Jan 22, 2020 - World

DOJ should compel Xinhua to register as foreign agent, lawmaker says

A flag is raised at Tian'anmen Square in Beijing
A national flag-raising ceremony is held at Tian'anmen Square in Beijing on Jan. 1. (Photo by Peng Ziyang /Xinhua via Getty Images)

A Republican congressman has asked Attorney General William Barr to examine whether Chinese state news agency Xinhua has registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), in a letter viewed exclusively by Axios.

Why it matters: The wave of U.S. government concern about foreign government funded-media outlets isn't subsiding — and China is still a main focus.

In the Jan. 22 letter to Barr, Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) notes that Xinhua does not appear to have registered yet and calls it "extremely troubling" that it hasn't. He asks the Department of Justice to look closely at the issue.

  • Xinhua operate bureaus in major cities across the United States.
  • The letter quotes the 2017 annual report from the U.S.-China Security and Economic Review Commission, which stated that "Xinhua serves some functions of an intelligence agency by gathering information and producing classified reports for the Chinese government."
  • FARA requires entities that receive foreign government funding or direction to submit disclosures to the Department of Justice, and that information is entered into a public database. The law does not interfere with or regulate the operations of those who register.

What they're saying:

  • "Xinhua and the Chinese Communist Party have deep, longstanding ties," Banks noted in the letter — but "there have been no reports that the Xinhua News Agency has filed as a foreign agent."

Context: Banks' letter is a follow-up to a January 2018 letter spearheaded by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio which called on the Justice Department to look closely at Chinese state-funded media outlets operating in the United States, including Xinhua and CGTN America, the U.S. outpost of China's government-run broadcaster.

  • Leahy and Rubio sent that letter one month after I reported that CGTN America had not registered under FARA.

Background: The Russia investigation highlighted the role of foreign-funded media outlets in efforts to influence U.S. public opinion. The Department of Justice compelled Russian government-funded news network RT America to register under FARA, which helped spark discussion around official Chinese outlets in the United States.

But the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has expressed concern with the Justice Department's move over the past two years to compel some foreign government-funded media outlets to register under the act.

  • "We're uncomfortable with governments deciding what constitutes journalism or propaganda," CPJ said in a statement after Russian news outlet RT was compelled to register in November 2017.

Read the letter:

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