Oct 20, 2020 - World

Right-wing media falsely ties Black Lives Matter movement to Beijing

Illustration of a vintage television with bent antennae and a Chinese flag on the screen

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Right-wing outlets and commentators have recently spread a false claim linking the Chinese Communist Party to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Why it matters: Such claims raise concerns that a real issue — that of Chinese government interference in U.S. politics — could be wrongly invoked along partisan lines to attack Americans engaging in legitimate activities.

Driving the news: In recent weeks, top right-wing voices like Ben Shapiro, Sebastian Gorka and Donald Trump Jr. shared a claim by Heritage Foundation senior fellow Mike Gonzalez that a Chinese American organization providing administrative support to the Black Lives Matter movement has ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

  • But there is no evidence of such ties, according to experts specializing in China's political interference abroad.

The big picture: The Trump administration's right-wing supporters have denounced U.S. government inquiries into Russia's interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election as a "hoax," while Democrats supported the investigations.

  • The article by Gonzalez represents an attempt to mirror that dynamic, casting the Chinese government as covertly supporting leftist causes while accusing the left of ignoring China's efforts to sow chaos in U.S. society.

Details: The series of articles accused the Chinese Progressive Association in San Francisco (CPASF) of working to "push the agenda of China’s communist government here in the United States" and of espousing a "desire for world communism."

  • The articles noted the organization is a fiscal sponsor of Black Futures Lab, an organization founded by Alicia Garza, a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • It also cited CPASF's founding in the late 1960s by a group of leftist activists who at that time praised the CCP's Marxist ideology.

Fact check:

  • The group has no apparent ties to the CCP: "There appears to be no open-source evidence of a close relationship between CPASF and the Chinese government," said Alex Joske, a China analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra whose work has focused on tracking China's covert political interference abroad. "The organization has received little attention from Chinese state media and definitely doesn't have the hallmarks of a united front group."
  • China no longer supports grassroots leftist movements abroad: "In the 1960s and early 1970s, China was very much a promoter of a revolution abroad," said Arne Westad, a professor of history at Yale University who specializes in China's Cold War-era history. "But after the death of Mao [in 1976], this era ended. ... And that's been more or less consistent up to today."
  • China doesn't seem to get Black Lives Matter: "Outreach and language that we've seen from Foreign Ministry spokespeople and propaganda have had a very surface-level understanding of Black Lives Matter and domestic American issues," said Rui Zhong, a program assistant at the Wilson Center's Kissinger Institute on China and the United States.

Gonzalez also found one Chinese state media article that favorably cited CPASF, including this as part of his argument that CPASF was close to China.

  • But Chinese state media regularly praises the work of many organizations, including the Heritage Foundation. In 2014, Chinese state news agency Xinhua published an article hailing as "authoritative" a Heritage Foundation joint report that ranked Hong Kong's economy as the #1 most free economy in the world, despite growing concerns of Beijing's erosion of political freedoms in Hong Kong.
  • The Chinese government posted the piece to the website of the Central People's Government of the People's Republic of China, where it remains.

The Heritage Foundation did not respond to a request for comment.

What CPASF is saying: Shaw San Liu, the executive director of CPASF, called the Heritage Foundation's claims "absurd" and said that CPASF, which focuses on grassroots social justice issues and worker rights in California's Bay Area, has no ties to any foreign government and is not pro-communist.

  • “This misinformation is an attempt at distracting us from our work fighting the actual crises that our communities are facing," said Liu in an interview with Axios.
  • "We have a long history of multiracial solidarity. We understand that the issues of equality and access that our communities are facing are connected to the struggles of other communities," added Liu, who said this is why CPASF works with Garza.

Where it stands: A New York Times fact check of the original article found numerous factual errors.

  • The corrections were appended to the original Heritage Foundation article, but the basic claims were not retracted, and Gonzalez doubled down by publishing a second piece defending his original claims.

Context: Chinese state media and government officials have long played up any signs of violence or unrest in American society, such as gun deaths or looting, seeking to prove that democracy is inherently chaotic and that China's own system is superior.

The bottom line: The Chinese government does engage in covert attempts to sway American opinion to make it more favorable toward Beijing.

  • But China's one-party state, in its current form, has almost nothing in common with the beliefs espoused by Garza and others — nor does Beijing see itself as sharing the same set of values as grassroots Marxist activists, whom it instead rounds up and arrests.
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