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In the United States, it is hard to find Chinese-language media that are not influenced or controlled by the CCP. The growth of the CCP’s media network has been facilitated to a great extent by the widespread use of China’s WeChat messaging service within America’s Chinese language communities.
Collectively, through controlling WeChat accounts, the CCP can squeeze out independent Chinese-language media and community groups, monopolize the information environment, and put more people under its control. This has the potential for depriving Chinese communities of their ability to participate independently in political discussions.
Consider this observation made by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s 2020 policy brief report (pdf) titled, “The Influence Environment: A Survey of Chinese-Language Media in Australia.” The report says, “WeChat, a Chinese social media app created by Tencent, may be driving the most substantial and harmful changes ever observed in Australia’s Chinese-language media sector.”
“WeChat has accelerated the growth of CCP-aligned media. Its account registration restrictions and unclear censorship process have discouraged political content, contributing to a lack of political awareness among Chinese communities and leaving them vulnerable to manipulation.”
In another report titled “The Party Speaks for You,” the Australian Strategic Policy Institute identified 26 Chinese-language WeChat media accounts registered to a subsidiary of China News Service within the United Front Work Department. Media outlets that hold critical views of the CCP, such as The Epoch Times or other anti-communist media, are excluded from establishing WeChat accounts to distribute their news.
Every news item published by WeChat is censored by the CCP before it is distributed, even if it was written by a New York media outlet for its local Chinese community. The CCP also censors WeChat content produced by individuals. Ling Fei, a Chinese blogger in New York, said in early February this year he was permanently banned from his WeChat public account “The Horns of Ling Fei.” His offense was claiming that the U.S. F-22 fighter jet that shot down China’s spy balloon had fired only one missile when the Chinese regime had claimed three missiles were used. Ling said he simply posted what he believed was true.
Another WeChat blog account permanently banned by the CCP is “Moshang USA.” The blog seeks to tell the truth about American life to Chinese residents and immigrants worldwide. The blog’s editor, Lydia Liu, said her content has been repeatedly censored for conflicting with the CCP’s stances on trade and the COVID-19 pandemic. She says the overseas Chinese live in a control mechanism under the long arm of the CCP. “Now all Chinese WeChat circles can only promote CCP-approved content, otherwise they cannot survive in WeChat circles. It is equivalent to turning the entire Chinese community into a spy community and becoming the CCP’s Trojan horse. Isn’t this trying to kill us?”
CCP Ramps Up Overseas Propaganda
As U.S.-China relations deteriorate, the CCP has increased its nationalist propaganda, sparking unnecessary tension inside America’s Chinese communities.
For example, since reporting on the CCP’s COVID-19 pandemic, The Epoch Times has had its newspaper boxes defaced by hate graffiti, claiming the outlet is a “Chinese traitor.” This happened multiple times.
For instance, on May 2, 2022, The Epoch Times had over 44 of its newspaper boxes defaced by graffiti in downtown Manhattan.
In addition to using WeChat to censor its opponents, the CCP invests in advertising to support pro-CCP media outlets and to pressure any that criticizes them. For example, in 2016, the pharmacy at Australian National University was pressured to stop distributing The Epoch Times. The pressure came from the Chinese Student Association whose president threatened to boycott the pharmacy unless the Epoch Times newspaper box was removed.
The extent of the CCP’s influence on American society has not been thoroughly researched and the U.S. government has yet to find a way to limit that influence without violating its own “freedom of the press” principle.
The actions the U.S. government did take against the CCP back in 2020 were to classify 15 of China’s U.S. media outlets as “foreign missions.” But this move still allows China’s unofficial media partners to continue manipulating the news on behalf of the CCP.
The report issued by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute lists several ideas for regulating the CCP’s influence over Chinese-language media in Australia. Here are a few of those ideas: educating politicians about the security, privacy, and political activity implications of WeChat; encouraging Chinese people to use platforms other than WeChat; placing pressure on WeChat together with allied countries; improving public reporting on foreign media ownership; having the Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce investigate and intervene when foreign control or influence over media isn’t transparent; exploring new legislation to extend media regulation to the internet and social media.
Fang Wei, a commentator and American scholar, believes one additional option the United States has in attempting to limit the CCP’s overseas infiltration was proposed by former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Fang said, “The United States only needs one simple action: ‘reciprocity,’ without involving any laws, to limit CCP infiltration activities in the United States.”
According to Fang, Pompeo’s idea of reciprocating or treating China the same way they treat the United States “is in line with the Constitution, which gives the federal government great discretion over foreign nationals. Moreover, the U.S. can accomplish this without any laws.”
If the United States decides against the reciprocal treatment of China, Dr. Xiaoxu Sean Lin, a Chinese immigrant to the United States and political commentator, suggests the U.S. Congress may want to examine the scope and severity of the CCP’s false propaganda activities. Then based on the data, outline measures to address those activities once and for all. This is apparently what the U.S. Congress has decided to do.
In January of this year, the U.S. House of Representatives formed the Strategic Competition with China Committee led by Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.). In February, Gallagher held a rally in New York’s Chinatown, sounding the first shot in the fight against the CCP’s infiltration. He said his China Task Force would serve as an incubator or accelerator for legislation aimed at the CCP.