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Beijing Used US Firm to Coerce Big Media, Universities, Think Tanks to Serve Communist ‘United Front’

Neil Campbell
Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: January 2, 2021
A security guard (R) and a police officer (L) secure the area at the entrance to the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in Beijing on May 18, 2020. (Image: NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images) The CCP uses its United Front Work Department to control Chinese society and to exapdn influence among overseas elites.
A security guard (R) and a police officer (L) secure the area at the entrance to the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in Beijing on May 18, 2020. (Image: NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images)

The 2014 Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filings show U.S. public relations firm BLJ Worldwide represented the China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF) as its client and “arranged private dinners in New York and Washington DC on behalf of CUSEF” for 21 media outlets. 

The media outlets include some of the biggest names, including Reuters, The Los Angeles  Times, Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, CBS News, Bloomberg, Time Magazine, the Associated Press, The New York Times, CNN, and Business Week

An  expose posted by The National Pulse on Dec. 29 revealed the filings signed by BLJ principal Peter Brown. 

CUSEF is headed by Tung Chee-Hwa, Vice Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). The CPPCC is “a critical coordinating body that brings together representatives of China’s other interest groups and is led by a member of China’s highest-level decision-making authority, the CCP’s [Chinese Communist Party] Politburo Standing Committee,” according to a staff research report by Alexander Bowe at the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. 

Hong Kong skyline
Banks that report clients for supposedly violating the national security law will be breaking international standards like the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.(Image: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

‘Co-opt and neutralize’

The report examined how the CCP uses its United Front Work Department (UFWD) to “co-opt and neutralize sources of potential opposition to the policies and authority of its ruling [CCP],” and how the UFWD “mostly focuses on the management of potential opposition groups inside China,” noting “it also has an important foreign influence mission.” 

“To carry out its influence activities abroad, the United Front directs ‘overseas Chinese work,’ which seeks to co-opt ethnic Chinese individuals and communities living outside China, while a number of other key affiliated organizations guided by China’s broader United Front strategy conduct influence operations targeting foreign actors and states.”

The United Front has existed since before the CCP took power in mainland China, playing a key role in the Party’s victory over the republican Chinese authorities.

In 2018, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) called the CUSEF a “pseudo-philanthropic foundation,” saying that “CUSEF’s ties to the Chinese Communist Party are an issue of grave concern. Founder and Chairman Tung Chee-hwa currently serves as the vice-chairman of the [CPPCC], an organization which works closely with the united front, the structure the CCP utilizes to manage foreign influence operations.” 

The FARA filing revealed that BLJ “Promoted CUSEF’s interests and activities in the U.S., including expanding third party supporters, generating media placements, and arranging visits for delegations to China.” The firm also runs CUSEF’s official Twitter account and supports the website, a propaganda outlet that promotes Beijing-friendly U.S. narratives.

BLJ “reached out” to 22 U.S. universities seeking contributions for the propaganda page, including Cornell, Harvard, John Hopkins, Yale, and the US Naval War College. They also approached 19 think tanks for contributions, as well as The Atlantic, Forbes, and New American Media.

The CCP’s United Front has penetrated deep into U.S. mainstream society. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

U.S. former government officials Rep. Tim Roemer (D-IN), Rep. Jon Christensen (R-NE), Rep. Jim Slattery (D-KS), Rep. Steve Bartlet (R-TX), and Rep. Don Bonker (D-WA) and media outlets National Public Radio, Harvard Business Review, Financial Times, Slate Magazine, and Politic were also “arranged” to “go on trips to China” by BLJ’s hand. 

CUSEF paid BLJ $243,900 in fees and $150,315.59 in expenses for a six month period ending June 30, 2014. These expenses included $91,262.77 in airfare, $9,095.81 in entertainment, and $41,027.50 in “Outside Services Billed.”

Defending the CCP in ‘key strategic areas’

According to an article by Axios, BLJ Worldwide under its previous name, Brown Lloyd James, has taken CUSEF as its client since at least 2011, according to FARA filings.

The 2011 filings included a letter from Peter Brown to Claire Lo, CEO of CUSEF located in Hong Kong, outlining the terms of the contract. Brown Lloyd James’s part of the bargain would be “defending and promoting China and the key strategic areas in the China-U.S. relationship in the media, and expanding awareness of the Foundation,” in exchange for a retainer of $20,000 per month. 

Further services provided to CUSEF were outlined in an Appendix to the letter boasting the firm had “arranged for two journalist visits consisting of four high-profile journalists to visit China.” These journalists represented Newsweek, the National Journal, the Nation, Congressional Quarterly, U.S. News and World Report, the Chicago Tribune, and the Washington Note. 

Brown proudly stated that “there were 28 media placements generated as a result of these visits.”

His firm also “directly influenced the publication of 26 opinion articles and quotes within 103 separate articles.” 

Tung was introduced by Brown to editors and executives from The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes, Time, the Week Magazine, Financial Times, and the Daily Beast during three dinners his firm arranged.

“In total, BLJ introduced nineteen individuals at the very top tier of media to Mr. Tung. BLJ continues to follow up with the aforementioned media executives, providing CUSEF material and general updates to all.”

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