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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New foreign-agent filings are finally detailing a massive Beijing propaganda operation that's fueled a sixfold increase in disclosed Chinese foreign influence efforts in the United States in recent years.

Why it matters: Propaganda is central to China fulfilling its geopolitical aspirations, and its efforts to sow discord and disinformation in the U.S. have very real consequences for the American business, political and social climates.

  • According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Chinese foreign agent spending has skyrocketed from just over $10 million in 2016 to nearly $64 million last year.
  • Thanks largely to its stable of propaganda operations, China is now the top spender on foreign influence operations in the U.S.
  • American laws designed to force disclosure of paid foreign influence are beginning to reveal the huge sums Beijing has devoted to its effort.

What's happening: State-run Chinese news service Xinhua is the latest to reveal some of the inner workings of its U.S. operations.

  • Xinhua's U.S. arm officially registered as a foreign agent last week, three years after the Justice Department notified the company it was required to do so, as first reported by Foreign Lobby Report.
  • Its initial filing under the Foreign Agents Registration Act is largely generic, describing Xinhua as "an independent legal entity" that's simply "subject to government oversight."
  • In fact, the media organ is owned by the Chinese government, run by senior Communist Party officials and widely seen as a Beijing mouthpiece.
  • Its new FARA filing disclosed $8.6 million in payments since March 2020 from Xinhua's Chinese parent to its U.S. arm, including payments directly to bureaus in Washington, Los Angeles, Houston, San Francisco and Chicago.

The big picture: Xinhua is just the latest state-run Chinese media organ to register.

  • CRP data show Chinese entities spent more on registered foreign agent activities in 2020 than those of any other nation.
  • That was largely driven by FARA registrations by state-run media outlets such as China Daily and CGTN.
  • Together they accounted for more than two-thirds of Chinese FARA spending in 2019 and more than four-fifths in 2020, eclipsing big names such as telecom giant Huawei and surveillance tech firm Hikvision.

Between the lines: Like those of other nations, Chinese state-run media have resisted U.S. Justice Department demands to register under FARA, a law originally created to expose Nazi propaganda in the U.S.

  • Prior to their disclosures, these Chinese media organs operated in the shadows, unencumbered by FARA requirements requiring disclosure about their structures and finances.

Go deeper

Federal watchdog warns of foreign money in U.S. politics

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Lax oversight of illegal foreign money in U.S. elections presents a serious national security risk, a federal watchdog said on Monday.

Driving the news: The Federal Election Commission's Office of Inspector General flagged serious concerns in a report published on Monday.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Texas governor: "All hostages are out alive and safe"

SWAT team members deploy near the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. Photo: Andy Jacobsohn/AFP via Getty Images

All four hostages have been safely released after a day-long standoff at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said on Saturday night.

The latest: "Around 9 p.m., the HRT — hostage rescue team — breached the synagogue, they rescued the three [remaining] hostages, the suspect is deceased," said police chief Michael Miller of Colleyville, located roughly 15 miles northeast of Fort Worth. The other hostage had been released earlier Saturday.

The new normal: Google searches reveal America's COVID shopping habits

Data: The New Normal; Google Trends; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

As the pandemic enters its third year, some of America's COVID-era shopping habits — including strong demand for tequila and sweatpants — are here to stay.

Driving the news: Axios worked with Google Trends and the Schema Design firm to create The New Normal, which analyzes the products Americans have Googled since 2020. Items with a lasting increase in search interest help fill in the details of what our "new normal" looks like.