A major pro-Beijing newspaper has registered its U.S. subsidiary as a foreign agent after being compelled to do so by the Justice Department, as Washington steps up scrutiny of Chinese influence efforts in the United States.
Sing Tao U.S., whose parent company operates Hong Kong’s oldest newspaper, distributes newspapers in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. It also runs a U.S.-based radio network and the Chinese Times, a daily newspaper that has become dormant.
Sing Tao disputed the Justice Department’s decision, stating that its U.S. entities are “similarly situated to other for-profit media companies operating in the United States,” according to an Aug. 23 filing with the department.
While the newspaper isn’t formally affiliated with the Chinese regime, Sing Tao has taken a strong pro-Beijing stance under the oversight of pro-Beijing businessman Charles Ho Tsu-kwok, who for more than two decades has chaired Sing Tao’s Hong Kong-based parent company, Sing Tao News Corporation Ltd.
Ho has since 1998 served as a standing committee member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Beijing’s top advisory body that also oversees Chinese influence operations worldwide.
During the large-scale pro-democracy movement in recent years, the Hong Kong-based businessman has frequently lashed out at the city’s protesters in editorials and interviews and often blamed the local government for being too “soft” on them. Sing Tao’s Hong Kong edition also ran front-page ads echoing Beijing’s anti-protester rhetoric after police violently suppressed protesters.
In 2001, the year he took over the company, Ho entered into a joint venture with a subsidiary of Chinese state media Xinhua to form an information service platform called Xinhua Online. He sold most of his stakes in Sing Tao in June to Chinese real estate developer Kwok Hiu-ting.
A former Sing Tao staff member said Ho was a frontman for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which ultimately called the shots in the organization.
“To say that it’s a foreign agent is not misrepresenting it at all,” the former employee told The Epoch Times on condition of anonymity. “It’s under the CCP’s influence in many respects.”
That influence, the former employee said, includes dictating what content goes on the paper’s front page and inside pages, its editorial stance, and frontpage headline selections.
The CCP exerted control by stationing designated personnel at the publication’s office, appointing those with pro-Beijing viewpoints as editorial staff, and exerting pressure on the newspaper’s advertisement partners, the person said.
More than half of the Sing Tao U.S. content is outsourced to Star Production Limited in Shenzhen, a Chinese city bordering Hong Kong, the filings show.
Sing Tao U.S. has also maintained friendly ties with Chinese diplomats in the United States.
Successive consul generals of the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco have attended Sing Tao’s birthday events. The most recent one, a banquet marking Sing Tao’s 83rd year, took place in early August, during which Consul General Wang Donghua repeated the CCP’s rhetoric that the United States was trying to contain a benign China, according to the consulate’s website.
Former deputy consul general for the New York Chinese Consulate Zhang Meifang in 2013 also praised Sing Tao as “a key window for Americans to have a true, comprehensive, and objective understanding of China,” and promised to provide “support within the consulate’s power” to “tell the ‘Chinese dream’ to U.S. mainstream society,” a post from the consulate’s website said.
During the same event, Mei Jianguo, then the chief executive director for Sing Tao U.S.’s East Coast edition, who is now overseeing Sing Tao’s entire U.S. edition, expressed appreciation for Zhang’s visit and vowed to be a “civil level public diplomacy messenger … and further U.S.-China relations.”
In February 2020, as the pandemic began to take a toll on the United States, Sing Tao U.S.’s West Coast edition was a key organizer in raising $150,000 in funds to purchase a total of 130,000 N95 and regular masks for Wuhan, where COVID-19 first began.
Sing Tao joins Chinese state-run media outlets CGTN and Xinhua as registered foreign agents for Beijing.
The Justice Department declined to comment. Sing Tao didn’t respond to an inquiry from The Epoch Times by press time.