The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), a congressional commission that has prepared annual reports on national security and trade issues between the world's two largest economies since 2000, wrote that Chinese state media expansion was part of an effort to change the global perception of China.
The report focused on the Xinhua News Agency, a state-owned outlet that has over 150 affiliates worldwide. While the USCC reported that China has tightened restrictions on media within their own borders, Xinhua has increased their profile in recent years by opening offices in major American cities such as Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.
But the USCC has accused Xinhua of doing more than reporting the news. "Xinhua serves some of the functions of an intelligence agency by gathering information and producing classified reports for the Chinese leadership on both domestic and international events," the report claimed.
Since Xinhua conducts these intelligence-gathering expeditions, the USCC reported, it should be considered a foreign agency, not a news source. China Daily, another state-owned Chinese media outlet, is already registered under FARA. Top-level employees must register with the DOJ if they wish to work in the US.
The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) was passed in 1938 as World War II loomed, and requires foreign governments, political parties and lobbyists working in the US to register as foreign agencies with the Department of Justice (DOJ).
FARA makes a major exception for journalist outlets, which is meant to protect freedom of speech. However, that didn't stop the Department of Justice from all-but-forcing RT, which is owned by Moscow, to register as a foreign agent this past Monday for being what the US intelligence community called a "state-run propaganda machine" that ostensibly helped interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
RT and Sputnik editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan protested the edict, calling it nonsensical and illegal. However, as RT's editors were threatened with arrest, "we are forced to submit," Simonyan said.
"The war the US establishment wages with our journalists is dedicated to all the starry-eyed idealists who still believe in freedom of speech. Those who invented it, have buried it."
Lawmakers have been discussing a possible overhaul to FARA after Paul Manafort, who served as US President Donald Trump's campaign manager for four months in 2016, was indicted. Manafort stands accused of failing to register as a foreign agent during his work as a lobbyist for former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, as well as multiple charges of money laundering and corruption.
The group, led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, could close loopholes and simplify FARA, which is often used as a DOJ cudgel to arrest and punish those who have committed no other visible crimes.