.
Then, he stated that as China has far less influence on public opinion than does the United States, once the major U.S. media define the object as a spy balloon, it will be considered a spy balloon.
Liang also said that the U.S. government decided to shoot down the balloon because U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken wanted to cancel his visit to Beijing. Liang stated that Beijing had not announced Blinken’s visit to China, and that Blinken was not even welcome. He said Blinken changed his mind at the last minute and tried to use the balloon incident as an excuse to avoid embarrassment.
Liang also asserted that China doesn’t need to collect intelligence from the United States to prepare for a war against America. He said that if China wants to attack the United States, it would be a nuclear war, and for a nuclear war, China already knows all the locations of the larger U.S. cities.
On Feb. 22, Liang made a program titled, “Will China’s [Peace] Plan Solve the Ukraine-Russia Problem?” Liang stated in the program: the United States has been the promoter of the Ukraine War.
On March 1, Liang made a program named “What is the Plan to Destroy Taiwan?” In the program, he said that the U.S. Defense Department had taken over Taiwan’s Defense Department and that U.S. government policy had caused tensions between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait to escalate. He warned Taiwan’s government that the U.S. government was setting the island on a course for destruction just for its own interests.
Liang asserted in the March 1 program: the United States has kept irritating China on issues related to Taiwan because the United States wants to see China attack Taiwan.
Liang made a program on March 2 named, “The United States Tries to Wear Down Asia.” Liang gave 40-minutes of analysis leading to the conclusion that the United States is worried that a peaceful and stable development of Asian countries would make the United States lose its superpower status in Asia. The U.S. government, therefore, made up that there’s a threat from China, then used it as an excuse to prepare for a war against China. He said the U.S. war plan was to make Taiwan a stockpile of explosives, let the destruction of Taiwan slow down China’s invasion, and use Japan and South Korea as pawns in a war against China.
On March 9, in Liang’s program, “Preparing for War or Avoiding War: How China Makes Choices,” Liang asserted that China doesn’t wants a war; it’s the United States that does. He said China has been exporting its successful economic model, while the United States spouts political ideology. He concluded that the United States needed a war to solve its financial problems. He said that since the beginning of U.S. history, the United States has always used wars to solve its problems.
Through his media work at Sing Tao, Liang has become an influential figure among Chinese Americans. In October 2018, Liang was recognized as an Outstanding Chinese American during the annual Oversea Chinese Festival in San Francisco.
Liang’s award was presented to him by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, an organization with a long history in San Francisco since the 1850s.
FARA Not Enough to Counter CCP’s Influence in US Media: Think Tank
Over the years, the U.S. government has grown concerned about the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) propaganda on American soil. It has taken cautious steps to counter the disinformation from pro-CCP Chinese media.
During the Trump administration, China’s state-owned media were required to register as foreign agents, including Xinhua News, People Daily, CGTN (China Global Television Network), and China Daily. The Biden administration took steps in 2021 to have Sing Tao register as a foreign agent.
Unlike those state-owned Chinese media, Sing Tao is privately owned.
The Sing Tao News Corporation began with Sing Tao Daily, a Hong Kong newspaper established in 1938. The newspaper was sold to a wealthy pro-Beijing Hong Kong businessman, He Zhuguo, in 2001. He was a member of China’s national Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) from 1998 to 2008, and then became a CPPCC Standing Committee member from 2008 to 2018.
CPPCC is an advisory group that provides consultation to the CCP and is considered a major arm of the CCP’s United Front program. Directed by the CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD), the United Front program is the CCP’s primary medium for building domestic and international alliances with all pro-CCP individuals and groups. “United front” means a united front line against the CCP’s enemies.
The UFWD is one of the CCP’s three central departments. The other two are the Organization Department and the Propaganda Department. According to a Jamestown Foundation report, the annual budget of the UFWD is larger than the budget of China’s Foreign Ministry.
After He Zhuguo purchased Sing Tao in 2001, the CCP gained control of the paper. Sing Tao’s switch to a pro-CCP view was widely noticed.
In May 2020, just one month before the Hong Kong legislature passed the infamous Hong Kong National Security Law, He Zhuguo published a full-page personal statement supporting the Security Law in Sing Tao Daily. In his statement, He called the 2019 Hong Kong pro-democracy movement a “riot,” said the movement was supported by Taiwan’s religious groups, and claimed that foreigners were leading the “riot.”
Critics called the Security Law “the end of Hong Kong,” meaning the premature end of “One China with two political systems.” The law allows the Chinese regime a legal framework to step in and deal with what Beijing sees as severe challenges to its authority.
According to an essay by Stanford’s Hoover Institution published in November 2018, “in May 2001, the year [He Zhuguo] purchased Sing Tao, the owner established a joint venture with the Xinhua News Agency to create an information-service company known as Xinhua Online.” The Hoover report was titled “China’s Influence & American Interests: Promoting Constructive Vigilance.”
Xinhua News Agency is the CCP’s largest official mouthpiece, which plays a role similar to Russia’s TASS.
He Zhuguo later sold Sing Tao to Guo Yingcheng, another wealthy businessman with close ties to the CCP. According to an article published by Radio Free Asia in 2021, the CCP gained more control of Sing Tao after the ownership change.
The Hoover report also provided a long list of either Chinese state-owned or privately owned pro-CCP media that have actively promoted CCP agendas in the United States, including Phoenix Satellite TV group, Qiao Bao newspaper, Sky Link TV, and others.
Liang’s program at Sing Tao aligns with the Chinese regime’s “grab the right to speak” campaign. The Hoover report provided a comprehensive description of this campaign:
“The Chinese government’s campaign to ‘grab the right to speak’ from Western media outlets and independent Chinese voices, which it accuses of distorting news about China and sullying China’s image, has come with a rapid expansion of China’s English-language media operations, a concerted campaign to control overseas Chinese-language media, and ongoing efforts to block attempts by Western media to contend inside China. Xinhua News Agency journalist Xiong Min summed up the motivation for China’s new campaign in 2010. ‘The right to speak in the world is not distributed equally,’ she wrote. ‘Eighty percent of the information is monopolized by Western media.’ It was time, she said, to end that monopoly by means of what China has called the Grand External Propaganda Campaign.”
The Stanford Hoover Institution acknowledged that there are “enormous challenges” to counter the Chinese regime’s English- and Chinese-language media in a free society.
The think tank suggested in the report that the United States should go beyond FARA, which was enacted in 1938, to restrict media influence in the United States by CCP, and that the State Department should restrict visas and access for Chinese journalists.