Former California Mayor Talks About How China Courted Him

September 28, 2020 Updated: September 28, 2020

Commentary

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has aimed to gain favor with local-level U.S. officials as part of a long-term plan to gain influence in the United States, says China-focused human rights advocate Dr. Chen Wen. One such official is former Mayor of Costa Mesa, California, Jim Righeimer.

Righeimer told The Epoch Times that when he was first elected to office as a city councilmember, he started receiving free China Daily newspapers. “China Daily is one of the mouthpiece newspapers, run by the Chinese government,” Chen told The Epoch Times in a joint interview with Righeimer. 

The articles in the paper were, of course, overwhelmingly positive about the Party and how everything is running in China under that regime, Righeimer said. 

Chinese officials invited him on an all-expenses-paid trip to China. He went, with the purpose of seeking out a sister city for Costa Mesa, but paid his own way. He was groomed there to have a very limited, positive view of Communist China, he said. 

Chen, who grew up in China amid the Great Cultural Revolution—which killed millions, targeting intellectuals and “class enemies,” and nearly wiped out China’s historical culture—has become an activist raising awareness about the ills of the CCP. 

She works with Amnesty International and has given over 200 presentations on Chinese culture, history, and human rights in Southern California. 

She said Righeimer’s experience is a fairly common one for U.S. officials and that the CCP uses Western media and other channels to influence the perception of the regime abroad.

China Daily

“When I was on the city council in Costa Mesa, and I first got elected, the first thing I see in my mailbox over there is the China Daily News,” Righeimer said. “The first time that I got it was literally the first day I was in office.”

All the other councilmembers also got their free China Daily paper, he said. 

Chen said China Daily has also paid for inserts, called “China Watch,” in over 30 mainstream newspapers, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times.

This propaganda tactic has been well-documented. The Hoover Institution at Stanford University reported in 2018 that “rough estimates from newspaper executives indicate that China Daily pays $250,000 for each insert in major US dailies.” 

“Often, it’s hard to tell that China Watch’s material is an ad,” the report stated.

It also detailed the influence the CCP tries to gain over local U.S. officials: “American mayors, county executives, and governors … travel to China often and host an unending stream of Chinese visitors.

“The age of innocent engagement is over, and this is now true for American local officials as well as for representatives of the US federal government. Because most PRC [People’s Republic of China] attempts to influence American opinion and practices occur at the local level.”

The NGO Reporters Without Borders published a report last year titled “China’s Pursuit of a New World Media Order.” It details the massive investments the CCP has made in “developing media capable of reaching an international public.”

“In the spirit of the Beijing regime, journalists are not intended to be a counter-power but rather to serve the propaganda of the states,” said the organization’s secretary general, Christophe Deloire, in an introduction to the report. He urged people to resist. 

The CCP’s “Three Warfares” military doctrine includes psychological warfare, legal warfare, and media warfare. 

Righeimer said of China Daily, “It just kind of softens you up. It gives you a positive [feeling]. As Americans, we want to think of China as being good and positive. All the Chinese people that you know in the United States, you get along with them, they’re all fine, but there’s a distinction between … the Chinese people and the Chinese party.” 

Trip to China

When Righeimer went to China, he said “they have people there constantly, from breakfast to dinner.” 

“You start to notice there’s some restrictions on what you can do. When you go to China, the hotel actually is responsible for you. So you fill out a form, you give them a copy of your passport, and they have to know where you’re at,” he said. 

Chen said, “Basically, you enter a bubble. You only see whatever they allow you to see.”

Righeimer visited a 10-story shopping mall in Beijing and met the owner. He asked him questions about how he went about developing the mall: “How do you build it, how do you get the financing?” 

“He didn’t know anything,” Righeimer said. “A guy that knows nothing about real estate owns a $300 million building in the middle of Beijing.”

After visiting the owner’s office and talking with him longer, Righeimer got the impression that this property and its development was gifted to him by the CCP in exchange for work he did to procure jet technology from around the world for the regime. 

Land in China is state-owned and merely leased to people, who may own the structures on top of it but not the land itself. “His gift from the Chinese Communist Party was the land lease on this property,” Righeimer said.

Chen said, “When you think about how the Chinese Communist Party works, it’s more precise to compare it with mafia. … Everything is run like a mafia,” Chen said. Such an exchange of favors is common, she said. 

It amazed Righeimer, who has experience in U.S. real estate, that everything works on leases in China. In the United States, that level of uncertainty is unusual: What if the landowner chooses not to renew the lease? Lease renewals have created uncertainty in China as well; the length of leases and fees for renewal have been topics of concern for years. 

True China

Chen makes a clear distinction between the CCP and the Chinese people, though in China people are taught to think of the two as one and the same.

“[As students] in China, we were taught—since we were babies—that Communist Party saved your life. Communist Party will save people all over the world. And you have to respect the Communist Party more than you respect your parents,” she said.

“We were always told whenever your parents say something against the Communist Party, you should report them to the police, because the Party is closer to you than your parents. … I never heard about anything different until I came to the U.S.” 

Epoch Times Photo
Dr. Chen Wen, a biologist by trade, is a public speaker and human rights advocate for people in China. (Courtesy of Chen Wen)

Chen has been in the United States for 26 years now and has come to understand the difference between the CCP and China itself, or the Chinese people.

“We are people inheriting 5,000 years of culture and history from China. And Chinese Communist Party took over China about 70 years ago, and ruled China. And we Chinese people, we have been heavily brainwashed,” Chen said. 

Human Rights

She spoke of prisoners of conscience, including practitioners of the spiritual discipline Falun Gong, as well as Christians and Uyghurs. 

“The Communist Party has been taking their organs for transplant,” Chen said. “Here in the U.S., people typically wait for years—we’re talking about three to seven years—waiting for kidney transplant or heart transplant, because you wait until someone dies from a car accident who has the same blood-type match,” Chen said.

“But then you can go to China, and they can find donors within 24 hours … because they have millions of Falun Gong, Christians, and Uyghurs in prison. And once they were detained, they immediately go through blood-type tests, and then they can find donors immediately from their big database.”

When a U.S. official is invited to China, Chen said, that official won’t be shown the detention centers where Falun Gong practitioners are held, where they’re shown propaganda films all day aiming to have them renounce their faith, where they’re deprived of food and sleep, where they aren’t allowed to talk or use the bathroom. 

“When Americans are naive about all these human rights abuses in China, when they are naive about the true nature of Communist Party, they will say, ‘What’s wrong with communism? I’m fine with letting communism come to the U.S.,’” Chen said. 

‘Have Your Eyes Open’

“We are talking about a war with China with brainwashing Americans,” Chen said.

“If a stranger from China came to tell you how bad the Communist Party is, the human rights, you may say, ‘I don’t know you; I don’t trust what you said. You have a credibility issue.’ But it makes a huge difference if … your neighbor comes to tell you, ‘I’ve been to China. It was great.’ You believe that.”

Also, it makes sense for them to court local-level officials she said, because “Today you’re just a mayor. Maybe tomorrow you will run for Congress. … They can really shape the future of policy.” 

She has also heard of educators invited to lecture in China. They come back thinking the people there really support the CCP. But, she said, it’s because those students attending the lectures have been hand-picked. Their comments and questions are scripted. 

Righeimer’s message to U.S. officials is, “[You have] got to have your eyes open. People aren’t sending you newspapers just to be friendly; there’s a reason behind it.”

“California Insider” is an Epoch Times show available on YouTube.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.