Welcome back to Axios China. Today we've got an exclusive story about Chinese state media and the 2020 census, the risk of prescription drug shortages amid the coronavirus outbreak, and more. All in 1,669 words, a 6-minute read.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
The Census 2020 Paid Media Campaign, which sends U.S. taxpayer dollars to community media outlets to run ads about the upcoming census, is including a Chinese state-run broadcaster as one of its media vendors.
Why it matters: After China's yearslong campaign to co-opt independent Chinese-language media in the U.S., Washington is now paying Beijing-linked media outlets in order to reach Chinese Americans.
What's happening: CCTV4, which broadcasts in Los Angeles and has won a contract to run ads about the upcoming census, is one of several channels of the state-run China Central Television (CCTV) that broadcasts outside of China.
Background: Through buy-outs, subsidies, coercion, and other means, the number of independent Chinese-language news in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Europe, and elsewhere has vastly decreased.
That puts the U.S. government in a bind.
Details: The Census Bureau doesn't execute the paid media campaign itself. It gave the contract to a marketing firm called VMLY&R, which handles the more than 3,800 media vendors across the country selected to run census ads.
What they're saying: "The 2020 Census Paid Media Campaign decision was made based on a careful and holistic evaluation of multiple criteria within the request for proposal (RFP)," TDW+Co founder Tim Wang said in a statement to Axios.
CCTV4 Los Angeles is not the only 2020 census media vendor with ties to the Chinese government.
Notable exclusions from the list of 2020 media vendors include The Epoch Times and the radio station The Sound of Hope — two outlets affiliated with the Falun Gong, which strongly opposes the Chinese Communist Party. Both were census media vendors in 2010.
What the Census Bureau is saying: Last year, Team Y&R led the process where "media outlets were invited to submit proposals to be considered for participation in the paid media campaign," a bureau spokesperson told Axios in a statement.
A Hong Kong commuter wears a face mask. Photo: Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
It's unclear whether the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus will actually result in prescription drug shortages, but it has undoubtedly highlighted the potential vulnerabilities of having the supply chain for American drugs so dependent on China, Axios' Caitlin Owens reports.
Driving the news: About 150 prescription drugs — including antibiotics, generics and some branded drugs without alternatives — are at risk of shortage if the coronavirus outbreak in China worsens, per two sources familiar with a list of at-risk drugs compiled by the Food and Drug Administration.
What they're saying: In response to Axios' reporting, Sen. Josh Hawley will send a letter to the FDA calling the degree of U.S. reliance on China for drugs "inexcusable."
Flashback: Lawmakers have voiced concerns before. Democratic Reps. Anna Eshoo and Adam Schiff — who chair the Energy and Commerce health subcommittee and the Intelligence Committee, respectively — wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post last year.
Go deeper: Brace yourself for a coronavirus outbreak
After a five-year saga that provoked an international outcry, a Chinese court has sentenced Swedish citizen Gui Minhai to 10 years in prison for "providing intelligence overseas."
Background: In 2015, Chinese authorities secretly kidnapped Gui, a Hong Kong-based Swedish citizen known for writing and selling books critical of China’s leaders, from his apartment in Thailand and brought him to mainland China.
Of note: Particularly alarming is the court's claim that Gui had reapplied to become a Chinese citizen in 2018, several years into his forced disappearance.
My thought bubble: Given the circumstances, it seems highly likely that Gui was forced to reapply for Chinese citizenship. If so, that marks an alarming escalation of China’s unofficial policy of “extraterritoriality,” imposing its view that former Chinese nationals still belong to the motherland.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
This week's phrase: "Borrowing a boat to go out on the ocean." (借船出海)
What it means: Placing Chinese Communist Party messaging and approved content into media outlets abroad, either overtly or covertly.
How it works: "In its simplest form, this involves paying for Chinese propaganda supplements to appear in dozens of respected international publications such as the Washington Post," Louisa Lim and Julia Bergin wrote in The Guardian.
Why it matters: As Beijing seeks narrative dominance around the world, "borrowing a boat" is a key strategy it uses to influence skeptical audiences and to sidestep government scrutiny.
Red scare: GOP congressman accuses California pension official of working for China (Axios)
Silicon Valley censorship: Apple may be forced to disclose censorship requests from China (The Guardian)
Policing DNA: American company sold DNA sequencers to security officials in Xinjiang, documents show (ChinaFile)
Scholars and Spies: Chinese military turns to U.S. university to conduct covert research (WSJ)
China's road to its empire, and the expansive borders it claims today, started not with Han Chinese dynasties in 221 BC but with the Mongol invasion in the 13th century, historian Timothy Brook argues in a new book.
China today is "burdened by the fact that it has often been an expansive and an aggressive power towards its neighbors," Brook tells me. "China is stuck with parts of the Eurasian continent that it really doesn’t want and doesn’t benefit from."
This thesis is unlikely to be popular in China, because it contradicts three widely-held beliefs:
"China today is far more the successor of the Mongol age than the Qin," Brook writes.