How China Is Winning the Narrative War, and Who's Helping
In their 1999 book Unrestricted Warfare, Chinese colonels Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui posited that the battlefields of the future would be "virtually infinite." Much of the fighting, they said, would be done without fighting: using ideological infiltration and propaganda to craft a narrative, the Chinese brand of communism could be made to find acceptance in the world of the free market and individual rights, ultimately causing the latter's collapse. Expectedly, the chief target of this "smokeless war" is the U.S.
How alarmingly successful the Chinese have been has been brought home by a recent New York Times exposé of the activities of Marxist millionaire Neville Roy Singham. China's tentacles reach wide and deep to control newspapers, TV, the internet, non-profits and sundry groups espousing far-left causes – all in the service of China's quest for global hegemony. Under President Xi Jinping, not only have state media operations been expanded, sympathetic foreign influencers and news outlets have been cultivated. It is in these operations that Singham plays a major role.
The 69-year-old Singham is the son of the late Archibald Singham, a Sri Lankan Marxist scholar who consorted with Fidel Castro and was committed to the "liberation of Third World peoples." As a young man, the junior Singham joined the Maoist group League of Revolutionary Black Workers. After graduating from Howard University, he founded ThoughtWorks, a tech consulting firm, in 1993. It grew to employ 4,500 people across 15 countries, and made him a millionaire. From 2001 to 2008, he was a consultant to Huawei, which tested face recognition software used by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to target Uyghurs for repression and is deemed a national security threat by the U.S.
Ironically, during this successful entrepreneurial journey, Singham seems to have concluded that the Chinese economic system was preferable to that of the West. In 2017 – also the year he married Code Pink co-founder Jodie Evans – he sold ThoughtWorks for $785 million and devoted himself to leftist propaganda. He now works from offices in Shanghai and New York's Times Square, playing benefactor to far-left groups, which he funds through a network of shell companies and NGOs. He denies the NYT allegation that he works closely with the Chinese government.
Through the shell firms – some of which have no more presence than UPS store mailbox addresses – Singham bankrolls American leftist groups, a Massachusetts-based think tank, a political party in South Africa, and media groups in Brazil and India. His funds also support training for left-leaning activists and politicians across Africa. The common factor in all his beneficiaries is that they push Chinese propaganda, presenting China as benign even as it gobbles up land in Africa, bribes politicians, and creates debt crises in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, many other countries, and virtually across Africa, to eventually gain strategic leverage.
In India, Singham has been funding NewsClick, a progressive website that has featured articles such as China Claims to Achieve Eradication of Absolute Poverty; Can China Lead the Way to a Low Cost, Low Carbon Future?; Economically, US is a Declining Power, China is a Rising Power; and How US Aggression on China Will Destabilize Global Trade & Tech. Referencing the recent film Oppenheimer, NewsClick asked, 'Who is the Real Enemy of the People?' and claimed that Western media had been "spinning nefarious tales" of China and Russia's growing influence in West Africa and Sahel.
In September 2021, India's Directorate of Enforcement (ED), which investigates and prosecutes economic crimes, raided NewsClick's offices as part of a money-laundering probe. The ED case against the portal is that it received illegal foreign funding, routed through a Singham-owned entity. At the time, NewsClick and other media groups had cried foul, alleging a crackdown on media that was critical of the Narendra Modi government.
But the ED's findings are now confirmed by the NYT investigation, which has tracked millions of dollars flowing from Singham-controlled entities to groups that mix progressive advocacy with "Chinese government talking points." Meanwhile, a chain of emails between the Shanghai-based businessman and NewsClick editor Prabir Purkayastha affirms their collusion in defending China's position on Covid-19, supporting farmers' protests in India, and collaborating with Indian communists to defend China on its border clashes with India.
Singham's marriage to Evans, too, is not untouched by the China angle. Since the marriage, 25% of Code Pink's funding has come from groups linked to Singham. As late as 2015, before dating Singham, Evans had protested China's brutal repression of women. When they became romantically involved, she started portraying China as "a defender of the oppressed" and "a model for economic growth without slavery and war." She defended the Uyghur genocide, well documented by the radical leftist Amnesty International and the NYT, describing victims as terrorists. After marrying Singham, she declared, "If the U.S. crushes China, it would cut off hope for the human race and life on Earth." She now says China is not an existential threat; it wants peaceful relations with the West, but the U.S. is intent on escalating the conflict.
Code Pink has since worked to present China in a good light. In 2020, it lobbied members of the Congress through a 'China is Not Our Enemy' campaign, advocating a conciliatory approach to the Red Dragon. In June this year, it protested at the office of Rep. Seth Moulton, denying evidence of any problems – even forced labor – in Xinjiang, and calling the human rights charges against China "a total lie."
Post-marriage, Evans set up the People's Support Foundation (PSF), a non-profit capitalized with $163.7 million, aiming to "empower people through education, research and community." It receives tax-deductible donations through the Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund, a "donor-advised charity" that can conceal the funding source. According to its 2019 tax filings, PSF has assets of over $156 million and has made charitable disbursements of over $12 million, mostly to progressive entities and causes in sub-Saharan Africa.
After Singham's sale of ThoughtWorks, many of its employees began showing up for work at the nearby PSF headquarters. The PSF's China-favoring activities were overseen by Chad Wathington, chief strategy officer of ThoughtWorks. There is an extensive labyrinth of money flow and sharing of personnel among affiliated NGOs, who all defend the Chinese government against charges of human rights abuse and instead blame the U.S. for waging "information warfare" against China. Since funds are disbursed as pass-through donations, the channels are difficult to trace.
The NYT investigation indicates that Singham is linked to hundreds of millions of dollars pouring into China advocacy groups. One such outlet, which receives money from Shanghai's propaganda department, produces a YouTube show with millions of views. Two others work with a Chinese university to amplify China's narrative to the world.
Singham shares office space and staff with a Chinese propaganda company. He influences politics by running candidates in foreign elections, meeting with congressional aides, and organizing protests. Though he influences public opinion on behalf of China, none of his non-profits are registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, as required. In 2002, a New Lines investigation uncovered that Singham-linked funds and charities had provided $65 million, via complex conduits, for whitewashing or denying China's persecution of the Uyghurs.
According to the NYT, Singham attended a Chinese media institute meeting in May, and a CCP propaganda forum in July. Chinese media operatives, many with ties to Code Pink and No Cold War (a Singham-backed pro-China influence group) retweeted information supplied by his networks over a hundred times. In 2021, No Cold War attacked activists supporting Hong Kong's democracy movement.
It appears that Chinese propaganda is succeeding, going well beyond state-funded media outlets and Confucius Institutes. How could they lose when wealthy Maoist subversives like Singham and Evans, unnoticed for so long, help them route tens of millions of dollars for pro-China causes? Clearly, we have been asleep to this nefarious threat.
Image via Pxfuel.