United States

Beijing’s Media Influence Efforts
Very High
53 85
Local Resilience and Response
Very High
72 85
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least influence) to 85 (most influence)

header1 Key findings

  • Increased use of covert and coercive tactics: The methods deployed by Chinese state actors to influence the US media space have evolved since 2019. Disinformation campaigns, the use of paid social media influencers, cyberattacks on news outlets, and cyberbullying of journalists have occurred with greater frequency as Chinese state media outlets struggle to gain a mainstream audience in the United States, and US public opinion toward Beijing became more negative.
  • Limited impact: Mainstream media coverage in the United States is broadly independent and critical of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Outlets commonly feature reporting on rights abuses, alternative perspectives from China, including accounts by victims of persecution, and investigations of Chinese companies and CCP political or media influence in the country. Narratives preferred by Beijing have gained some traction and repetition on the extremes of the political spectrum (both left and right) and among some state and local political and business leaders. For the most part, however, public opinion across the political spectrum is broadly unfavorable toward the Chinese regime, and aggressive messaging from Chinese officials tends to backfire (see Impact).
  • Paid inserts, local radio programming, and video partnerships: Chinese state media content reaches news consumers in the United States directly through offline and online paid inserts from China Daily or the Xinhua news agency in national and regional news outlets, such as Time magazine, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, CNN, and Foreign Policy. Filings with the Department of Justice indicate that from January 2019 to October 2021, China Daily paid print and online publications at least $7 million to carry such material. At least two radio stations in the Washington, DC, and New York City areas broadcast China Radio International (CRI) programming. The clarity and frequency of labeling attached to the Chinese state content for US news consumers is inconsistent. During the coverage period, several major news outlets—notably the New York Times and the Washington Post—discontinued previous agreements on paid inserts. Newswires offering video content and information providers like Discovery and National Geographic, have also established content sharing or coproduction partnerships with Chinese state entities, although the content reaching US audiences from these agreements remains limited (see Propaganda).
  • Broad influence efforts, including subsidized press trips: Beijing maintains an arsenal of tactics and channels to influence the US information landscape. Diplomats publish op-eds and appear in interviews in mainstream news outlets; vloggers are approached with payment and travel opportunities; and CCP–friendly entities and companies like Huawei and the China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF) subsidize trips for reporters and other opinion leaders to China. Many of these activities are aided by US-based public relations firms in exchange for generous payments from CCP-linked entities. Even as regulators have restricted the presence of Chinese state-owned firms in the US telecommunications infrastructure, social media applications owned by China-based companies with track records of censorship and surveillance within China, notably Tencent’s WeChat and ByteDance’s TikTok, have gained a large following among US users (see Propaganda, Disinformation campaigns).
  • Emerging disinformation campaigns: Multiple disinformation campaigns targeting US audiences were documented during the coverage period. Thousands of fake accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube were detected and shuttered for inauthentic behavior, including manipulation of the discourse about events within China (such as prodemocracy protests in Hong Kong and rights abuses in Xinjiang), US relations with Taiwan, the reputation of US-based critics of the Chinese Communist Party, and domestic issues like COVID-19 or US political divisions. Genuine user engagement with the accounts and their impact on public debate appeared limited, but isolated examples reached mainstream audiences. No such campaigns were documented prior to 2019 (See Disinformation campaigns).
  • Wide-ranging censorship efforts: State-linked actors have deployed a relatively wide range of tactics in an attempt to restrict coverage opportunities for US correspondents in China, inhibit the operations of news outlets, and induce self-censorship. These include obstructing the movement of foreign correspondents, restricting their visas and expelling them from the country, blocking websites and apps in China, retaliating against the families of US-based journalists in China, and engaging in cyberattacks against major news outlets. Increasingly, online actors have verbally attacked or trolled ethnic Chinese journalists working for US media, especially women. These activities have inhibited certain reporting and had a notable economic impact on US news outlets, though they continue to carry critical coverage (see Censorship).
  • Control over diaspora media: Chinese Communist Party–linked media—especially state broadcaster Chinese Central Television (CCTV) and the pro-Beijing Phoenix TV—retain a strong foothold among Chinese-speaking communities in the United States, as do several pro-Beijing newspapers. WeChat is widely used among the diaspora, and some Chinese Americans—political dissidents, journalists, and average users—have reportedly faced censorship on the platform for sharing content that is critical of the party. Several mainstream US outlets have Chinese-language editions online, while other US-based outlets founded by Chinese Americans continue to publish news on the internet, on television and radio, and in print that is critical of the Chinese Communist Party. They often host political debates and cultural activities (see Diaspora media).
  • Robust civil society and government response: A high level of expertise on China in academic and national media circles, bipartisan public skepticism about the Chinese regime, and a strong legal infrastructure contribute to a high degree of resilience in the face of Chinese Communist Party influence efforts. Laws governing foreign-agent registration and investment screening have been applied to Chinese media influence efforts, and strong legal protections against defamation suits support investigative journalism. Political leaders and government agencies have shown increasing awareness of the potential security challenges posed by Chinese Communist Party media influence, holding congressional hearings and creating new bureaucratic initiatives and government policies to address the problem. For example, since February 2020, the US government has treated Chinese state media operations as extensions of China’s diplomatic missions in the country. News reporters, civil society groups, and technology firms have taken steps to monitor media influence and disinformation, uncovering networks of fake accounts and amplifying filings on paid inserts (see Resilience).
  • Vulnerabilities and problematic pushback: Enforcement of laws like the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which enhance transparency surrounding Chinese state media activities, remains incomplete, and interagency coordination on how to respond to the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to influence US politics is nascent. Political polarization and growing distrust in news outlets that are seen as aligned with specific political parties create a fertile environment for disinformation campaigns aimed at enhancing societal divisions, and for domestic actors to repeat talking points from Beijing, even if inaccurate, in pursuit of perceived political gain over their rivals. Growing anti-China sentiment during the COVID-19 pandemic is believed to have contributed to verbal and physical attacks against Asian Americans, while public opinion polling of Chinese and Taiwanese Americans on relevant topics is lacking (see Vulnerabilities).

header2 Background

The United States has a status of Free in Freedom in the World 2023, the latest edition of Freedom House’s annual report on political rights and civil liberties,1 and Free in Freedom on the Net 2022, the latest edition of Freedom House’s annual report on internet freedom.2 It is a federal republic whose people benefit from a vibrant political system, a strong rule-of-law tradition, robust freedoms of expression and religious belief, and a wide array of other civil liberties. However, in recent years its democratic institutions have suffered erosion, as reflected in rising political polarization and extremism, partisan pressure on the electoral process, and dysfunction in the criminal justice system, as well as increased attacks on journalists.

The United States’ press is free and diverse, operating under some of the strongest constitutional protections in the world. The media environment retains a high degree of pluralism, with newspapers, news magazines, traditional broadcasters, cable television networks, and news websites competing for readers and audiences. While many larger outlets have prospered, independent local sources of news have struggled to keep up with technology-driven changes in news consumption and advertising, contributing to significant ownership consolidation in some sectors and fewer news outlets serving local communities. A growing number of Americans look to social media and other online sources for political news, increasing their exposure to disinformation and propagandistic content of both foreign and domestic origin.

The United States and China established diplomatic relations on January 1, 1979, but the United States has retained close economic and unofficial diplomatic relations with Taiwan. For decades, the United States and China built up increased trade, investment, educational, and other bilateral ties, even while American elected officials periodically applied pressure on Beijing to improve its human rights record. However, as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has tightened its political and economic controls under Xi Jinping and engaged in more aggressive behavior outside of mainland China—including in contravention of international agreements—relations between the two have become more strained and confrontational over the past decade.

US-China commercial relations are among the largest in the world, although the scale has declined in recent years, arguably reducing US vulnerability to potential economic coercion from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In 2020, China was the largest goods-trading partner of the United States (with trade totaling $659.5 billion or 3 percent of US gross domestic product [GDP]) and the United States’ third-largest export market, although trade declined following imposition of tariffs on certain goods by the US government in an attempt to rebalance the trade relationship.3 In 2019, Japan overtook China as the largest holder of US debt4 and China accounted for only 1 percent of foreign direct investment stock in the United States,5 with such investment experiencing a multiyear drop from a 2016 peak.6 The United States is not a part of the Belt and Road Initiative or any PRC-led multilateral grouping.

Although the shift in China policy began under the administration of US president Donald Trump, it has continued under President Joseph R. Biden, whose administration has retained most trade restrictions and imposed sanctions on numerous Chinese officials, Hong Kong officials, and PRC companies over their involvement in human rights violations. Despite political polarization, concern over repression in China and CCP influence in the United States remains a consistently bipartisan issue. Chinese officials’ initial cover-up of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, supply chain problems that emerged during the pandemic, Beijing’s gutting of Hong Kong’s autonomy, and the regime’s support for Russia’s unprovoked, illegal invasion of Ukraine have further galvanized US policymakers’ skepticism of Beijing’s ability to be a responsible international stakeholder and clarified the threat that its authoritarian political system poses to democratic freedoms, national security, and public health.

The United States has a relatively large and diverse Chinese diaspora community, numbering 5.4 million (approximately 1.5 percent of the population) nationwide,7 and highly concentrated in New York and California.8 In addition to various waves of migration from mainland China, 9 there are an estimated 230,000 immigrants from Hong Kong10 and at least 409,000 immigrants from Taiwan.11 The United States is also one of the largest destinations for Chinese students, who totaled 317,000 during the 2020–21 academic year, a drop from a peak the previous year (prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic).12 The United States is also home to several large contingents of ethnic and religious exile communities, including an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Uyghurs,13 26,000 members of the Tibetan diaspora,14 and at least 10,000 active Falun Gong practitioners.15 Many members of these communities try to raise awareness of abuses their counterparts in China face and advocate for US policies to address them. This has made them a particular target of transnational repression from Chinese party-state security agencies or proxy organizations,16 against which US law enforcement has taken stronger action in recent years.17

header3 Beijing’s Media Influence Efforts

Propaganda and promotion of favored narratives


Chinese state media, official representatives, and their proxies sought during the coverage period to promote a variety of narratives, talking points, and in some cases, proven falsehoods. One set of such narratives related to broad perceptions of China, the Chinese government, and US-China relations. These included encouraging bilateral trade and investment, relaying an optimistic economic outlook for China,1 as well as relatively benign content such as portrayal of Chinese traditional culture or opportunities for tourism. When focused on ethnic minority regions, Xinjiang, or Tibet, these took on a more politicized purpose of downplaying suppression of Indigenous culture and human rights. As in other countries, state media, Chinese officials, and American supporters typically sought to conflate China and the CCP,2 portray the Chinese government as a responsible international stakeholder,3 and depict the CCP or Xi Jinping himself as the rightful and “elected” leaders of China.4 A common refrain by state media and Chinese ambassadors to the United States was to create a false equivalence between governance and human rights challenges in the United States and much more systematic abuses and authoritarian practices in the PRC.5

Critical statements by US officials or commentators or policy actions taken by the US government that challenged Chinese trade policies, governance, or technology companies were framed as the US irresponsibly engaging in a “New Cold War,”6 being “imprudent,”7 or destabilizing the Asia-Pacific region, while dismissing evidence of legitimate economic and security concerns or violations of international law and agreements by the Chinese government.8 As US-China relations deteriorated, Chinese officials and narratives sought to portray China as a willing and reliable partner, while conflating criticism of the regime or concern over its influence efforts in the United States with racism.9 Content also often sought to downplay, whitewash, or outright deny the reality of systematic and severe human rights violations in China or cyberespionage targeting the United States.

From this perspective, certain content sought to address specific topics or defame communities, activists, or other critics of the CCP. In 2019, as prodemocracy and antigovernment protests spread in Hong Kong, Chinese state media tried to defend police violence, while spreading falsehoods of protesters using military-grade weapons or the US government providing financial support for the grassroots movement.10 After adoption of the National Security Law (NSL) in Hong Kong, Chinese official narratives sought to downplay or deny the dangers the legislation posed to civil liberties, asserting that it upholds the “one country, two systems” framework and would make Hong Kong “more stable.”11

The Chinese government’s systematic suppression of Turkic minorities in Xinjiang and the US official designation of the repression campaign as genocide—first by the Trump administration and then by the Biden administration—became another priority topic. The regime’s propaganda accelerated as evidence of mass incarceration, forced sterilization, forced labor, and directives driving the campaign originating with top leaders—including Xi himself—emerged from media investigations, academic research, rights-group reports, and refugee testimonies. Responses from Chinese official sources ranged from outright denial of abuses, claiming existing evidence were “lies” and “fabrications”12 to distortion of extralegal detention facilities being “vocational centers” meant to counter terrorism,13 to attempts to discredit documentation through sharing falsehoods on social media.14

Other CCP critics or independent voices among exile and diaspora communities in the United States have also been targeted. Examples since 2017 have included the singling out of ethnic Chinese women working for US news outlets,15 fake Twitter accounts attempting to discredit DC-based Chinese democracy activist Yang Jianli,16 state media criticism of former US secretary of State Mike Pompeo,17 and China Daily’s China Watch inserts in major newspapers containing misleading depictions of mass population transfer programs in Tibet18 or slandering the New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts group in an attempt to discourage people from attending the show.19

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the origins of the virus and the Chinese government’s initial response became another priority theme for Chinese state media and officials, particularly as it related to denying or downplaying the Chinese government’s culpability in covering up the initial signs of a new contagious viral outbreak in Wuhan in late 2019 and early 2020.20 At the center of this campaign were claims that the virus somehow originated in the United States, including the disproven conspiracy theory that it came from the Fort Detrick military facility and was brought to China in October 2019 by a visiting US delegation.21 As the virus spread globally, other aspects of this narrative involved asserting the superiority of the Chinese government’s response to a bumbling US government one, such as the alleged efficiency of China’s ability to build field hospitals within days.22

Beyond the coverage period, after the Russian regime’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the spreading of Russian propaganda talking points, content from state-run Russian sources, and defense of the Chinese government’s unwillingness to condemn the invasion or participate in international sanctions became another common theme.23

While media coverage in the United States remains relatively independent and heavily critical of the Chinese government and CCP, some of these narratives have occasionally gained traction among parts of the population or been repeated uncritically by US officials, politicians, or commentators, enhancing their credibility and spread (see Impact and Public Opinion, Vulnerabilities).


Key avenues of content dissemination

Chinese state media outlets are available directly to American news consumers on cable, online, and in print, and most have local correspondents at least in New York and Washington DC, but their actual US audience and impact appears limited. CGTN America, the US branch of the international arm of Chinese state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV), employs over 100 people in the United States, and claims to reach 30 million US households (likely due to its availability in common cable packages).24 Yet a review of the station’s YouTube channels shows most videos receive only a few hundred views, suggesting limited public interest in its content.25 Similarly, China Daily¸ the CCP’s flagship English-language newspaper, has reported a circulation of 150,00026 and is visible at hotels, newsstands, and Congressional offices,27 but between November 2020 and April 2021, it reported only $30,000 in subscription revenue, indicating that most copies are likely distributed free of charge.28

More notable, and arguably influential, are several ways in which Chinese state-produced content and preferred narratives reach audiences via local, privately owned outlets or social media platforms—in some cases, without clear labeling. These avenues of dissemination include:

Chinese diplomats’ media appearances and social media presence: PRC diplomats have emerged since 2019 as active social media personalities, fairly frequent commentators, and interviewees in major news outlets. Arguably the largest US audiences reached were via interviews by the Chinese ambassador on television and radio with prominent hosts like CNN’s Fareed Zakaria29 and Christiana Amanpour30 and NPR’s Steve Inskeep, and on NBC’s Face the Nation.31 Collectively these garnered millions of viewers and listeners.32 At least 10 high-profile interviews occurred between January 2019 and May 2022 on topics ranging from Hong Kong to COVID-19 to the Russian regime’s invasion of Ukraine. The interviewers often challenged the ambassador to address sensitive topics like abuses in Xinjiang, the initial COVID-19 cover-up in Wuhan, or the CCP’s authoritarian rule, but PRC representatives often dodged such questions and as a result, were effectively granted access to a large, national audience to voice key Beijing talking points (see Key narratives). Former ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai (serving from 2013 to June 2021) was also a prolific author of op-eds in diverse outlets, including the Washington Post,33 New York Times,34 Politico,35 Newsweek,36 Bloomberg,37 and USA Today.38 This format allows for less immediate opportunity to challenge false or distorted claims. His successor Qin Gang (who began work in July 2021) also published multiple articles39 although not with the same frequency or profile of publication.40 The reduced number of articles may be related to the sunsetting of an agreement with the US-based public relations firm BLJ to help the Chinese embassy in “crafting, editing, and placing op-eds” that ended in June 2020.41 Regina Ip, a pro-Beijing Hong Kong official, also published an op-ed in the New York Times on October 1, 2020, titled “Hong Kong is China, Like it or Not.”42  

Between June 2019 and October 2021, PRC diplomatic outposts and individual representatives to the United States created accounts on Twitter, including not only the Chinese embassy and ambassadors in Washington DC, but also consulates in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. (This appears to be part of a broader strategy that saw Chinese diplomats around the world engaging more actively on social media.) The following of the Chicago and San Francisco consular accounts were under 5,000, but the accounts of both ambassador Cui and ambassador Qin quickly garnered a large following, with each reaching over 140,000. The tone of many of the posts is relatively mild but adheres closely to CCP talking points on life in Xinjiang or US-China relations; some posts were shared dozens or even hundreds of times, although it is not clear how many of those engaging with the posts were US residents or authentic users.43 The Chinese embassy account had a following of 108,000 as of May 2022 but had not posted any new messages since January 2021, when Twitter reportedly locked the account over a post stating that Uyghur women were no longer “baby making machines.”44 The wide access of PRC diplomatic accounts to US audiences in contrast to the heavy restrictions and overt censorship placed on US diplomats’ ability to communicate directly with Chinese news consumers and social media users has been a point of consternation for the US Department of State.45

Paid inserts in national and regional news outlets: The English-language Chinese-state-run China Daily has been the most visible and active outlet in paying mainstream US media outlets to publish supplements with its own content in print and online, although CGTN and Xinhua, as well as Chinese company Huawei, also engaged in such efforts in recent years. China Daily has been doing so for many years, although during the coverage period, the appetite for its payments and content appeared to have declined among some major outlets following greater transparency enforced in US government filings (see Resilience). In total, between January 2019 and the end of 2021, China Daily spent slightly over $7 million buying ad space online and in print in eight US media outlets, according to submissions filed with the Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA); based on past reporting evasion, the actual number maybe be larger.

In 2019–20, the expenditures and placements were concentrated primarily in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and Foreign Policy. But as the first three appeared to discontinue the partnerships, spending transitioned to Time ($1.4 million spent from Nov 2020 to October 2021), the Los Angeles Times, the US edition of the Financial Times, and USA Today. Most of the supplements are labeled in some capacity as being from China Daily without local outlets’ editorial input, although most also fail to mention the papers’ ties to the PRC government. China Daily also reported paying tens of thousands of dollars each month to the Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Chicago Tribune, Atlantic Journal-Constitution, Houston Chronicle, Boston Globe, and other local newspaper printing companies to borrow their facilities to print physical copies of China Daily.46

CGTN and Xinhua content has also appeared in an online supplement on CNN’s website, although fewer details of the arrangement are available, as the Chinese outlets did not disclose the information in their FARA filings. Nevertheless, CGTN was found to have published at least 11 sponsored ad pages on CNN during the coverage period.47 Their content ranged from commentary about Chinese culture (“8 Chinese New Year Traditions: The Dos and Don’ts”),48 to narratives more clearly aligning with CCP propaganda priorities like poverty relief campaigns (“Breaking Barriers in Kuijiu),49 and China’s technological prowess (“China’s Transportation Revolution”).50 Xinhua also ran an ad with CNN promoting the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.51

Huawei, Alibaba media influence efforts: PRC-based tech companies are also present in the US information landscape, oftentimes disseminating messages that align with their and the Chinese government’s interests with greater efficacy then official state outlets. Huawei has actively reached out to journalists to try and shape the US narrative about the company, retaining a public relations firm to schedule interviews, set up virtual town halls, organize podcast interviews, and facilitate television appearances for Huawei executives. In the first six months of 2021, Ruder Finn, the public relations firm, reached out on more than 80 occasions to US media outlets, according to the firm’s FARA disclosures.52 The outreach effort cost Huawei nearly $800,000 in those six months. On one occasion, Huawei ghostwrote an article for MIT scholar Nicholas Negroponte.53 The May 2019 article, titled “Don’t Ban Huawei,” called on the United States to pursue greater cooperation with Chinese tech firms. The article was published in Negroponte’s name in the publication Fast Company without disclosing the link to Huawei, which was a major donor to the MIT Media Lab that Negroponte founded. The piece was then cited by Huawei in a cyber security position paper and picked up by Chinese state media under titles like “MIT scholar opposes US Huawei ban.”54

Huawei has also published numerous advertorials in the pages of US media outlets, appearing on the websites of the Wall Street Journal, Wired, Reuters, and Politico since 2020.55 The Journal has published 14 such pieces since 2020, many of which portray Huawei as a force for social good that is promoting digital inclusion across the world.56 Wired has also run sponsored content that criticizes the US pressure campaign against Huawei and warns about the risks of decoupling.57 While the advertorials all stated that they were sponsored by Huawei, none of them mentioned Huawei’s close ties to the CCP or Chinese government. Huawei has run advertorials on the online website of the Hill, a publication read widely by policymakers and Congressional staff in Washington, DC.58 The publication’s digital news channel, Hill TV, has also featured Huawei-sponsored content,59 including a video series titled “Misunderstood: The Huawei Story.”60

In a separate incident, Huawei directly tried to recruit Washington Post journalist Josh Rogin and other reporters to an all-expense-paid travel to Huawei’s Shenzhen headquarters. Paul Rechichi—an associate at the public relations firm Racepoint Global, registered under FARA for representing Huawei—sent an email to Rogin with the title “Huawei invites you to Shenzhen” on March 1, 2019. The trip, which was to take place the week of March 18, 2019, promised exclusive access to Huawei facilities and interviews with senior Huawei officials. Between late March and early April, several US journalists accepted Huawei’s invitation, visited Huawei’s Shenzhen facilities, and interviewed senior Huawei executives. Then, they published news stories about the tech company based on information provided to them during the trip. The Los Angeles Times published the biggest story based on the visit, a six-byline feature about Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei and the company, although it did also discuss US spying allegations against Huawei, and Huawei’s alleged role in installing spyware at the African Union (AU) headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.61

Alibaba, another Chinese tech giant, whose founder Jack Ma is a CCP member, has also provided funds for US media content. Alibaba ran an advertorial on Politico in September 2019 that sought to explain how the company is “helping American businesses.”62 Alibaba has also sponsored nearly two dozen of the Hill’s Morning Report newsletter since 2019,63 although there is no indication that the company has shaped the coverage of the newsletter, which mostly deals with congressional news. Both the Hill and Politico clearly labeled the sponsorships from Alibaba, but did not disclose the firm’s close ties to the CCP and Chinese government.

Television footage, coproductions, and other partnerships: No US television channels regularly broadcast programming coproduced with Chinese entities. However, several partnerships exist that enable CCTV footage to potentially reach US news consumers without labeling and at least one coproduced documentary aired on PBS during the coverage period. CGTN’s FARA disclosures note that the outlet’s US subsidiary has “commercial arrangements with a number of news services, including NBC News, CNN, Reuters, the AP [Associated Press], and Agence France-Presse.”64 Although no further details are provided, the image licensing collection of AP and Reuters list CCTV+ as one of nine “featured partners”65 and one of 81 “news partners,”66 respectively. The partnerships allow subscribers to the AP and Reuters collection to access images and videos produced by CCTV+ as well. The Reuters website reports that at least 6,000 CCTV+ video assets are available and over 250 videos are uploaded per week. AP’s notes that “stories are clean (logo free).” A Freedom House search for the coverage period found only five videos, all related to the CCP’s July 2021 centennial celebration. Neither of the database’s descriptions of CCTV offered any indication of the station being a state-run, CCP-controlled broadcaster.67

In December 2019, CGTN hosted a Global Media Summit to “facilitate global conversations among Chinese and international media organizations where ideas and experiences can be exchanged.”68 The summit was attended by more than 300 Chinese and foreign guests and lists as “partners” several US media outlets, including Reuters, Bloomberg, and Fox News.69 Ryan Broderick, at the time a Buzzfeed senior reporter, was one of the event’s speakers.70 In February 2021, CCTV Video News Agency virtually hosted the 10th Global Video Media Forum, which focused on the theme of “media collaboration, win-win future.”71 The event featured speeches from John Pullman, Reuters head of videos and pictures, and Paul Shanley, AP global director of video product. Both Pullman and Shanley emphasized the need for cooperation with companies like CCTV+ to ensure that global viewers can access exclusive content from China. Shanley went as far as to title his speech “Collaboration in the News Industry and How It Can Move Us Towards a Win-Win Future.”72 It remains unclear and difficult to trace how such partnerships and content-sharing affect news content reaching US audiences, but reliance on CCTV footage is likely to increase as restrictions on foreign correspondents and travel throughout China tighten due to the pandemic and political controls (see Censorship).

There have been isolated instances of US television producers partnering with Chinese state media on coproductions. In one case that received significant attention, PBS SoCal, the southern California branch of the US Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), produced Voices From the Frontline: China’s War on Poverty in association with CGTN.73 PBS SoCal, its sister station KCET, and PBS affiliates in Idaho and Las Vegas all aired the program. The documentary touted the CCP’s poverty alleviation drive in rural communities, including in Xinjiang, where it stated that the Chinese government is “moving people from remote, rural areas to more suitable locations providing homes and jobs and chance at a better life.” Soon after the program was aired, several news outlets reported critically on the partnership arrangement,74 prompting PBS’s streaming website to take down the video over concerns that it did not meet PBS’s editorial standards and for PBS SoCal to launch a review of the decision to air the documentary.75 National Geographic and the Discovery Channel also have extensive relationships with Chinese party-state entities such as CGTN and China Intercontinental Communication Center, as well as the PRC-based private company Tencent.76 These US channels coproduce nature and history documentaries with their Chinese partners that often include pro-Beijing messages.77 However, these channels do not distribute the coproduced content in the United States.78

Radio programming in Washington DC and New York: A 2015 Reuters investigation found that G&E studios, a California-based company, was leasing airspace on behalf of the Chinese state-owned China Radio International (CRI) in local radio stations across the United States, identifying at least 15 that had aired their content. As of late 2021, the status of the 15 was unclear, but at least some of these stations were continuing to air CRI content, although the audience size could not be determined. WPAT, which serves the NYC metropolitan area, signed a “commercial contract” with China Plus Radio, CRI’s podcasting service.79 Under the contract, which ran from October 2020 to October 2021, WPAT committed to broadcasting China Plus Radio content for 35 hours every week. Potomac Radio Group, which controls several stations in the Washington DC area, also signed a new contract with the China Media Group, the umbrella organization that hosts CRI and CGTN. According to FARA disclosures, the Potomac Radio Group received more than $3 million from an entity called “CGTN-CRI” for the purpose of “radio broadcasting” between mid-2019 and the end of 2021. In exchange, the Potomac Radio Group broadcast between 300 to 500 hours of the China Media Group’s English-language programs and other programs approved by China Media Group each month.80

The website of WCRW, which serves the Washington, DC area, publishes a portion of its broadcasts online.81 Most feature relatively uncontroversial topics such as Star Trek, unseasonably rainy weather in Beijing, or the worst US city to drive in. Sometimes, however, the broadcasts transition to more politically sensitive topics related to China such as the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics or Tibet, at which point subtle pro-Beijing messaging is evident. For instance, in an August 30, 2021, program with one American and one Chinese host, the latter describes her travel to Tibet on a work assignment. Much of the commentary is apolitical although she makes no mention of rights violations in the region. At one point she comments that Tibet is “very much a multiethnicity place… I guess harmonious might be the word that comes to mind,” echoing a key CCP talking point.82 The radio station website’s “about us” section notes that it “broadcasts China Radio International’s English-language broadcasting platform.” However, during audio broadcasts, the radio hosts do not identify themselves as having ties to CRI, instead introducing themselves as a local radio station.

Chinese state outlets’ social media presence: In addition to the global-facing accounts of China’s major state media outlets on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, most have secondary accounts that target news or audiences in the United States including CGTN America and Xinhua North America,83 as well as US-based correspondents with their own personal accounts.84 Although the following accrued by some of the accounts is fairly large—CGTN America has 1.5 million Facebook followers and 517,000 YouTube subscribers—user engagement appears to be very low, raising doubts about the authenticity of the followers.85

Most posts or tweets garner a handful of shares and likes and YouTube videos only a few hundred views. There are some exceptions. Freedom House counted 16 videos by CGTN America that received over 1 million views during the coverage period. The sample was evenly divided in terms of topics between soft news (embarrassing Zoom moments or a child prodigy piano player);86 reports on illegal immigration or violence, often related to the US-Mexico border;87 and COVID-19, including segments touting China’s response and quarantine of Wuhan.88 Posts by vocal and provocative state media commenters like Chen Weihua of China Daily89 and Hu Xijin, formerly of Global Times, tend to get greater engagement. But most posts that receive higher levels of engagement, be they from state media accounts or individual correspondents, tend to be in the form of replies and “quote retweets” that are accompanied by criticism or mockery from US journalists, China watchers, or ordinary users.90

Payments to YouTube influencers: Reports have emerged recently of efforts by China-linked actors to pay otherwise unaffiliated vloggers to produce or broadcast pro-Beijing content, obscuring the Chinese party-state connection for viewers.91 This may be in part due to decisions by many social media companies to require that government-affiliated media be labeled as such. Several such examples came to light in 2021. In June, American YouTuber Matthew Galat traveled across Xinjiang and recorded vlogs about his experiences in the region. Galat published nine such videos, many of which pushed pro-Beijing viewpoints.92 One video is titled “The Wonderful Life of a Minority Family in Xinjiang,” for example.93 Galat has 122,000 subscribers; the nine videos received a total of 108,000 views.94 In December 2020, Galat also published a video suggesting that “Maybe it was America first to infect the world with coronavirus,” which alone garnered nearly 120,000 views.95 In comments to the New York Times, Galat acknowledged that he had received payments from Chinese state media for some of his travels in China and that the trip to Xinjiang had been planned by CGTN.96

In September 2021, an email account associated with Hong Kong Pear Technology sent an email to the business account of Winston Sterzel and Mathew Tye, two YouTubers who had previously lived in China but then left due to nationalist trolls, police harassment, and other pressure that had ramped up since they become highly critical of the CCP.97 Initially, they (alongside more than 100 other English-speaking YouTubers also included in the email) were offered a fee in exchange for promoting tourism in Hainan. But, eventually, they were instead offered a different promotion campaign by which they would receive $2,000 to publish a client-prepared video clip claiming that the coronavirus originated in the US deer population. Sterzel and Tye did not publish the coronavirus disinformation. Instead, they each published videos exposing the attempted influence operation. In the same videos, the two YouTubers also published an email exchange between a CGTN-affiliated individual and another China-focused YouTuber generally more sympathetic to the Chinese government, Cyrus Janssen. In the March 2021 email exchange, CGTN agreed to pay a fee to Janssen to license clips from one of his recent videos. In the video, titled “Americans Don’t Understand the Truth About China,” Janssen said that “America is always going out saying that ‘China needs to change. China needs to embrace democracy.’ … But that is not true. That theory has been proven wrong and China has proven to the world that there’s another way to do this.” CGTN’s YouTube account published Janssen’s video in two separate clips in March 2021.98

In another example, in November 2021, the Chinese Consulate in New York signed a $300,000 contract with Vippi Media Inc. to promote the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics games.99 Under the contract, made public via FARA filings, Vippi Media would contract at least eight influencers active on Twitch, Instagram, or Tiktok to promote the games. The influencers in turn would post at least 24 sponsored content segments about the games, 18 of which would be posted between February and March 2022. Seventy percent of the content posted would be related to the Olympics; 20 percent would be about “cooperation and any good things in China-US relations;” and 10 percent would be related to news items about the consulate.

China-US Exchange Foundation (CUSEF) funding for journalist trips, outreach to HCBUs and Black media: CUSEF is widely viewed as belonging to the CCP’s United Front work targeting the United States, having been founded and chaired by Tung Chee-Hwa, former Hong Kong chief executive and vice-chair of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), and which includes various CPPCC members on its board.100 The foundation is registered under FARA as a foreign principle in connection to various public relations, lobbying, and other firms it has hired. CUSEF has sponsored journalists trips to China since 2009.101 According to one expert’s count, CUSEF has taken at least 127 US journalists from 40 outlets to China under the program.102 Several US journalists from Bloomberg, NPR, Quartz and possibly other outlets traveled to China in 2019 under its sponsorship.103 Subsequent articles published by some of the reporters quoted Huawei executives defending the company and its willingness to reach a security agreement with the US government,104 questioned the efficacy of US trade policies and cited China’s resilience to withstand their effects,105 or echoed CCP historical narratives of national humiliation.106 At least one of the articles was later cited by Chinese domestic state media in Chinese.107 Notably, none of the journalists known to have attended the 2019 trip were veteran China reporters.

Documentation in FARA filings points to other outreach CUSEF and its proxies conducted in the media space during the coverage period. For example, a contract with Wilson Global Communications USA for the period of January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2020 cites public relations services worth over $300,000 to assist CUSEF in “building, enhancing, and retaining positive relationships with key opinion leaders in African American communities, students from underserved communities, and African American media outlets.”108 The contract explicitly cites the goal being to enable targeted individuals to “formulate personalized perspectives that can be articulated as balanced opinions when presented with Sino-US relationship issues.”109 The filings do not include examples of news placements, but rather involve details of various delegations of Black university students and presidents of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) sponsored by CUSEF to visit China. The contract was a renewal of a similar agreement covering 2017–18 that focused on “African American leaders” but with the new addition of “African American media outlets” and “students from underserved communities.”110

Local voices promoting CCP talking points: Pro-Beijing narratives have also entered the US media landscape through friendly local commentators, politicians, and former officials, especially at the subnational level. Beijing has invested significant efforts in nurturing ties to governors, state legislators, and local officials—especially as bilateral ties at the federal level worsened during the coverage period.111 The US Heartland-China Association, for example, has partnered with CUSEF to bring local and state officials to China and cultivate friendly ties with Chinese counterparts, including a 2019 trip for mayors from Indiana, Ohio, and South Dakota.112 These efforts have in some cases translated into local and state officials deliberately or unknowingly promoting CCP narratives, such as by portraying the benefits of closer trade and other ties as unconditionally positive and “win-win,” while discounting legitimate national security risks.113 One 2019 study by a Chinese thinktank evaluated US governors as being “Friendly,” “Hardline” or “Ambiguous.” One of the key indicators informing the assessment were public statements officials had made regarding China and their state's ties to the country or Chinese government.114 Though not an objective assessment, the thinktank concluded that 17 governors were “Friendly” and 6 “Hardliners” with remaining ones having a mixed or “unclear” record.115

In other cases, individual commentators, former officials, or business executives with ties to pro-Beijing entities like CUSEF have made statements or published op-eds in US outlets echoing CCP narratives. One example is the George H.W. Bush Foundation for US-China Relations in Texas, founded by Neil Bush. He made comments in 2019 that democracy “would not work for China,” downplayed the threat posed to US national security by Beijing, and claimed that prodemocracy protesters in Hong Kong were motivated by “outside influence.” 116 Bush and other individuals affiliated with the foundation have regularly been interviewed or cited by Chinese state media like CGTN117 and China Daily,118 and have published articles in national media outlets like Foreign Affairs and in local newspapers like Missouri’s Springfield News Leader.119 Such articles during the coverage period called for a renewed “engagement consensus” on China, warned of the dangers of a “new Cold War,” and called for revived trade cooperation. In June 2021, an Axios investigation revealed that the foundation had received a $5 million grant from CUSEF—$1 million a year over five years ending in 2023—which per tax filings would entail a large proportion of the organization’s revenue.120

A few organizations and publications on the far left of the US political spectrum downplayed or denied documented human rights violations committed by the Chinese government against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities. In some of these cases, financial ties to Chinese party-state entities were evident. A detailed investigation by New Lines magazine traced a network of far-left entities and found that over the past five years, many had received funds from individuals or charities with current or prior ties to Huawei or other Chinese government-linked entities.121 In other cases, links to Beijing were unclear and repetition of CCP preferred talking points may have been the result of authentic anti-imperialist, Marxist, nationalist, or other ideological alignment—but nevertheless served to amplify and add credibility to CCP narratives for the organization’s readership. One report by Coda found that denial of CCP abuses in Xinjiang on discredited fringe websites like Grayzone had nevertheless trickled out to a wider range of progressive or left websites and outlets.122 Reports dismissing evidence of the abusive practices against Uyghurs from pro-Beijing voices like the Qiao Collective have also been published in leftist scholarly publications.123 In at least one case, this drew a detailed response from a group of other left-leaning scholars, including well-respected experts on Uyghur culture, history, and the human rights crisis, highlighting documentation of such abuses.124

Echoing of certain CCP narratives was also evident in right-wing media. In several monologues in 2020–21, prominent Fox News television commentator Tucker Carlson referred approvingly to authoritarian actions of Chinese leaders, including placing restrictions on gaming and discussions of celebrity fandom, to support critiques of the Democratic Party or progressive policies.125 Prominent authors and publications on the New Right, part of the conservative movement, have also published pieces admiring the Chinese government’s authoritarian practices, such as population transfers used in poverty alleviation, including in Xinjiang, as necessary for the common good.126


Disinformation campaigns

Multiple disinformation campaigns from PRC-linked accounts targeting US users were documented during the coverage period by social media platforms, forensic researchers, and academic institutions. For the purposes of this report, disinformation is defined as the purposeful dissemination of false or misleading content, especially through inauthentic activity—via fake accounts, for example—on global social media platforms.

The level of activity over the past three years from suspected PRC-linked campaigns points to experimentation with new tactics, as well as attempts to refine and improve media influence strategies, not only on topics related to human rights violations in China but also domestic politics in the United States.

Despite a proliferation of apparent disinformation campaigns, most posts appear to have received relatively few views from authentic users and there is no evidence suggesting a significant impact on public opinion. However, few PRC-linked disinformation campaigns targeting the United States appeared prior to 2019, so the scale of recent activity is notable.

China-specific issues: In one of the first campaigns exposed in mid-2019 and removed by Twitter and Facebook, Chinese-language speakers in the United States, among other countries, were targeted with disinformation about prodemocracy protests in Hong Kong and efforts to smear the reputation of US-based activists or other CCP enemies like billionaire Guo Wengui.127 In mid-2021, a joint investigation by ProPublica and the New York Times exposed a network of videos on YouTube by Uyghurs in Xinjiang claiming that reports of rights abuses were false. Many of the videos used suspiciously identical language and were reportedly prompted by propaganda authorities. Some of the videos specifically responded to concerns over abuses voiced by former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo.128 The videos were shared on Twitter by a network of accounts seemingly designed to avoid influence operations detection. Another coordinated campaign in 2020 by nationalistic Chinese netizens—whose precise links to the Chinese state remain uncertain—involved a network of 65 Twitter accounts that impersonated Taiwanese citizens and published posts aimed at harming Taiwan’s international reputation or giving the impression that Taiwanese users supported independence for California.129

COVID-19: In addition to global efforts by Chinese state-linked actors to spread conspiracy theories that COVID-19 originated in the United States, several coordinated campaigns sought to influence perceptions of the US government’s response to the pandemic.130 In March 2020, text and social media messages amplified by China-linked accounts carried false warnings about a nationwide COVID-19 lockdown and troop deployments to prevent looting and rioting. The campaign was an apparent attempt to incite public panic and increase distrust in the US government.131 Among thousands of YouTube channels taken down by Google in 2021 for engaging in “coordinated influence operations linked to China,” some involved content in Chinese and English with “criticism of the US response to the COVID-19 pandemic”132 and “the US COVID-19 vaccine rollout,”133 although no further details were provided in the company’s publicly available quarterly reports.

Domestic divisions, US social issues, and elections: Available evidence points to at least sporadic attempts to influence US users on domestic political issues. Among the above-mentioned set of YouTube channels from coordinated influence operations linked to China that were taken down by Google in 2021 were also ones that touched on “social issues in the US”134 and “growing US political divisions.135 ” One campaign exposed in September 2021 by FireEye and Google included posts from fake accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube that encouraged people in the United States to participate in protests, either related to COVID-19 or against anti-Asian racism.136 While there were no indications that any real-world mobilization occurred as a result, the attempt signifies a new level of brazenness in Beijing’s efforts to influence domestic political activity in the United States.137 Networks of fake accounts linked to China have also been known to try to influence views on US elections, although not on a wide scale and not necessarily in favor of one candidate or another. A Cardiff University study of a network of inauthentic accounts on Twitter found content critical of both candidates for president in the 2020 elections.138 Some posts did, however, amplify calls for violence and other social discord both before and after the January 6, 2021 riot at the Capitol.139 Most messages did not gain much traction, but one subsequently debunked video of someone allegedly burning ballots in Virginia, was ultimately shared in early November 2020 by Eric Trump and garnered over a million views. The clip had come to the attention of the user whose post Trump retweeted via two accounts in a China-linked disinformation network.140

Taken together, these examples and other studies indicate that although the impact of these attempts to date has been limited—due partly to rapid detection, poor English, or unappealing messaging in posts’ content—notable resources are being devoted by PRC-linked actors to such campaigns. According to Google’s quarterly reports of takedowns on YouTube, a total of 10,570 channels were removed from January to September 2021 for engaging in “coordinated influence operations linked to China” with between 682 and 2,946 channels removed each month.141 This was by far the largest set of takedowns during that period. Other studies have found evolving sophistication in the tactics being deployed. A February 2021 report from Graphika, for instance, found that persona accounts in a global disinformation network linked to China were especially effective at facilitating “genuine engagement,” achieving greater success than previously in prompting shares from real social media influencers in multiple countries, including from the account of a television station in Texas.142


Censorship and intimidation

Various Chinese government actors and pro-Beijing individuals deploy an array of actions to suppress disfavored news coverage, silence voices critical of the CCP, or encourage self-censorship among US news outlets and ordinary citizens. The tactics used and the aggressiveness with which they are deployed intensified during the coverage period. Within China, US-based news outlets and journalists were a prime target for intimidation and censorship efforts by Chinese officials even relative to reporters from other democracies. This is due to a combination of worsening bilateral relations, anti-American propaganda in Chinese state media, and US outlets’ consistent record of independent, global agenda-setting, and often critical reporting of the Chinese government.

The following are among the most significant trends and serious examples:

Increased Chinese government restrictions on US media and correspondents in China: Authorities in China censor American media outlets and obstruct the work of their correspondents. This limits US and English-speaking global audiences’ access to news about China and cuts Chinese news consumers off from independent coverage about the US and the world. The websites of mainstream US news outlets (including the New York Times and Washington Post) and publicly funded broadcasters (such as Voice of America and Radio Free Asia [RFA]) are blocked in China,143 and Apple has removed many US outlets’ apps from its app store in China. Since 2019, the websites of US news outlets such as Quartz and the Huffington Post have also been blocked or had apps removed.144

Obtaining foreign correspondent accreditation for US journalists in China has become increasingly difficult. In March 2020, the Chinese government retaliated against a Wall Street Journal op-ed by expelling the paper’s reporters. After the US government reduced the number of visas for Chinese state media reporters to the United States and shortened the length of each visa to 90 days (with renewal), the Chinese government reciprocated by expelling the correspondents of the New York Times and Washington Post.145 Multiple mainstream US outlets have moved their bureaus covering China to Seoul or Taiwan, although a small contingent of correspondents working for US outlets remain in mainland China or Hong Kong. In November 2021, US and Chinese officials reached an agreement to reverse some of these restrictions and several US journalists received visas to China, including to cover the Beijing Winter Olympics in February 2022, although challenges remain.146

For US journalists remaining within China, travel inside the country and speaking with Chinese citizens has also become more difficult, with Chinese authorities intensifying surveillance and restricting access to locations such as Xinjiang or other sites of breaking news, including by following, harassing, and detaining reporters. According to the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC), US reporters from both print and broadcast media encountered such reprisals during the coverage period when they sought to visit Hotan in Xinjiang, photograph caves in Yunnan where Chinese scientists had studied bats infected with coronaviruses, report on demolitions in Shandong, or cover school protests in Inner Mongolia.147 In a new trend, foreign correspondents from the Los Angeles Times and other outlets reported being threatened with legal action by sources in China who had previously given consent to be interviewed, apparently under pressure from authorities.148 Strict COVID-19 lockdowns in 2021 and 2022 added to the challenge of covering news outside of Beijing or Shanghai amid increased travel limitations and concerns over being unable to return home from a reporting trip due to rolling citywide lockdowns.149

Detention of Chinese nationals working for US outlets or family members of US-based journalists: Chinese nationals working for US news outlets in China face significant surveillance and tight oversight by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which directly hires Chinese citizens working for foreign media organizations, including reporting assistants as well as auxiliary staff like cleaners and temporary hires like drivers or translators who might assist with a reporting trip. The December 2020 detention of Chinese national Haze Fan, who at the time was working for Bloomberg News, on opaque state security charges was especially chilling for her colleagues and others in the industry. Fan was released on bail in June 2022 after more than a year in custody, but her case appeared to still be pending at the time of writing.150 China-based relatives of journalists in the United States, especially those working for Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur service, have also been detained and in some cases sentenced to prison on vague “national security” charges. According to RFA, Chinese authorities have detained dozens of family members of six Uyghur Service reporters since 2017.151 These include two brothers of RFA editor Eset Sulaiman and the brother of Mamajan Juma, deputy director of the Uyghur service.152

Online trolls and intimidation: Coordinated online harassment campaigns targeting journalists working for US outlets increased in frequency and aggressiveness during the coverage period. The campaigns tend to target women of East Asian, including of Chinese descent, often catalyzed by Chinese state media reports or other official comments. The trolls not only disparage the journalists’ coverage of China but, according to the FCCC, also “make crude sexual innuendos, including alarming threats of physical violence.”153 Emily Feng, National Public Radio’s (NPR) China correspondent relayed in the FCCC’s report that “after a state-linked blog published numerous exposés criticizing my reporting from half a year ago as ‘illegal,’ hundreds of Chinese social media accounts began posting my picture along with comments like ‘beat her to death’ and describing sexual acts.”154 Los Angeles Times correspondent Alice Su was similarly singled out by the nationalist tabloid Global Times in July 2021 for her reporting.155 New Yorker writer Jiayang Fan detailed examples of harassment she faced in early 2020 when living in New York during the early stages of the pandemic. Chinese internet trolls, fueled by hostile Global Times articles, started to attack Fan as a traitor to China. The trolls also came after Fan’s ailing mother, expressing joy at her prospective passing, and sending messages wishing Fan a gruesome death.156 Several incidents of Chinese students or other speakers on US university campuses encountering online intimidation, exclusion from WeChat groups, or harassment of relatives in China by Chinese security forces were reported during the coverage period. Examples included a Chinese student at Purdue who was forced to withdraw from speaking at a virtual panel regarding the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, a Uyghur American lawyer disrupted when talking at a Brandeis webinar about her detained brother, and attempts by the Chinese Student and Scholars Association to have a speaking invitation to Hong Kong activist Nathan Law withdrawn.157

Cyberattacks and hacking: During the coverage period, several American news outlets faced cyberattacks or hacking attempts that appeared to be linked to the Chinese state. In February 2022, news emerged that hackers tied to China broke into the servers of the News Corporation media conglomerate, allowing the intruders to “access reporters’ emails and Google Docs, including drafts of articles,” beginning as early as February 2020.158 The attack affected the Wall Street Journal and its parent Dow Jones, as well as the New York Post. News reports about the hack relay that the attackers appeared interested in a range of topics, including Taiwan and Xinjiang, US military activity and technology regulation, and articles about President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and White House officials.159 US-based Chinese diaspora outlets or news aggregators critical of the Chinese government also reported during the coverage period that they were targeted regularly with distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks or phishing attempts apparently linked to or originating in China.160

Corporate pressure on journalists to self-censor: Many US media or technology corporations have diverse business and content portfolios, including entertainment and financial reporting reaching audiences in China. In some cases, this has created pressures from firms or high-level executives on journalists or commentators to restrict content that may endanger such operations, as occurred in a widely publicized incident at Bloomberg in 2012.161 Two more recent examples were publicly exposed during the coverage period, but more may have occurred behind the scenes. In late 2019, news reports described a leaked memorandum from a senior news director at the sports network ESPN that explicitly discouraged political discussion about China and Hong Kong, after general manager Daryl Morey of the National Basketball Association’s Houston Rockets publicly expressed support for prodemocracy protests in the territory.162 Some of the station’s coverage appeared at the time to comply with the memo instructions.163 The network has a digital partnership with the Chinese social media conglomerate Tencent and its popular QQSports platform—renewed in July 2019 for five years and $1.5 billion—and had suffered several reprisals and broadcast disruptions over the tweet.164 In another incident, in September 2021, LinkedIn blocked the profiles of several US journalists from being visible to users in China, citing “prohibited content.”165 One of the reporters, Bethany Allen-Ibrahimian of Axios, relayed that the company said they would restore her account’s visibility in China “if you update the summary section of your profile,” implying that she would need to delete references to topics sensitive to the Chinese authorities in the version of her profile visible globally.166 Shortly after the controversy, LinkedIn announced it would be closing the China-facing portion of its platform due to the “challenging” environment.167


Control over content-distribution infrastructure

No Chinese company is involved in the US digital television market and Chinese state presence in mobile infrastructure has decreased. Prior to 2022, Chinese state-owned enterprise China Unicom had permission to operate in the United States, providing mobile network and ethernet services, but the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) revoked this authorization in January 2022 because of increased national security concerns and “a lack of candor, trustworthiness, and reliability” in the firms’ communications to the commission.168 The decision followed two other similar ones in 2019 (rejecting a bid by Chinese state-owned China Mobile to provide telecommunications services) and in October 2021 (revoking US authorization for Chinese state-owned China Telecom).169 In 2021–22, one remaining meaningful market share retained by a China-linked company was in the mobile device sector. Motorola, a subsidiary of the China-based private firm Lenovo, held between 9 and 12 percent.170

Despite this reduced footprint in telecom infrastructure, PRC-based companies with close ties to the CCP have managed to gain a foothold in the social media space, raising the prospect of current or potential future content manipulation and data collection (surveillance concerns are beyond the scope of this report). During the coverage period, TikTok, a short video-sharing app owned by Beijing-based social media company ByteDance, grew dramatically in popularity in the United States, consistently ranking among the top ten most downloaded apps in 2019 and 2020. By the end of 2021, TikTok was the country’s most downloaded app.171 Alongside a broader uptick of the app’s usage, major news outlets (including CNN,172 MSNBC,173 and the Washington Post)174 and political leaders (such as former President Barack Obama175 and Senator Ed Markey)176 opened accounts on the app to communicate with youth audiences. There have been some documented cases around the world and in the United States in recent years of TikTok removing or downplaying politically sensitive content, including content that violates domestic Chinese censorship guidelines, although the company has subsequently reported having corrected this.177 Several media reports from 2022, including based on leaked internal meetings and investigations, raised concern that statements made by ByteDance regarding data privacy of US users were false and that employees had monitored US journalists, while more broadly calling into question other statements the company has made regarding its policies.178

One other app with ties to the Chinese tech sector that gained popularity in the United States during the coverage period was Newsbreak, a news aggregator that focuses mostly on local news personalized by an algorithm. It ranked third for downloads in that category in the US Apple Store in 2021.179 In 2020, the app reportedly had 23.7 million installs. An investigation by the Wire found no evidence of current ties to the Chinese government, but did uncover close relations (including personnel overlap) or early investments from other Chinese tech firms with government connections such as Baidu or Yidian.180 The Wire found that “while the majority of News Break’s approximately 250 workforce is in the US, it has two China-based subsidiaries in Beijing and Shanghai that employ data engineers and R&D (research and development) personnel.”181 Experts cited in the article noted that it may be susceptible to pressure from the Chinese authorities, although evidence of such manipulation did not emerge during the coverage period.

By contrast, clear evidence exists of censorship or monitoring of US-based users of the WeChat app, owned by Chinese tech giant Tencent, which has close ties to the CCP and as of early 2023, a government stake purchased in the company.182 As more Chinese-speaking users look online for their news consumption, this has increased the influence of WeChat as a gatekeeper. The app is heavily used among Chinese-speaking Americans and others wishing to maintain personal, professional, or business contacts with individual in China. Estimates vary as to the number of users in the United States, but there have reportedly been 22 million downloads of the app in the United States since 2014 and approximately 2 to 3 million monthly active users.183 According to several reports, there was an increase in downloads in 2020–21, both before and after US government action indicated the app could be banned, with one source finding that the United States was the most important new overseas user source for WeChat in 2021, with 1.7 million app downloads.184 Given the demographics of Chinese speakers in the United States, many of these users are concentrated in particular geographic areas, such as California, New York and New Jersey, and Texas. This pattern increases the potential impact of any election-related manipulation on WeChat in local races with high concentrations of Chinese-speaking voters, even if the total number of such voters is proportionally small in the overall electorate.

Numerous reports have emerged of WeChat users in the United States experiencing politically motivated censorship after expressing views or sharing content critical of the CCP, Xi Jinping, or the Chinese government, including information related to COVID-19. Penalties include having posts deleted, groups shut down, being shadow banned (meaning messages appear to be posted but other users in a group or private conversation are unable to view them), or having accounts being temporarily or permanently shuttered. Such incidents appear to have increased in recent years amid a tightening of information controls within China and a sensitivity to a broader range of topics, including the pandemic. In January 2020, the prodemocracy group Citizen Power Initiatives for China (CPIFC) filed a lawsuit in California against Tencent on behalf of the organization, its founder, and six plaintiffs.185 The complaint documents various forms of censorship and their consequences for plaintiffs’ free speech, privacy, mental health, and livelihoods, as well as apparent evidence of surveillance when Chinese security agents interrogated friends or family based on contact made over the app. According to the complaint, “CPIFC’s ongoing investigation has uncovered hundreds of examples of…harms, all flowing from WeChat users in the United States, including in California, making comments perceived as critical of the Party-state.” Those interviewed in the United States by the organization when preparing the complaint also “describe living in fear that they or their loved ones will be punished for their postings critical of the party-state, and who describe having to suppress the human urge to voice their thoughts and feelings to their social networks out of such fear—that is, to engage in extreme self-censorship.”186 These accounts match those relayed by users in other news reports,187 as well as revelations of censorship by Dutch hacker Victor Gevers188 and the Canada-based Citizen Lab, which found evidence of systematic monitoring of content of messages by WeChat users in the United States and screening for politically sensitive keywords, even when these messages were not subject to deletion.189

WeChat’s content restrictions also affect the sharing of news by US-based media organizations and journalists. A Freedom House survey of US-based Chinese language reporters and commentators found that respondents from a range of outlets (including US-funded broadcasters, individual commentators, and privately owned Chinese media or news aggregators) reported that either they personally or their news outlet had experienced politically motivated censorship or shadow bans, had a WeChat account shuttered, or was unable to open an account. Similar constraints apply to civil society and human rights groups. In the above complaint, CPIFC notes that it does not have a WeChat account “for fear that the challenged practices would either allow the Party-state to spy on it with impunity, or would result in any account being blocked, or both.” Moreover, the organization’s name is censored on WeChat as is the name of its founder, prominent democracy advocate Yang Jianli, and several CPIFC employees.

WeChat’s policies and content moderation also contribute to self-censorship by Chinese newspapers and journalists who rely on the app to reach readers, out of concerns that overly critical content could result in a ban.190 In addition, the official account feature that allows broadcast of articles to a large audience (as opposed to circulation in closed groups of contacts) is available only to entities registered in China or with a Chinese national willing to provide their national ID number.191 This structural limitation further contributes to self-censorship and preemptively prevents news organizations, civil society groups, or journalists focused on human rights or other content critical of the CCP from creating such accounts. Academic research, news reports, and civic activists have expressed concern over the sensationalist nature of news content on the platform, limited fact-checking of false information, and the vulnerability of large chat groups to the spread of political misinformation and conspiracy theories.192


Dissemination of CCP media norms, tactics, or governance models

No known CCP trainings, adoption of journalistic norms, filtering technology, or broadcasting equipment were found in the United States during the coverage period.


Chinese diaspora media

Beijing’s influence over Chinese-language media in the United States remains significant, particularly in the television sector and via apps like WeChat (see details above). Nevertheless, compared to other countries, Chinese-speaking news consumers in the United States seeking independent news about topics of interest to them have multiple options. Members of the Chinese American community have launched initiatives to share news and analysis independent of the party-state, with some garnering a notable audience.

Available surveys place the number of Chinese and Taiwanese Americans at 5.39 million in 2019. While 93 percent of US-born individuals report speaking proficient English, only 44 percent of foreign-born Chinese Americans report speaking English “very well” and only 57 percent of Chinese and Taiwanese American adults overall, US or foreign born, report speaking English “very well.” This leaves a large proportion of the Chinese and Taiwanese American community—particularly older people—consuming news primarily in Chinese.193

The CCP’s influence on diaspora media in the United States is especially strong in the television sector. A review of Chinese-language offerings for major cable providers in the United States (Verizon,194 Comcast,195 and Spectrum196 ) shows that the main packages for both Mandarin and Cantonese are monopolized by stations either owned or heavily influenced by the Chinese government or CCP. These include Chinese state broadcaster CCTV-4, the Hong Kong–based Phoenix television (whose founder sold his stakes in 2021 to two Chinese state-owned entities but the station has long been known to air pro-Beijing propaganda).197 Two other stations are CTI-TV, part of the China Times group, a Taiwan-based media company known for its pro-Beijing editorial line (see Taiwan case study in this report) and TVB from Hong Kong providing Cantonese programming, which has been accused of pro-Beijing bias.198 Taiwan-based outlets or US stations known to be more critical of the Chinese government are absent from major cable packages. In one example of problematic Chinese government propaganda reaching US audiences via these stations, the rights group Safeguard Defenders filed a 2019 complaint with the FCC that cited 27 incidents of forced televised confessions of prisoners in China being broadcast on CCTV-4 from 2013 to 2019, with four outlined in detail.199

The United States is also home to a wide range of print publications in Chinese, both national and local, with varying degrees of pro-Beijing alignment.200 On one end of the spectrum are publications like Xinmin Evening Newspaper, which the US State Department designated as part of the PRC foreign mission in October 2020.201 Another publication, China Press, based in New York, closely follows the CCP’s editorial line and prints large amounts of Chinese state media content.202 Singtao, a subsidiary of the Hong Kong newspaper by the same name, was required in 2021 by the Department of Justice to register under FARA after a change in ownership that brought it closer to the Chinese government,203 although in filings the company claimed that its US subsidiary is editorially independent from the Hong Kong parent company.204 The World Journal is another leading national paper tied to the Taiwan-based United Daily Newspaper, which within Taiwan is known to be relatively friendly to China in its coverage but that does report occasionally on topics like human rights violations in the PRC.

Joining these are various local newspapers and in some cases small-scale radio stations, many of which maintain ties to the Chinese government and CCP. In a list of participants to the 2019 World Chinese Media Forum hosted in Hebei Province, a total of 64 news outlets from the United States were listed, one of the largest delegations. These included US representatives for Chinese state media but also from local outlets in San Diego, Seattle, Chicago, and Dallas, among others.205 The summit—jointly organized by the State Council Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, the Hebei Provincial People’s Government, and state news agency China News Service, with opening speeches by top officials in the CCP’s United Front Work Department— aimed to convene Chinese-language press from around the world and encourage them to use their “advantage” of being integrated in foreign countries “to tell China’s story.”206

Chinese-language sources critical of the Chinese government: Despite this strong footprint, Chinese-speaking Americans have access to independent or critical alternatives. These include Chinese-language versions of mainstream outlets like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, as well as online versions of US-funded Mandarin services like Voice of America and Radio Free Asia (RFA), which regularly publishes original reporting and first-hand accounts of grassroots developments in China, including in Xinjiang and Tibet. Chinese activists, civil society groups, and youth interested in providing a diversity of content and independent reporting to Chinese-speakers in the United States and elsewhere have founded various news aggregators, websites, and newsletters, including China Digital Times, Citizen Power Initiatives for China, Beijing Spring magazine, Outsight China, and Freedom House’s own China Media Bulletin.207 As more Chinese Americans get their news online, it has also granted a wider audience to Chinese-speaking YouTubers, websites like Mingjing News,208 and political analysts critical of the Chinese government and Xi Jinping, some of whose shows regularly garner hundreds of thousands of views, but whose speculation about internal CCP politics may also consist of rumors and gossip rather than fact-based investigations.209 Chinese Americans who practice the Falun Gong spiritual discipline have also founded and expanded several Chinese-language news outlets since 2001, posing rare competition to pro-Beijing media in the television and radio sectors. The outlets include Sound of Hope radio, based out of California, 210 as well as New Tang Dynasty Television (Xintangren)211 and its sister publication the Epoch Times (Dajiyuan) that are based out of New York. 212

The above array of alternative sources offer viewpoints and information to Chinese speakers that are omitted from outlets aligned with Beijing. They include interviews with or writings by CCP critics, rights activists, or victims of persecution, live talk shows and debates on Chinese political and social issues, investigative reporting on rights abuses or other topics heavily censored in China, objective coverage of US government statements regarding China, unfiltered simultaneous translations into Chinese of major speeches by US officials or election debates, and cultural programming independent of CCP influence. Such reporting and programming has garnered persistent harassment, threats, obstruction, and physical intimidation from the Chinese government or suspected proxies.213 These include cyberattacks, website blocks in China, pressure on advertisers in the United States, harassment of journalists’ family members in China, or detention and even imprisonment of sources and relatives of journalists.214

Chinese-language media, both with links to the CCP and without, has also not escaped the polarization and partisanship that has gripped the US political system and media more broadly. Academic studies and anecdotal accounts of content on WeChat point to the presence and even wide circulation of misinformation, including with regards to the pandemic and the 2020 elections.215 Several prominent Chinese-language outlets and dissidents in the United States favored former President Donald Trump and repeated electoral misinformation to their audiences, although some have reverted to a more moderate tone after the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and seeing the Biden administration taking actions like sanctioning Chinese officials for rights violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and other parts of China.216 As US-China relations have become tenser in recent years, some Chinese American journalists have voiced concerns over being caught in the middle, viewed suspiciously by both nationalist Chinese and Americans worried about CCP influence.217 Taken together, in addition to the challenges posed by pro-Beijing propaganda, there remain gaps in professionalism and fact-checking in many of the sources used to inform Chinese-speaking Americans not only of events in China but also within the United States.

header4 Resilience + response


Strong legal protections and tradition of press freedom: The United States has some of the strongest constitutional protections for free speech in the world, with courts consistently upholding journalist and internet users’ rights to free speech under the federal constitution’s First Amendment. Protections against frivolous defamation suits by powerful political or economic actors are strong and as of the end of 2021, 31 out of 50 states had adopted anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) legislation.1 Various parts of the US government have tried to navigate balancing such protections while enhancing resilience vis-à-vis CCP media influence efforts. A 2020 executive order by former President Donald Trump that would have banned WeChat and Tiktok on the grounds they present a national security threat was challenged in court, resulting in the order being blocked due to free speech concerns.2 In 2021, President Biden rescinded the order and directed the Department of Commerce to evaluate the potential risks posed by apps that are owned, controlled, or managed by “foreign adversaries” as well as possible responses in line with the First Amendment. In November 2021, the department released proposed rules that would require third-party audits of such apps; the rules remained under review as of May 2022.3

Skilled investigative journalism: The United States has a large media market, with national, regional, local, and digital outlets carrying views that span the political spectrum. The country’s press has a strong tradition of watchdog journalism and maintaining a separation between editorial and marketing departments. Many media outlets have the resources to conduct investigative journalism on national, international, and China-related topics, and retain multiple correspondents inside China. American universities run well-developed journalism programs whose students consist of both Americans and foreigners. Organizations like the Poynter Institute in Florida and Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) in Missouri offer trainings in investigative journalism, fact-checking, or journalistic ethics in person and online.4 The Institute for Nonprofit News consists of a consortium of over 400 nonprofit newsrooms across North America.5

Vibrant civil society work on press freedom: The United States also has a vibrant civil society sector, with nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and philanthropies working to support freedom of expression both in the United States and globally. These groups include the Knight Foundation, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Freedom of the Press Foundation (which with CPJ runs the US Press Freedom Tracker database), Reporters Committee for a Free Press, and small family foundations.6 Civil society groups that work on a broader range of human rights issues, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) or the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), have also engaged in campaigns and public interest lawyering to protect free expression.7 Industry groups like the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the News Guild, the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), and the Asian American Journalists Association, (AAJA) have thousands of members in hundreds of outlets and work to support rights protection, newsroom diversity, professional development, and ethical reporting for journalists, editors, and independent media.8 Some of these groups have sporadically been found to inadvertently offer a platform for pro-Beijing views, but have been responsive to criticism from journalists and association members, taking measures to correct the misstep.9 There are several media literacy programs aimed at the general public and young people in particular, including as part of kindergarten-through-12th-grade curricula in some states.10 Fact-checking groups such as FactCheck.org and PolitiFact work to combat misinformation and disinformation in news content and on social media.11

Robust, evolving system of transparency and foreign investment screening mechanisms: Media ownership is transparent and owners of major outlets are well-known to the public, even as the market has become more concentrated in recent years. The Freedom of Information Act is widely used by journalists to obtain information from government offices and other public entities and guidebooks for using the law are freely available online.12 The 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act provides journalists and the public with information regarding the activities of those with foreign government ties, including in the media sector. The law does not entail any direct restrictions on an outlet’s content or the ability to publish online, but it does require those that qualify as foreign agents to disclose their organizational structures and finances; this information is easily accessible through a public-facing online portal.13

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is tasked with regulating radio and television broadcasting, interstate communications, and international telecommunications that originate or terminate in the United States.14 The FCC must approve any deals that give foreigners more than a 25 percent stake in broadcast media.15 Such permission may be granted pending the recommendation of an interagency committee comprised of representatives from the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Department of Justice who review applications for FCC licenses in terms of the national security risk.16 During the coverage period, the FCC standardized this review process and a set of baseline national security questions that foreign firms seeking to participate in the US telecom market must respond to.17 The commission also took steps to create rules that would require broadcast media to inform listeners and viewers if content was produced by a foreign state-owned outlet. Following a court challenge over certain provisions, revised regulations were published in October 2022 and are expected to go into effect in 2023.18 The commission stated that the rules’ purpose is to “address specifically the problem of undisclosed foreign government-provided programming on U.S. broadcast stations,” “to increase transparency,” and to “ensure that audiences of broadcast stations are aware when a foreign government, or its representatives, are seeking to persuade the American public.”19

Another mechanism aimed at enhancing US resilience and national security vis-à-vis malign foreign actors is the Committee for Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an interagency committee housed under the Department of Treasury authorized to review certain transactions involving foreign entities’ investments in the United States. The Committee was originally created under a 1950 law, but since 2018, has undergone several rounds of new legislation or regulations to modernize its work to address emerging national security concerns, including from China, more effectively.20

Beyond government, prominent US-based technology companies running popular platforms like the video-sharing services YouTube, and social networks like Facebook have since 2018 introduced labels for accounts funded by governments to enhance transparency.21 Some platforms have since added alerts when a user is sharing a post warning that a link included is to a state-funded outlet.22 The labels have also been applied to Chinese state-media outlets accounts that target US users, although journalists and outlets critical of Beijing have also reported encountering restrictions on posts or accounts on global social media platforms.23

Increased attention to disinformation, including from foreign adversaries: Following Russia-linked actors attempts to interfere with the 2016 US elections via disinformation and a broader rise in content manipulation online, social media platforms, government agencies, researchers, and civil society have dramatically increased their capacity to detect, dismantle, and counter networks of fake accounts. The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is tasked with tracking disinformation circulated within the United States from both domestic and foreign sources, and issuing warnings to the public. This has laid a foundation for identifying and responding to emergent and politicized disinformation campaigns linked to the PRC. For example, although much of its foreign-related work has focused on the threat from Russia, in May 2020, CISA warned that the PRC was promoting “false claims about the origins of the [COVID-19] virus in an attempt to shift blame overseas and divide free societies against themselves.”24


China-specific resilience

Reporting on CCP influence and discontinuation of paid inserts: American media outlets have the necessary skills, resources, and correspondents in China and Hong Kong to conduct in-depth investigative reporting on Chinese domestic issues, Chinese foreign policy, and China’s role in the world for English-speaking audiences. Broadcasters and newspapers representing a variety of editorial viewpoints report actively on China and CCP influence efforts in the United States, including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, CNN, and the Washington Free Beacon. More specialized outlets like ProPublica and Axios have published investigative reports or other exposés of CCP influence efforts including disinformation campaigns on social media or CUSEF efforts to influence expert commentary.25 While several mainstream papers continue to publish China Daily’s “China Watch” advertorial supplements in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars, several major outlets—including the Washington Post and the New York Times—discontinued the practice during this report’s coverage period.26 Many reporters covering China have strong Chinese-language skills and mainstream newsrooms include at least some journalists of Chinese heritage. When foreign correspondents from multiple outlets were expelled from China in 2020, journalist associations such as the AAJA and SPJ issued statements of solidarity condemning the Chinese government’s action.27

Regulatory enforcement vis-à-vis Chinese state media and affiliates: Since 2017, the Department of Justice has more strictly enforced FARA vis-à-vis Chinese state media companies. This has included requiring outlets like Xinhua and CGTN to register and compelling China Daily, that has long been registered, to provide full details regarding expenditures, including paid content disseminated via local news outlets.28 In August 2021, the department also required Sing Tao, a Hong Kong newspaper known for its pro-Beijing stance, to register as a foreign agent.29 Public relations firms disseminating content on behalf of the Chinese government—including by supporting ambassadorial op-ed placements or paying social media influencers—have also been required to register. Filings from these registrations have provided some of the most detailed publicly available information globally about the amounts and recipients of funds from CCP-linked entities towards content dissemination. The FCC has also taken enforcement measures blunting potentially problematic Chinese state media activities. Under a 1992 law, the commission blocked the sale of a radio station in Mexico to a firm with ties to the pro-Beijing Phoenix TV that was expected to air content targeting Chinese-language communities in southern California. The license application was dismissed in June 2020 after complaints were filed over the station’s pro-Beijing ties and on the grounds that Phoenix itself had not been listed in the application.30

Robust academic and civil society research on China and CCP foreign influence: The United States benefits from a large corps of academic, journalistic, think tank, civil society, and cybersecurity experts on China, who are regularly featured in the media and consulted by the government, with some experts on CCP influence receiving posts on the National Security Council (NSC). US-based scholars with expertise on Uyghur history and culture, many with personal and professional ties to Uyghur academics and students detained in the Chinese government mass campaign since 2017, have played an important role in offering authoritative analysis and documentation of the atrocities occurring, supporting the credibility, accuracy, and impact of reporting by mainstream media about the crisis. On the topic of CCP influence in the United States, Stanford’s Hoover Institute and the Asia Society partnered in 2018 to convene a working group of experts on the topic, publishing a detailed report analyzing key tactics of influence in different sectors and offering recommendations for “constructive vigilance.”31 NGOs like Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International USA, and Freedom House regularly issue research reports and commentary exposing rights violations in China, transnational repression targeting Chinese and exile communities in the United States, and Beijing’s tactics for influencing media in the United States and globally. The Washington, DC office of the German Marshall Fund (GMF) added China in March 2020 to its Hamilton 2.0 platform, which tracks and organizes in real-time social media posts from state-affiliated accounts across multiple platforms.32 The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research (DFR) Lab, Stanford University’s Internet Observatory, and cybersecurity firms like Mandiant have also played a key role in monitoring and exposing networks of fake accounts and disinformation linked to the PRC.33

Active diaspora and exile communities: The United States is home to relatively large and active dissident and exile communities of Chinese democracy advocates, human rights defenders, Uyghurs, Tibetans, and Falun Gong practitioners, as well as a growing contingent of Hong Kongers fleeing the region after passage of the 2020 National Security Law. These communities have formed their own human rights and refugee assistance groups and cultural associations. These entities document and publicize abuses suffered by counterparts in the PRC, advocate for various US government policies toward China and policies to protect targeted communities in the United States, raise the alarm about incidents of transnational repression or topics like WeChat censorship suffered in the United States, and preserve and share artistic traditions being suppressed in China. Several Chinese Americans have also launched grassroots initiatives, including websites like PiYaoBa.org, to fact-check content shared on WeChat.34

Growing and bipartisan political response to CCP influence efforts: The political response to CCP influence in the media and other sectors grew considerably during the coverage period, although the United States had relatively more long-standing institutions focused on China compared to most other countries under review in this report. Two bipartisan congressional committees: the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (comprised of members of Congress from both the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as the executive branch) and the US Security and Economics Exchange Commission (comprised of independent commissioners from various sectors appointed by members of congress) are dedicated to evaluating various aspects of rule of law, human rights, trade, and security in China and in US-China relations. Each issues an annual report on these topics that includes recommendations to Congress and to the executive branch. Beginning in 2020, the CECC added a new section focused on the CCP’s transnational impact on human rights and free expression, including in the United States.35 The committees and other lawmakers held hearings during the coverage period on topics such as how the Chinese regime uses economic coercion to silence criticism of its rights violations in the United States and internationally.36 Members of Congress from both major political parties joined the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) founded in 2020, which describes itself as a group of parliamentarians from around the world who are “working towards reform on how democratic countries approach China.”37  The executive branch also took notable actions during the coverage period in response to both rights violations in China and CCP influence in the United States. The Department of State issued statements and summoned the Chinese ambassador over false claims that the US military brought COVID-19 to China and harassment of US and other foreign journalists who attempted to cover deadly flooding in Henan Province.38 Both the Trump and Biden administrations imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for involvement in rights violations in China, including in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. Since 2020, the Department of State began designating Chinese state media outlets in several rounds as being part of the PRC’s diplomatic “foreign mission” in the United States, reaching a total of 15 such designations by the end of 2022, thereby alerting the public to the outlets’ close CCP ties. The designation also triggers additional reporting requirements regarding personnel size and real estate to the State Department, although that information is not publicly available.39 Other actions taken by US government bodies include several cases of the Department of Justice leveling charges against individuals involved in censoring a Zoom discussion about the 1989 Tiananmen massacre or who worked with Chinese security agents to monitor and harass activists or former officials sought by the regime under the “Fox Hunt” politicized anticorruption campaign.40

Increased efforts at interagency coordination: Given the size of the United States, its government, and the many avenues of influence deployed by the CCP and its proxies at both national and subnational levels, interagency coordination is necessary for information-sharing, rapid responses, and overall enhanced democratic resilience. Several interagency mechanisms exist or came into fruition during the coverage period, with mandates that include foreign influence efforts from the PRC. These include CFIUS mentioned above for investment screenings (including in the social media application sector), formalization of Team Telecom’s role in FCC licensing and its renaming in 2020 as the Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States,41 and a new Foreign Malign Influence Center (FMIC) under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) that began functioning in September 2022.42 In public speeches, the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also remarked on the agencies’ efforts to share information and provide briefings for local officials or other nongovernmental entities as part of counter-intelligence efforts related to China.43 The State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC), created in the early 2000s to counter terrorism-related disinformation, expanded its mandate in 2017 per funding from Congress to also cover China-linked information manipulation, increasing staff, internal expertise, and funding opportunities related to detecting and responding to Beijing’s media influence efforts.44 The GEC’s primary focus is international, but the center has established interagency coordination mechanisms to share information on emerging tactics with domestically focused entities like DHS, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Defense, among others.45

header5 Vulnerabilities

Political polarization and reduced trust in media: News coverage in the United States has become more polarized, contributing to reduced trust in traditional media and creating a fertile environment for dis- and misinformation campaigns to enhance societal divisions. This also enhances conditions for domestic actors—including prominent television commentators—on one or another end of the political spectrum to repeat talking points from Beijing, including inaccurate ones, because of perceived usefulness against US political rivals. Among examples since 2019 that fit this pattern were popular talk shows on both left- and right-leaning outlets repeating comments from Chinese officials about conspiracy theories of US-linked biolabs in Ukraine,1 citing writings of a top CCP official regarding ills of American society,2 or demonizing the Falun Gong spiritual group.3 Political polarization has also hindered potential actions that would enhance US democratic governance or resilience to CCP influence efforts, such as ongoing partisan delays in Senate confirmation to fill a vacancy on the FCC.4

Lack of awareness of CCP influence efforts, especially at the subnational level: Despite a growing understanding of CCP influence efforts among federal government agencies, scholars, and journalists focused on China, other constituencies in the United States appear less familiar with relevant tactics and proxy entities, rendering them potentially more vulnerable to unknowingly being influenced. As the former have become less friendly towards certain overtures, state-level elected representatives, local officials, university administrators, and journalists without background on China or the CCP foreign influence apparatus appear to be growing as targets for sponsored travel to China, interviews by Chinese state media, or opportunities for collaboration with entities whose links to the CCP may not be immediately evident to nonexperts.5

Gaps in enforcement, transparency, and privacy protections: Even with stronger enforcement of rules, such as FARA registration and reporting requirements, notable gaps remain. Several of the 15 outlets designated by the State Department as part of the PRC foreign mission are as yet not registered under FARA, despite engaging in content dissemination to the American public. Even those who have registered have been lax in submitting required reports and informational materials. Changes in ownership at Hong Kong-based outlets like Phoenix television to be more tightly controlled by mainland Chinese entities also warrant closer scrutiny for possible designation or FARA registration. The law has also faced criticism for being out of date, fueling robust discussion about whether and how to reform it to make it more effective for addressing its core policy goals and relevant to how modern foreign influence campaigns are carried out, while reducing confusion for potential registrants.6 The United States’ lack of comprehensive federal data-protection legislation that would limit how private companies can use personal information and share it with government authorities, including foreign governments, contributes to concerns and vulnerabilities surround surveillance by China-based apps like WeChat and TikTok.

Chinese-language media and information space: The strong presence of Chinese state-run or pro-Beijing news outlets in the Chinese-language media environment, especially on television, creates a fertile environment for mis- and disinformation regarding not only China-relevant topics, but also US government policies, electoral candidates, and events occurring in the United States. The exclusion of more independent news outlets and critical voices from WeChat, due to the platform’s account registration and politicized moderation policies, further skews the diversity of perspectives and information sources available to Chinese-speakers in the United States. Despite the creation of credible news content by US-funded broadcasters such as Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, rules prohibiting dissemination to Chinese-speaking audiences in the United States limit their reach, except for access on global social media platforms like YouTube.

Problematic pushback: Certain actions and policies adopted by the US government to respond to Beijing’s aggressive influence efforts—such as an executive order to ban WeChat and Tiktok or the Department of Justice’s “China Initiative”—have encountered legal challenges for imposing excessive restrictions on free expression or concerns from China scholars of discriminatory targeting of Chinese Americans, although in February 2022 the Department of Justice ended the “China Initiative.”7 Physical attacks on people of Chinese and East Asian descent have increased in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic.8 When voicing legitimate concerns about China’s regime, some politicians and prominent media commentators have used inflammatory or racist language about Chinese people in general. Even those not seeking to offend often conflate China, the Chinese people, and the CCP, using sweeping terms like “Chinese influence” when referring to CCP political interference efforts rather than narrower depictions. Other officials, however—including secretaries of state Mike Pompeo and Antony Blinken and FBI director Christopher Wray—have in speeches and government websites explicitly made the distinction between the CCP and Chinese people or people of Chinese descent.9

Increased attacks on journalists, media concentration, and financial pressures: While violence against journalists in the United States has been rare in recent decades, media watchdog groups registered a rise in press freedom violations—including police violence and arbitrary arrests targeting journalists—during the coverage period, compared to previous years. According to the US Press Freedom Tracker, the number of violations rose sharply from 9 arrests and roughly 40 assaults documented in 2019 to 123 arrests and 334 assaults recorded in 2020 and 59 arrests, 142 assaults in 2021.10 Many incidents occurred during political protests, especially those sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020; or at rallies against vaccine mandates, among a variety of other reporting assignments. While not directly tied to China, increased physical threats to journalists can hinder a wide range of reporting.

Media ownership in the United States has become more concentrated in recent decades. A Supreme Court decision in April 2021 relaxed previously existing limits on cross-ownership, which could contribute to further consolidation.11 The financial pressures facing mainstream media have increased in recent decades amidst digitization and shifts in advertising patterns, rendering other sources of income—such as paid inserts from Chinese state outlets—potentially more attractive. During the coverage period, however, many national outlets and city publications saw their financial fortunes improve amid an uptick in news website subscriptions during the pandemic, potentially weakening the hold of this vulnerability.12

header6 Impact and Public Opinion

For the most part, Beijing’s large investment in trying to influence news coverage in the United States and Americans’ views of China and the CCP has seen only limited success. Articles and investigative reporting on topics that China’s leaders would prefer to remain untouched appear almost daily in major US news outlets. Public opinion regarding China and its government has become more negative since 2019. Nevertheless, research for this report suggests that Beijing’s influence on the news consumed by Chinese-speaking Americans remains relatively strong, its preferred narratives or talking points periodically reach a massive audience or gain traction within certain segments of the population, and incentives for journalists to avoid sensitive topics sporadically yield results.

The United States’ bilateral relationship with China deteriorated during the coverage period due to tense trade relations, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Chinese government’s crackdown on civil and political liberties in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. Several polls showed worsening public opinion toward China. A 2021 Pew Research Center poll found that 76 percent of Americans had an unfavorable view of China, an increase from 47 percent in 2017.1 The American public has also expressed reduced trust in the leadership of the CCP, with a 2021 Pew Research Center poll indicating that 82 percent of US respondents had no confidence that Xi Jinping would do the right thing in world affairs, up from 50 percent in 2019.2 Older Americans and Republican or Republican-leaning respondents tended to have more negative views of China compared to younger Americans, independents, and Democratic-leaning respondents.3 Compared to other political issues, however, the partisan gaps are relatively small, with strong bipartisan views also extending to support for Taiwan and US official visits there. With regards to CCP influence efforts in the United States, a June 2022 survey found that 47 percent of respondents believed that China’s involvement in domestic US politics is a very serious problem.4 At the same time, 68 percent of American respondents to the poll supported the view that it was more important to try to promote human rights in China, even if it harms economic relations with China, while only 28 percent favored prioritizing economic ties in the bilateral relationship.5

Chinese state media and pro-CCP diaspora media outlets retain a large degree of influence in the US Chinese-language media landscape, and to some extent their content may have real-world repercussions, including for voters’ choices. Understanding the full extent of this impact is made more difficult by the lack of opinion polls among Chinese and Taiwanese Americans on topics such as views of China or the CCP.6

Beijing’s intense and broad efforts to influence the media and information space in the United States have other implications beyond public perceptions of China, however. In a June 2020 speech, for example, then National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien noted that conspiracy theories promoted by Beijing of the US military bringing COVID-19 to Wuhan resulted in a “soldier and her family need[ing] a personal security detail to protect them from death threats” in Maryland.7 The heavy restrictions on correspondents in China and other censorship pressures reduce the quality of information available about events on the ground in China—especially outside of major urban areas—and increase the financial burden of news outlets wishing to report critically or host a reporter in the country. Risks to family in China reduce the attractiveness of a career in journalism for Americans of Chinese, Uyghur, or Tibetan descent, among others. Corporate financial incentives, fears of reprisals against correspondents in China, and partisan loyalties can result in gaps in coverage, self-censorship, or unfiltered repetition of CCP distortions.8 Given the unique role that major US outlets and newswires play as a resource and agenda setters globally, the impact extends beyond the United States as well.

header7 Future Trajectory

The following are potential developments related to Beijing’s media influence in the United States that should be closely monitored in the coming years:

A further shift toward coercive and covert tactics: As the response to CCP influence efforts continues to strengthen and bilateral ties remain tense, there will likely be a further shift toward covert and coercive tactics, whereby Chinese state-backed content reaches US audiences without their knowledge. This could take the form of increased censorship pressure on media executives, disinformation campaigns aimed at American news consumers, paid social media influencers disseminating propaganda, new partnerships with digital media start-ups,1 and further efforts to influence diaspora communities through Chinese-language media and groups or activities backed by the CCP or the Chinese embassy. As more Hong Kongers flee the PRC and set up their own exile media initiatives, watch for reports of website blocks, advertiser pressures, and reprisals against journalists or relatives remaining in the territory.

Taking advantage of partisanship to amplify CCP narratives and domestic divisions: To date, many instances where political polarization was a factor in the amplification of pro-Beijing narratives have been circumstantial and took place with little intervention from CCP-linked actors. At times, Chinese government and state media accounts on social media have boosted posts by American commentators that are critical of the United States and sympathetic to the Chinese government, while some fake accounts have attempted to intensify social divisions. Watch for more sophisticated and aggressive efforts to sow domestic division. Watch also for additional overtures to influence Black media outlets or those serving other racial, ethnic, religious, or other minority communities.

Evidence of content manipulation on WeChat and Tiktok: Watch for the emergence of more documentation of how WeChat’s content-moderation policies and censorship suppress free expression and access to information for Chinese Americans or other users in the United States. As TikTok is increasingly used by politicians, electoral candidates, and news outlets, watch for any signs of problematic content manipulation artificially suppressing or amplifying certain voices in line with Beijing’s preferences.

Policy responses and increased awareness: As US policymakers and the general public become more attuned to the challenges posed by Beijing’s influence efforts, including in the information space, watch for further investment in investigations on this topic, improved interagency coordination, and changes to media outlet practices to reduce economic dependence on the Chinese party-state. Watch also for potential overreach or problematic pushback in the form of blanket bans on apps or sweeping, racist language when referring to CCP influence.

On United States

See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.

See More
  • Global Freedom Score

    83 100 free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    76 100 free
Members of Congress reconvene in a joint session to ratify President Biden's Electoral College win after being evacuated when protestors stormed the Capitol.

BGMI: Policy Recommendations for the United States

Long-term democratic resilience to Beijing’s media influence will require a coordinated response across a variety of sectors In the United States, the federal government, media, civil society, businesses, and donors all have an essential role to play in protecting freedom of expression and access to information in the face of increasingly aggressive Chinese Communist Party (CCP) influence efforts.