Hong Kong Newspaper Treated as Agent of Foreign State in US

Sources say the paper has ties to the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s United Front overseas propaganda work.
By Rita Cheng
2021.08.27
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Hong Kong Newspaper Treated as Agent of Foreign State in US A man reads a newspaper in Hong Kong in a file photo.
AFP

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has ordered the U.S. subsidiary of a Hong Kong-based Chinese-language newspaper to register as a foreign agent, recent filings show.

Sing Tao U.S., whose parent company owns the Sing Tao Daily newspaper in Hong Kong, has been determined by the DOJ to be engaged in "political activity" under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA.

Sing Tao has said it disputes its status as a foreign agent, as it is neither "controlled nor influenced" by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The move comes after Hong Kong businessman Charles Ho sold his stake in June to Kwok Hiu-Ting, daughter of mainland real estate developer Kwok Ying-Shing, for H.K.$370 million, who owns the Kaisa Group.

Under FARA, entities or individuals deemed by Washington to be promoting foreign influence in the country, or owned by or acting under the direction of foreign governments or organizations, must register as foreign agents.

The registration involves filing updated details every six months of their activities on U.S. soil, as well as details of payments received from overseas, and of those made to others.

The filings show that Sing Tao U.S. was in receipt of nearly U.S.$3.8 million weeks before its first registration, and commands a budget of U.S.$9.8 million for its news operation.

More than half of Sing Tao's U.S. content is syndicated copy produced by a company called Star Production, based in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

State-owned international broadcaster China Radio International (CRI)'s U.S. branch has also recently been registered as a foreign agent.

A cover operation

Joseph Long, former assistant editor-in-chief for Hong Kong's pro-China Commercial Daily, said it is a fairly open secret among journalists in the city that the Sing Tao Daily is a CCP-linked organization.

"It's a fairly open secret that it is an underground CCP organization," Long told RFA. "Based on my understanding of the CCP system and Sing Tao, I can say with certainty that some people who have taken on the functions of the United Front Work Department also do United Front work among the Chinese community in the United States."

RFA was unable to confirm Long's assertion independently. However, an online search of company records revealed that at least two of the company's directors -- since the change of ownership -- serve on the committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), an advisory body to the rubber-stamp National People's Congress (NPC).

A source familiar with the industry told RFA that the U.S. move made sense, given that the Kaisa group is "a white glove operation" with the full power of the CCP behind it.

Long said he agreed with that assessment, saying the Kaisa Group was a cover operation for the CCP's media operations.

The Sing Tao News Group had declined to respond to requests from RFA for comment at the time of writing on Friday.

'Objective facts, high-quality content'

The paper's website published a three-point statement on its homepage, stating that the company's five U.S. subsidiaries have recently registered as foreign agents in accordance with FARA.

"As a media organization, Sing Tao will uphold the mission of reporting objective facts and high-quality content, and provide readers with neutral and unbiased news reports," it said.

The Sing Tao Daily is one of Hong Kong's longest-running newspapers, founded in 1938 by Aw Boon Haw, a wealthy overseas Chinese businessman.

Facing financial troubles, his daughter Sally Aw sold the controlling stake to a private equity fund of Lazard in 1999. It was acquired in 2001 by Charles Ho's listed company Global China Technology Group.

Another source said that Sing Tao News Corp. has really made most of its money in overseas markets in recent years, especially in the American Chinese community, where it is highly influential.

Its reporters may now face problems applying for press accreditation to report on Congress.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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