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DOJ orders two major Chinese state-run media outlets in US to register as foreign agents

Attorney General Jeff Sessions addresses the audience during Director Wray’s formal installation ceremony at FBI Headquarters on September 28, 2017. (FBI/Released)
September 18, 2018

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced an order requiring Chinese media firms to register as foreign agents.

Two major Chinese state-run media outlets have been ordered to register as foreign agents under a foreign lobbying law as the Trump Administration cracks down on foreign entities who seek to influence U.S. elections, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

Xinhua News Agency and China Global Television Network are the first two Chinese media organizations to be required to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), according to a DOJ official. The law was considered an obscure and seldom used law until it was brought to light when charging former associates of President Trump.

In Jan. 2018, seven U.S. Senators from both sides of the aisle penned a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to question whether or not Chinese state media outlets were required to register as foreign agents, following Russian media’s requirement to do so, Foreign Policy reported.

“If the Department assesses that the [People’s Republic of China] media organizations do not incur reporting requirements under FARA similar to those of U.S.-based affiliates of RT and Sputnik, please state why,” the senators’ letter said.

In Nov. 2017, Russian state media outlet, RT, was required by the DOJ to register as a foreign agent under FARA. The DOJ arrived at the determination after a U.S. intelligence report identified RT as a primary member of Russia’s influence activities in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“The Department of Justice is committed to enforcing FARA and expects compliance with the law by all entities engaged in specified activities on behalf of any foreign principal, regardless of its nationality,” a DOJ spokesperson said at the time, according to The Hill.

Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle told Foreign Policy in December: “When we learn any person or organization — including a media organization and regardless of any particular nationality — is engaged in activities within the scope of the statute, the Department will take necessary and appropriate measures to ensure compliance with the law,” Hornbuckle said.

Sputnik News, who the DOJ also required to register as a foreign agent, noted in a report that the Chinese firms will now have to provide disclosure forms detailing their activities in the U.S.

The DOJ previously said the order does not affect an organization’s ability to operate as a media outlet, though some criticize the past orders as an infringement of constitutionally-protected free speech.

It’s unclear how the DOJ’s latest order could affect the U.S. relations with China amid their trade conflict. The U.S. announced an additional $200 billion tariffs on Chinese goods, and China promised to retaliate against the action, initiating its own $60 billion tariffs on U.S. goods. The trade conflict is not anticipated to end any time soon.