By Eva Fu and Frank Fang
Republican lawmakers are expressing alarm over Beijing’s persistent efforts to use Western outlets to spread its narratives, including claims that Washington had overreacted to a “wandering balloon” and damaged the bilateral relationship.
In an op-ed recently published in the Washington Post, Xu Xueyuan, the chargé d’affaires at the Chinese regime’s embassy in Washington, repeated Beijing’s narrative that the balloon was for “meteorological research” and “posed no real security threat.”
She accused the United States of “overreaction,” adding that “China-U.S. relations should not be led astray by a wandering balloon.”
The article has been shared by prominent CCP diplomats and Chinese state-run media, including Huang Ping, Beijing’s consul general in New York, and Liu Pengyu, spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington.
The Chinese spy balloon flew over the continental United States for days before being shot down off the South Carolina coast on Feb. 4. Since then, U.S. officials have said that China has a “high-altitude balloon program” linked to China’s military for espionage, and sanctioned six Chinese entities for aiding the program. They also revealed the balloon as part of Beijing’s worldwide surveillance campaign that has violated the sovereignty of dozens of countries.
When a second balloon was spotted over Latin America, Beijing again insisted it was also for civilian purposes.
‘CCP Is Not to Be Trusted’
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, said she was not surprised by the Chinese balloon flights.
“Communist China’s attempt to play nice and cover up their surveillance operation is not the least bit surprising. This is what they do—pretend everything is fine and dandy while they continue to spy on Americans using TikTok, steal our intellectual property, and buy up our farmland,” Blackburn told The Epoch Times.
Two Republicans warned that people should not be deceived by Xu’s words.
“Xu Xueyuan repeating lies at the behest of a genocidal regime in the Washington Post is just another example of how the Chinese Communist Party has figured out how to use America’s openness against us,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told The Epoch Times.
Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, similarly warned that the “CCP is not to be trusted.”
“Communist oppression is a very serious and dangerous threat to the entire world, and we should not take these ‘wandering balloons’ lightly,” Higgins told The Epoch Times. He added that Xu’s response has “certainly not wandered far from the Communist party line and shows that every citizen of every nation should be aware of the CCP’s global agenda.”
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) and Blackburn highlighted how some of Xu’s claims did not make sense.
“America did not overreact. If anything, we didn’t act soon enough,” Blackburn said. “The Biden administration should make it crystal clear to Beijing: next time they think about flying a spy balloon near the U.S., we won’t wait a week to shoot it down.”
“The appropriate time for China to claim its balloon posed no threat was prior to its launch, not after it was deliberately floated across the U.S.,” Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), who sits on the House Rules Committee, told The Epoch Times.
“With all due respect to Ms. Xueyuan, our nation, not hers, will determine whether that payload was benign or malicious,” Norman added.
The publication of such an article from a Chinese official is in itself a concern to Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.), who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee.
“Only the communist friendly Washington Post would publish an Op-ed directly from a CCP agent criticizing the U.S.,” Steube told The Epoch Times, adding that the Chinese spy balloon was “a clear violation of U.S. air space.”
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also called out the Washington Post.
“The Washington Post does itself no favors by allowing its pages to amplify the worst kind of Chinese propaganda,” posted Issa on Twitter on Feb. 23.
The Post’s communications manager, Azhar AlFadl Miranda, told The Epoch Times that “The Washington Post Opinion page regularly publishes a variety of viewpoints,” when asked about the GOP criticism.
Spreading Influence in the West
Xu’s ability to promote CCP talking points via the Washington Post points to a more widespread issue of Beijing using prominent Western publications to spread its influence.
According to the latest filing (pdf) under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, China Daily, an English-language media outlet controlled by Beijing’s propaganda department, spent about $1.2 million in advertising dollars on major Western outlets such as Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Time Magazine, Financial Times, and Foreign Policy from May 1, 2022, to Oct. 31, 2022.
Time Magazine received the biggest share, totaling $656,885 during the six-month period.
Additionally, China Daily also spent nearly $370,000 on five recipients to have its newspaper printed. The recipients are Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, The Houston Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, and Seattle Times.
The overall spending for advertising, printing, and other expenses totaled nearly $5.03 million during the six-month period, marking a slight decrease from the $5.5 million spent half a year earlier (pdf).
The Epoch Times has reached out to Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Time, Financial Times, Foreign Policy, Boston Globe, Houston Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, and Seattle Times for comment.
For years, the Chinese regime has been spending millions running supplements under the title of “China Watch” in major Western newspapers. Though the content comes with disclaimers in small print, international nonprofit Reporters Without Borders (RSF) warned in its 2021 report (pdf) that the “inoffensive-looking” supplements are part of Beijing’s “Trojan horse strategy,” which enable Beijing to establish its propaganda in the living rooms of elites” and expose the Western media to financial pressure from Beijing.
“The CCP has been working overtime to infiltrate the U.S. by any means necessary and they will continue to do so as long as they are given the opportunity,” said Higgins.
Blackburn and Steube said the United States has got to stop allowing Beijing to distribute its propaganda to Americans.
“It is extremely concerning that the CCP is paying American media outlets hundreds of thousands of dollars. Foreign adversaries should not be able to pay to peddle their propaganda in the USA,” Blackburn said.
“Whether it is social media like TikTok or newspapers, China’s mission is to infiltrate our domestic information sources to spy on, and ultimately harm, Americans and our interests,” Steube said.
“This is one example of dozens that signify the enormous national security threat China poses and Congress should act to prevent the Chinese Communist Party from paying American companies to distribute their propaganda.”