By Cathy He
Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua has registered as a foreign agent under U.S. law, more than two years after the Justice Department (DOJ) reportedly ordered it to do so.
Xinhua’s U.S. division was registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) on May 5, according (pdf) to the department’s online FARA database. This makes Xinhua the third Chinese state-run media organization to register as a foreign agent, after CGTN, the international arm of the Chinese state broadcaster China Central Television, and China Daily, an English-language newspaper overseen by the regime’s propaganda department.
In September 2018, The Wall Street Journal reported that the DOJ had ordered Xinhua and CGTN to register under FARA. CTGN did so in February 2019.
FARA was passed in 1938 to combat Nazi propaganda efforts and influence campaigns in the United States. It requires foreign governments, political parties, and lobbyists they hire in the United States to register with the Department of Justice. While registration does not affect a media outlet’s editorial content, it does require the organization to disclose its annual budget and expenditures.
The FARA filing shows that Xinhua’s Beijing headquarters paid its North America bureau more than $8.6 million in operation expenses from March 2020 to April 2021. Xinhua’s North America bureau has eight offices in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, and San Francisco.
Xinhua has leased a giant screen in Times Square since 2011, dubbed the “China screen.” In February, the electronic billboard played ads urging unity in the fight against the pandemic, while promoting Beijing’s efforts to combat the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus worldwide. This was around the same time that the regime was drawing criticism over its lack of transparency as WHO investigators were probing the origins of the virus.
Expenses associated with the billboard’s hire were not included in the FARA filings. The documents, however, show that Xinhua paid more than $130,000 in unspecified “communication fees” between March 2020 to May 2021. It doesn’t indicate who the fees were paid to.
Xinhua’s filing comes after several lawmakers asked the DOJ to probe the issue of Xinhua’s registration under FARA in recent years. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) in a January 2020 letter to then-Attorney General William Barr, said it was “extremely troubling” that the outlet had not yet registered, adding that “Xinhua and the Chinese Communist Party have deep, longstanding ties.”
Last year, Xinhua was among 15 Chinese state-controlled media designated as foreign missions by the Trump administration. The move, which restricted their operations in the United States but didn’t impact what they could publish, was made in recognition of their roles as propaganda organs of the Chinese Communist Party.
A 2017 U.S. congressional commission report warned that Xinhua was not only involved in propaganda work.
“Xinhua serves some of the functions of an intelligence agency by gathering information and producing classified reports for the Chinese leadership on both domestic and international events,” the report by the U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission said.
Former Xinhua reporter, Canadian Mark Bourrie, said he had been used by the outlet to collect intelligence on overseas critics of the regime while working as a press gallery reporter from 2010 to 2012. In one instance, he was asked to prepare a transcript of a press conference the Dalai Lama held with reporters in Ottawa, and also asked to find out what the spiritual leader discussed in a private meeting with Canada’s then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper. When Bourrie asked his bureau chief if the material was to be used for a news story, the chief replied no.
“When they go to something like a two-day conference on Tibet and film everything and transcribe everything, that is not going to a special publication—that is going to Chinese intelligence,” Bourrie told The Epoch Times at the time.