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Sing Tao is the oldest Chinese-language paper in Hong Kong. Photo: Nathan Tsui

Hong Kong newspaper Sing Tao forced to register US arm as a foreign agent

  • It is the first media outlet from the city forced to make the registration after the Department of Justice ruled its operations constituted political activity
  • Previously state media outlets including the state news agency Xinhua and television channel CGTN have had to make the same registration
A Hong Kong newspaper has been forced to register its US subsidiaries as foreign agents, based on a Department of Justice assessment of its overseas ties.

The order means Sing Tao, which is viewed as a pro-Beijing outlet, is the first Hong Kong media outlet to register as a foreign agent in the US.

Filings to the Department of Justice this week declared that it was owned by the Hong Kong-listed Sing Tao News Corporation, and that its parent company’s stock was owned by individuals and entities considered to be “foreign principals” by the US government. The registration, stamped on Monday, was first reported by the US news site Axios.

In the filing, Robin Mui, chief executive of its New York branch, said the outlet is “editorially independent” from the Hong Kong-based corporation, which he said was “not owned by or affiliated with any foreign government or political party”.

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The filing said Sing Tao US disagreed with the designation and considered itself to be operating similarly to other for-profit media in the country. It said the Department of Justice’s Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) unit had concluded that its operations constitute “political activity for purposes of the FARA”.

The act requires that any agents considered to be engaging in political activities on behalf of a foreign government, political party or individual have to disclose this to the government, and that any materials it distributes in the US need to be labelled accordingly.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said he was not aware of the registration, but added that China opposed the US imposing politically motivated restrictions on Chinese media outlets.

Chinese state media operations had already faced heightened scrutiny amid the rising tensions between the two countries.


US designates 4 more Chinese media organisations as ‘state propaganda outlets’

US designates 4 more Chinese media organisations as ‘state propaganda outlets’
The state news agency Xinhua registered its North America division as a foreign agent in May this year, according to filings. Xinmin Evening Newspaper and China’s English-language broadcaster China Global Television Network had already been registered.

Hong Kong has been one of the main areas of contention between the two countries, with the US accusing China of undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy with a sweeping national security law, which it said had undermined the city’s freedoms and media. Beijing has dismissed the concerns and accused the US of interfering with its internal affairs.

Sing Tao News Corporation confirmed in a statement that five US subsidiaries had registered as foreign agents.

The company said some of the reports on the matter had been inaccurate and it was considering legal action.

“As a media corporation, [Sing Tao] will always adhere to its principle of objective journalism and high-quality content to provide neutral and balanced news reporting to readers,” the statement added.

Sing Tao, Hong Kong’s oldest Chinese-language newspaper, was acquired in February by Kwok Hiu-ting, the daughter of Kwok Ying-shing, founder of the property developer Kaisa Group.

Kwok had paid HK$369.8 million (US$47.7 million) to buy 28 per cent of the corporation from the company’s chairman Charles Ho Tsu-kwok, a tobacco tycoon and member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the advisory body to the Chinese legislature.

The company said at the time that the deal would require approval from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, and that it would dispose of its US business and assets if no approval was obtained.

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Kwok’s acquisition of Sing Tao was the latest example of mainland tycoons expanding into Hong Kong’s media industry. Liu Changle. the founder of Hong Kong-based Phoenix Media sold almost all of his stake to a Beijing-backed publisher and the shipping and property conglomerate Shun Tak. Meanwhile, the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba bought the South China Morning Post in 2015.

Another Hong Kong Chinese language newspaper, Ming Pao, also has a subsidiary in the US.

The US consulate in Hong Kong did not immediately comment on the issue.

Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of Beijing’s semi-official think tank, the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said the US was not targeting Hong Kong media, but media outlets which have influence on the Chinese community in America.

“They took an unfriendly attitude...They could not provide any evidence that Sing Tao Daily is controlled by the Chinese government,” he said. “Sing Tao is published in Chinese in the US. [The US government] is worried that the Chinese government will influence public opinion in US society, especially in the Chinese community.”

Additional reporting by Jun Mai, Kinling Lo and Nadia Lam

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Sing Tao forced to register in U.S. as foreign agent