Aug 25, 2021 - Politics & Policy

DOJ brands Chinese-owned U.S. newspaper a foreign agent

Sing Tao Daily is seen at a newsstand in San Francisco's Chinatown in 2017.
Sing Tao Daily is seen at a newstand in San Francisco's Chinatown in 2017. Photo: Liz Hafalia/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

The Justice Department has forced a major Chinese-owned newspaper's U.S. subsidiary to register as a foreign agent, records show.

Why it matters: The DOJ has stepped up scrutiny of foreign-owned media in recent years, and its demand that Sing Tao U.S. register as a foreign agent comes amid high tensions between Washington and Beijing over the latter's influence efforts in the U.S.

What's new: Sing Tao disputes its status as a foreign agent, but according to filings this week under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the DOJ determined the newspaper's U.S. operations qualified as foreign influence efforts.

  • "The Department of Justice's FARA Unit has concluded that [its U.S. activity] constitutes political activity for purposes of the FARA," Sing Tao wrote.
  • According to Sing Tao, the Hong Kong-based company is privately owned and not controlled or influenced by the Chinese Communist Party.

Background: Sing Tao's parent company operates the oldest Chinese-language newspaper in Hong Kong.

  • In June, the daughter of a wealthy mainland property developer purchased a majority stake in the company.
  • Sing Tao's U.S. operations consist of newspapers in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco and a radio station based in Burlingame, California.
  • More than half of Sing Tao's U.S. content is purchased from a Chinese company called Star Production (Shenzhen) Limited, according to its FARA filings.

Be smart: The Chinese government exerts significant influence over domestic media coverage.

  • It's also stepped up more overt media crackdowns of late, particularly in Hong Kong, where the publisher of a leading opposition newspaper was recently sentenced to 14 months in prison.
  • The Chinese government has also stepped up its media influence operations abroad in recent years, leading to a substantial increase in foreign agent spending in the U.S.
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