How One Chinese Media Outlet Subtly Spreads Propaganda in US and Beyond

July 28, 2020 Updated: July 28, 2020

China News Service (CNS) is among the nine Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-controlled media outlets recently designated by the U.S. State Department as foreign missions. In addition to spreading the CCP’s rhetoric, CNS plays an essential role in propping up a large number of Chinese-language pro-Beijing media outlets outside of China.

“Party-owned media must. . . embody the party’s will, safeguard the party’s authority … their actions must be highly consistent with the party.” These words of Chinese leader Xi Jinping were quoted by the U.S. State Department in a June 22 statement announcing the administration’s designation of four additional CCP-owned media outlets as foreign missions.

Along with five outlets designated back in February, the nine media outlets are “beholden to the CCP,” rather than to the truth, the state department said.

Some of the designated media, such as CCTV, CGTN, China Daily, and Global Times, have been prominent vehicles in spreading Chinese propaganda on international social media platforms.

But a lesser-known outlet, China News Service, has also plays a significant role in the CCP’s propaganda apparatus.

Targeting Overseas Chinese, Directed by United Front Work Department

The China News Service website went online in 1995 in Hong Kong. It claims to be among the earliest online news services in Asia. Today, China News Service employs more than 2,000 people worldwide, with 46 bureaus. In the United States, the media outlet has offices in New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

On its official website, China News Service says that “compatriots from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, overseas Chinese, and related foreigners” are its main audience. As a state-run news organization, CNS maintains close ties to the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office within China’s cabinet, the State Council. On the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office’s website, one of its eight “functional departments” is a propaganda department, which “manages directly affiliated news agencies.” Although it does not name CNS as a “directly affiliated” agency, Chinese news reports often introduce CNS as such.

The Overseas Chinese Affairs Office is part of the CCP’s United Front Work Department, which is charged with spreading Beijing’s agenda domestically and abroad. For example, the deputy director and Party secretary of the United Front Work Department, Xu Yousheng, is also the head of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office.

Main Content Provider for Chinese-Language Outlets

CNS provides content, free of charge, to partner media—mostly Chinese-language outlets based outside China. Such outlets range from media companies with many international offices, like Phoenix TV, to small local Chinese newspapers, such as the San Diego Chinese Tribune.

A November 2018 investigation by the Financial Times found that “party-affiliated outlets were reprinting or broadcasting” content by CNS and another state media outlet, Xinhua, “in at least 200 nominally independent Chinese-language publications around the world.”

A 2018 report by the California-based think tank Hoover Institute explained how these pro-Beijing outlets promote the regime’s agenda internationally: “The Party directed its media outlets in their overseas work to support socialism with Chinese characteristics, push the policies of reform and opening up, and oppose hegemonism, or, in other words, fight against Western ideological control.”

Promoting Ideological Consistency Among Chinese-Language Media

CNS also hosts a bi-annual conference for Chinese media outlets around the world. Since 2001, the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office and CNS have been hosting the Forum on the Global Chinese Language Media. The conference is attended by representatives from hundreds of Chinese-language periodicals around the world.

In the first conference held in 2001, then-president of CNS Guo Zhaojin said that “a key goal of the meeting was to persuade participating overseas Chinese media to use reports from China News Service instead of taking them from competing Chinese-language news services from Taiwan or from the West,” according to the Hoover Institute report.

The report also pointed out that the conference appears to serve as a platform for Beijing to convince critics to modify their tone and to ensure that overseas Chinese-language newspapers follow the Party’s line. Essays released during the conferences praised the CCP’s censorship of viewpoints that are different from Beijing and stressed the necessity of “properly telling China’s story,” echoing Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s instructions.

The 10th conference was held in October 2019. Over 400 Chinese-language media executives from 61 countries attended.

From the United States alone, over 60 outlets attended, such as Phoenix TV, Zhong Guo Daily News, Washington Chinese Daily News, AATTV, World Journal, The Washington Chinese Post, AACNTV, East West Forum, Erie Chinese Journal, Hawaii Chinese TV, HTTV US, Chicago China News & Digest, China Times, San Diego Chinese Tribune, Southern Chinese Daily News, and USA-SINO News.