By Tian Yun
Outbreaks of the CCP virus around the world have been strongly correlated with the affected regions’ ties to the Chinese communist regime.
In the United States, epidemic figures in Washington state—known for being the first port of entry for trade goods coming from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) following the United States’ establishment of diplomatic relations with Beijing in the late 1970s—were the highest nationwide as late as March 16, when it had more than 900 out of roughly 4,300 confirmed U.S. cases.
On Jan. 21, Washington saw America’s first confirmed case of the CCP virus—often known as the novel coronavirus—a man living near Seattle who had contracted the disease while on a trip to Wuhan, where the pandemic started.
Since mid-March, however, Washington has been overtaken and far eclipsed by New York state in terms of confirmed cases. On March 20, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a 10-point plan to put “New York State on PAUSE.”
At the time of writing, more than 102,000 New Yorkers have been sickened, making up almost 40 percent of the 260,000 cases across the country. The in-state death toll passed 1,000 on March 29, and has since tripled.
Reddening the Big Apple
Early outbreaks of the CCP virus outside China were most pronounced in countries with extensive economic or strategic relations with the PRC, such as South Korea, Italy, and Iran. Lured by trade benefits or caving in to Beijing’s pressure, governments and officials in many regions have taken accommodating or even supportive stances on the Chinese regime.
Such attitudes likely fuelled acceptance of CCP propaganda regarding the virus, and made local authorities reluctant to take protective measures, increasing those countries’ and regions’ vulnerability during the critical first stages in the epidemic.
In recent decades, the CCP has established a formidable nexus of “soft power” in New York. China is the state’s biggest trade partner outside North America, and the PRC (including Hong Kong) forms New York’s largest export market. Bilateral investments are similarly large, with New York being one of the prime destinations for Chinese capital.
The significant volume of trade and investment has had wide-ranging effects in New York politics and society, from PRC-friendly attitudes among elected officials to Beijing’s incremental subversion of the local Chinese-American community. By extension, New York’s economic and cultural importance means that the PRC’s influence there is felt throughout the rest of the United States.
Making Capital Serve the Communist Party
Wall Street is one of the major conduits through which the PRC exercises its soft power abroad, and has long played the “dove” in influencing Washington’s China policy.
In 1999, then-PRC premier Zhu Rongji visited New York, where he met with a number of Wall Street executives to discuss China’s potential membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO). President Bill Clinton thereafter supported Beijing’s entry into the WTO, which it joined in December 2001. Economic relations continued to strengthen as the United States became embroiled in the War on Terror.
Robert Kuhn, a financial executive and public intellectual, has had his writings appear in many Chinese state-run media. In 2005, Kuhn published a fawning biography of former PRC leader Jiang Zemin, despite the latter’s enormous crimes against humanity and “make a fortune while keeping a low profile” policies that encouraged corruption on an unprecedented scale.
In later years, pressure by Wall Street lobbyists influenced the decisions of presidents George Bush and Barack Obama to remove China from the list of currency manipulators. In August 2019, following an escalation in the Sino-U.S. trade war, the Trump administration re-designated the PRC a currency manipulator.
On April 25, 2019, Prague Security Studies Institute chairman Roger W. Robinson Jr. warned of the worrying degree to which the CCP had penetrated the U.S. financial market in a speech made to the Committee on the Present Danger: China.
Robinson noted that more than 1,000 Chinese companies were listed in the three major American stock exchanges, with more than 650 PRC-based firms listed on the New York Stock Exchange alone. These include Chinese state-run companies, many of which play roles in the CCP’s human rights abuses, mass surveillance, and military industry. Being listed in U.S. stock indices means these companies receive investment via the stock portfolios of millions of Americans.
Many Wall Street investors’ affinity with Beijing have become especially apparent following the start of the U.S.-China trade war in June 2018.
The month that the U.S.-China trade war began, Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) officially included A shares of Chinese corporations in its “Emerging Market Index” at a 2.5 percent inclusion ratio. This means that 2.5 percent of MSCI’s index consisted of Chinese A-share companies.
That September, FTSE Russell, the world’s second largest index company, announced that it would include A shares in its global stock index system and classify them as secondary emerging markets. According to statistics from securities companies, this move was theoretically expected to bring incremental capital of more than $500 billion to A shares.
Last April 1, Bloomberg announced the official inclusion of Chinese bonds in the Bloomberg Barclays Global Composite Index.
He Qinglian, a U.S.-based Chinese economist, wrote that the recognition of A shares by these three major financial institutions was equivalent to endorsing the Chinese regime’s unfavorable bonds. Thanks to Wall Street, the resulting influx of foreign capital thus helped allay the PRC’s domestic economic troubles and the recent pressures brought about by the trade war.
Bribing CCP Companies
New York-based financial institutions have been investigated for illegally hiring the children of powerful Chinese families, whose fortunes are inextricably linked with the CCP regime.
In 2013, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Justice Department began probing JP Morgan Chase Bank for suspected bribery of foreign companies. The case is of particular note because it represents the first major investigation into Wall Street under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
According to investigators, in the seven years between 2006 to 2013, Chase employed about 100 people under its “Sons and Daughters” recruitment program, which ran from 2003 to 2013. The plan hired those with close ties to Chinese and other Asian officials as full-time employees or interns, which resulted in the bank gaining $100 million in business profit.
The SEC investigation noted that Chase knew that doing so violated the FCPA, but continued the Sons and Daughters scheme anyway due to the generous returns and business opportunities it brought. According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. authorities have opened similar investigations into other financial institutions.
Buying Political Power
Chinese economic inroads gave the CCP many opportunities to win political allies across the United States, particularly in salient regions like New York.
On April 11, 2016, New York lieutenant governor Kathy Hochul and Zhang Xiangchen, the PRC commerce ministry’s deputy representative of international trade, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to formally establish the China Provinces-US State of New York Trade and Investment Cooperation. The agreement linked New York with six Chinese provinces on various forms of economic and industrial exchange.
“It speaks to the possibility of building on where we are today,” Hochul described the agreement, according to PRC mouthpiece China Daily. “Businesses from China come to our state; businesses from our state are looking for export opportunities.”
Zhang Qiyue, then-consul general of the PRC Consulate in New York, named the state as the “bright spot” for Sino-U.S. cooperation. “As we continue to grow stronger bilateral ties, there is growing awareness and increasing cooperation at the sub-national level.”
On July 18, 2017, the China Provinces-US New York State Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum was held in Buffalo. The event was co-sponsored by the Foreign Trade Development Bureau of the PRC Ministry of Commerce, the New York State Economic Development Agency, the PRC consulate in New York, and the state government.
That November, Gov. Cuomo was awarded the Blue Cloud Award by the PRC-leaning China Institute, which is headquartered in Manhattan. Hochul, who accepted the award on Cuomo’s behalf at the Blue Cloud Gala, noted that the “governor has truly made this [China-New York] relationship one of his high priorities, we have had our three trade missions and the fourth is being planned,” as reported by the CCP-run Xinhua.
“We have trade offices and tourism offices in China, and we have people on the ground to make sure there is a wide opening doorway between our two countries, and our cities as well,” Hochul said.
The CCP appears to have seen the event as a way to deepen commercial links and foster closer relations with the governor. According to reports at the time, Hainan Airlines Group, a Chinese company with strong state ties, was the sponsor of the Blue Cloud Gala. Moreover, the award ceremony featured a performance by the Snow Lotus trio, consisting of three ethnic Tibetan singers from the Chinese province of Sichuan. Then-PRC Consul-General Zhang was also present at the gala.
In June 2019, the New York State Senate passed a resolution naming Oct. 1—the founding date of the communist regime in 1949—the state’s “China Day,” so as to commemorate the contributions of ethnic Chinese to New York. A PRC foreign ministry spokesperson praised the move as a “positive” development.
At an evening reception hosted that Sept. 16 by the New York Chinese Consulate to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the PRC’s founding, Consul-General Huang Ping delivered remarks praising “socialism with Chinese characteristics” and condemned the ongoing trade war for hurting the economic prospects of both countries. Many New York politicians, entrepreneurs, and representatives from the local Chinese diaspora were in attendance.
Reshaping the Media Environment and Society
As late as the mid-1980s, the most prominent Chinese-American organizations in New York were those aligned with Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China (ROC). But as mainland China came to dominate the economic and diplomatic landscape, the ROC’s Blue Sky with a White Sun flag began to disappear from the local Chinatowns, replaced by the five-starred red flag of the PRC.
Beijing’s growing influence was felt across the Chinese-American community as the CCP deployed its propaganda machine to sway overseas Chinese worldwide. PRC-funded organizations like the Confucius Institute were set up in U.S. colleges and schools, helping the Party cement its preferred take on Chinese identity, culture, and language in the minds of many young Americans.
CCP organizations in New York have established links with the local triad gangs, and sometimes even allow the Party to project its political repression into the United States.
In 1999, the CCP launched an all-out persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual practice and its tens of millions of adherents. The deadly campaign continues to this day.
Groups linked to the extralegal Communist Party commission tasked with overseeing the persecution of Falun Gong have been peddling hate speech against the practice in New York’s Chinatowns for over a decade. Individual members of these groups have been prosecuted for physically assaulting local Falun Gong practitioners.
Since the early 1990s, when the state-linked Chinese-language daily China Press was founded to serve overseas Chinese audiences, the CCP’s international propaganda efforts have ballooned into a multi-billion-dollar operation, officially termed the “Great External Propaganda Plan.”
In 2010, Xinhua News Agency launched a round-the-clock English-language TV channel, CNC World. In August 2011, Xinhua ran an advertisement worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in Times Square. Brian Turner, the president of Sherwood Outdoor Advertising Co., said at the time that he hoped leasing the screen space to Xinhua would encourage other Chinese brands to advertise in Times Square.
Since 2011, both Xinhua and the People’s Daily Online, another CCP mouthpiece, have had offices in Manhattan, with the latter operating out of the 30th floor of the Empire State Building.
This February, the U.S. State Department designated Xinhua and four other PRC-controlled media in the United States as “foreign missions” to reflect their role in Beijing’s external propaganda strategy.
Taken In by the Party Line
The effectiveness of the CCP’s propaganda offensives among overseas Chinese is readily observed. Thousands of Chinese residing abroad have purchased plane tickets back to China, convinced by the Party’s latest narrative that the United States, not the Chinese “motherland,” is the new epicenter of the virus.
Having long served as the gateway to America for immigrants and shipping, New York seems uniquely susceptible to the spread of the pandemic. On March 25, Gov. Cuomo said that New York “has more cases than other U.S. states … because we welcome people from across the globe, and we live; move; commune, and do so many other things close to one another.”
But in the CCP virus pandemic, globalization isn’t the only factor to blame.
Due vigilance and realistic views of the mainland Chinese regime, as demonstrated by the people of Taiwan and Hong Kong, provide no small measure of inoculation against the medical crisis. Despite their proximity to, and extensive trade ties with, mainland China, these two regions did not delay measures to stop the virus. As of April 3, the number of infections in either territory has remained in the hundreds.
In South Korea, the authorities were slow to cut down on trade and travel with China. However, knowledge of the epidemic and its seriousness rapidly spread among the public. In January, videos exposing the bleak situation in the virus epicenter of Wuhan were widely viewed and shared by Koreans. Millions of people criticized President Moon Jae-in for placing business above national health.
While South Korea had one of the worst early outbreaks outside China, the combination of public awareness, popular pressure, and civic cooperation seems to have brought the virus under control.
Yet the same vigilance appears sorely lacking in the Empire State, even as the CCP promotes its supposed success in controlling the disease in China, and painting the U.S. response as the epitome of administrative incompetence. The narrative is reinforced by many foreign media outlets, in large part because they tend to report the PRC’s official numbers of confirmed cases and deaths at face value.
On March 11, the New York Times published an article titled “Its Coronavirus Cases Dwindling, China Turns Focus Outward.”
The article’s subhead echoes the CCP’s propaganda: “Beijing is mounting a humanitarian aid blitz in countries struggling with their own outbreaks. In doing so, it’s stepping into a role the West once dominated.”
A March 16 editorial by the Washington Examiner criticized the Times report as perhaps “the most shameful piece of Chinese disinformation published by any newsroom in the United States since the COVID-19 outbreak first became a story.”
“The article parrots China’s claim that its daily coronavirus cases have dwindled ‘into the single digits,’” the Examiner notes. “No attempt is made to verify these numbers. … With the media acting like this, who even needs the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China?”
Leo Timm contributed to this article.
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