Greg’s foreign media doctrine

The US is getting tough on Chinese state-owned media. But is it enough?

The Justice Department ordered two leading Chinese state-run media organizations to register as foreign agents, according to people familiar with the matter, as U.S. officials ramp up efforts to combat foreign influence operations and toughen their stance on a variety of China policies.

The DOJ in recent weeks told Xinhua News Agency and China Global Television Network—known as CGTN now and earlier as CCTV—to register under a previously obscure foreign lobbying law that gained prominence when it was used in the past year against associates of President Donald Trump, including Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, the people said.

The DOJ order comes as Washington and Beijing are involved in an escalating trade conflict, with China announcing on Tuesday it would retaliate for the U.S. tariffs unveiled Monday on $200 billion in Chinese goods. […]

The Justice Department told the senators it couldn’t comment on any potential continuing investigations and wrote that not all state-controlled media would necessarily be required to register as foreign agents, such as those that run news bureaus in the U.S. to report on events for an audience in their home countries.

“Unless there is an effort by the state-controlled media organization to use its reporting in the United States to target an audience here for purposes of perception management or to influence U.S. policy, there would probably be no obligation for it to register under FARA,” a DOJ official wrote in a letter dated Feb. 20 that was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

It’s unclear whether Chinese media organizations like Xinhua and CGTN have significant audiences in America (although some of their messaging is clearly aimed at Americans). It’s also unclear what (if anything) separates normal “journalism” from “perception management,” and it’s unclear why media outlets such as Xinhua and Korea’s KBS America should be registered as foreign agents but not, say, the BBC.

The guidelines for FARA registration seem very vague. Another issue is that FARA-registered media entities are not required to stop producing content, including for American audiences (although they are required to disclose their funding and activities and pay a fee). Some laud this as a positive transparency measure, while others denounce it as a troubling assault on journalistic freedom, and yet others wish FARA had more teeth.

The whole situation is complex, murky, and unsatisfactory to a lot of people. I propose cutting through all the complexity by applying the principle of reciprocity. Quite simply, the US should treat foreign media outlets the way their respective countries treat US media outlets. For example, since China bans the publication and printing of foreign newspapers and magazines for sale in the mainland, the US should not allow China Daily to be sold from newspaper boxes on the streets of America’s major cities:

China Daily New York

(Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

And since China would never allow CNN, for example, to broadcast US foreign policy propaganda on Beijing’s giant Sky Screen, neither should Xinhua be allowed to broadcast Chinese foreign policy propaganda on a huge LED screen in Times Square:

Xinhua Times Square

(The Nanfang)

The same principle would apply to Russia, in whose capital city you allegedly can’t find a major foreign newspaper. (It should be pointed out that Russia’s attempts to control and limit foreign media predate the Kremlin’s recent move to label foreign media outlets as foreign agents, ostensibly in retaliation for the US doing the same to RT and Sputnik Radio.)

Besides being irreproachably fair, this policy would also expose the severe hypocrisy of any authoritarian governments that complain that their media outlets are being muzzled in the US, since the US would simply be mirroring the restrictive policies of those governments. Optimistically, this could even prompt some authoritarian governments to relax their controls on US media to regain their American footprint.

Now, this policy would do little to curb the Russian information warfare and influence operations that so terrify America’s political and media elites, as social media is the main battlefield for those alleged activities, carried out by armies of invisible trolls and bots. The rule of reciprocity hardly makes sense in the context of Twitter and Facebook. But that’s another story for another day.

Thwarting democracy to save it

 

Unless this is just a hoax, a troll, or a high-profile LARP, it’s a little alarming to read of an anonymous “senior official” in the Trump administration that think it knows better than to do its actual job: 

The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in [Trump’s] own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations. […]

In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the “enemy of the people,” President Trump’s impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic. […]

Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly, and where allies around the world are engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as rivals.

On Russia, for instance, the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. He complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.

Truthful or not, the op-ed points to a reality that has been obvious for some time, namely that the president is surrounded by numerous officials who are implacably opposed to core elements of his agenda. You may recall that protectionism and detente with Russia were two of Trump’s signature campaign promises, which the voting public effectively endorsed when they elected him. This process, whereby a candidate makes promises and voters elect him to implement those promises, is called democracy. I know it’s hard for many Washington bureaucrats to accept this, but surreptitiously thwarting the will of the electorate on such contested issues as trade and foreign policy is pretty much the opposite of what is implied by “preserv[ing] our democratic institutions.”

Russia debate

Peter Hitchens makes a compelling argument that British diplomacy towards Russia is leading to a new Cold War. The opening statement by his debate opponent Rupert Wieloch is also worth listening to. Unfortunately it seems that the rest of the debate is not available on YouTube.

Here’s the first clip:

I’ve transcribed some of the highlights:

People say that Asia begins at the Ural Mountains. Well, technically it does, but really it begins at Moscow. It is a frontier city. This is a country which has been invaded by Tartars, by Mongols, by Poles, by Swedes, by Poles again, by the Germans, by the Germans, by the Germans again, by us, by the French, repeatedly, over and over again. It has no natural defenses… The Ural Mountains… are not particularly impressive. There is no real barrier. They live in constant, realistic fear of invasion. Their second city, now Saint Petersburg, was within living memory besieged by an invading army to such an extent that a large number of its population died of starvation. And you can go there and visit the enormous graves, and these are the people who are the grandfathers and great uncles and great aunts and grandmothers of people now living.

Understand this, and you begin to understand perhaps why Russians have a rather different attitude towards the world than we do, being surrounded conveniently by large stretches of deep salt water; or than the Americans do, who have the Pacific on one side, and the Atlantic on the other, and Mexico at the bottom, and Canada at the top. How nice, in comparison to having China on one side, and Germany on the other, and the Middle East at the bottom, which is what the Russians have to put up with. So please bear this in mind when discussing attitudes towards Russia. […]

This country [Britain] has no borders with Russia. We barely trade with them. We have no actual interests which clash with theirs. They don’t pay us much attention. We have no particular reason to be at war with them. And yet, here we are, at the moment, in a country where the government and its military leaders and its secretary of state and of defense and many of its journalists constantly, to my mind almost obsessively, go on and on and on about the Russian danger. […]

Since the collapse of the Soviet regime, which I witnessed, the Moscow government, under whatever name you care to give it, has relinquished control, without any significant bloodshed, of 800,000 square miles of territory — 700,000 square miles of territory in Europe, and another who knows how many in Central Asia — and it has lost control of something like 180 million people in the same period.

During the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the European Union and its military wing, NATO, has gained control over 400,000 square miles and over 120 million people. How is it, under those circumstances, that Russia can conceivably be classified as an aggressive power? Which one is the expanding power, which one is the diminishing one? The forces of NATO are 10 times the size of those of Russia. Russia’s gross domestic product is approximately the size of that of Italy. This is not a major country. […]