Pinkerton: Chinese Propagandist Meddles in American Politics

Chen Weihua
Chen Weihua/Twitter

Chen Weihau works for the government-owned China Daily, reliably cranking out articles with headlines such as “White House must concentrate on fighting outbreak, not China-bashing” and “Washington must stop making decisions which undermine WHO.” 

In other words, his journalistic output nicely coincides with the People’s Republic of China’s propaganda plans, from deflecting blame for the coronavirus away from Beijing to defending Beijing’s minions at the World Health Organization.

Yet Chen’s Twitter feed is more raw and personal—it reads as if it’s not filtered through any sort of editor—and so it’s more revealing. For instance, on May 4, reacting to a report about U.S. intelligence on the origins of the Wuhan virus, he tweeted, “Trump and Pompeo are not even good liars.”

The next day, May 5, he tweeted that Trump was speaking “nonsense,” adding in non-idiomatic English, “Why no one can stop him lying?” 

Not only does Chen bash the president and his administration reliably, he also echoes, eagerly, top Democrats and leading Never Trumpers. Indeed, on May 5, he pulled off a trifecta: First, he retweeted Hillary Clinton, the twice-failed—but still hopeful!—presidential candidate, who had snapped, “We must replace this administration in November.” Second, he retweeted an MSNBC tweet quoting Sen. Chuck Schumer trashing Trump. Third, he retweeted the Washington Post’s virulently Never Trump columnist, Jennifer Rubin. You get the idea.  

Chen mixes it up with other Republicans as well. For instance, he tweeted a response to Sen. Josh Hawley’s New York Times op-ed calling for the abolition of the World Trade Organization. The WTO, of course, has been the neoliberal vehicle by which China has gained access to the American market, enabling it to flood the U.S. with low-wage-subsidized exports, thereby hollowing out our industries. 

The WTO, in other words, is China’s golden goose, and so Chen, loyalist that he is, must seek to smite anyone who threatens it. Says Chen of Hawley: “Sometimes you wonder why NYT would publish such an oped by an ignorant politician. Just because he is a Senator?”

For his part, Hawley was quick to respond: 

#China not happy about my call to confront their economic imperialism by ending the WTO & replacing it with system that’s good for American workers. I love being insulted by #China state-run press.

Okay, so we get the picture: Chen happily works for the Chinese state, that odd combination of ruthless capitalist economics and even more ruthless communist politics. 

Yet if we look at Chen’s terse Twitter-page bio, we see something interesting: He has been the beneficiary of many liberal programs in the U.S.  Evidently those programs have been failures, in terms of having any impact on him, at least in terms of making him a liberal in the classical sense—that is, being an open-minded defender of freedom. 

For instance, Chen was a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford, in a program that describes its mission thusly:

We focus on helping these journalism leaders succeed as effective change agents, improving the access to information people need to create and sustain democratic communities. [emphasis added] 

Yes, we might dwell on that last line, about building “democratic communities”—because Chen doesn’t so dwell.

Chen also lists himself as a onetime World Press Institute Fellow at Macalester College in Minnesota, where he was supposed to have spent “four months immersed in journalism issues and the culture of the United States.”

In addition, Chen spent time at the Freedom Forum in Washington, DC, which declares its mission to be “foster[ing] First Amendment freedoms for all.” 

In other words, it seems that Chen passed through these and other do-gooder institutions—without the good rubbing off on him. Who knows? Maybe he was simply a spy.  

Of course, it’s also possible that these supposedly free-speech outfits aren’t actually so liberal. That is, it’s possible that they have all gone the way of many other once-liberal institutions, transforming themselves into hard-leftists. We’re all familiar with that type: They’re “liberals” in terms of opposing conservatives, but not so liberal in terms of defending freedom of thought or of legal due process. To illustrate, we might ask ourselves: How many American liberals have defended free expression on college campuses? How many liberals defended the legal rights of Michael Flynn?  

In other words, it’s an open question as to how much today’s liberals—perhaps we should call them what they usually prefer to call themselves, namely, progressives—really care about the Constitution and the speech- and due-process rights that it affords to all Americans? That non-liberal progressive attitude is fully reflected, of course, in today’s media.

In other words, if we regard the Knight Fellowships, the World Press Institute, and the Freedom Forum as progressive, then maybe Chen fits right in. 

Perhaps this is an unfair characterization of these three organizations. Perhaps they think of Chen as a disappointment, even a failure, one who didn’t understand, or didn’t agree with, their free-press message.  

If so, there’s one surefire way for these entities to address any mischaracterization: They can denounce Chen for falling short of their high First Amendment standards.  

Or maybe these media philanthropies will do nothing of the kind. Maybe they still think fondly of Chen—and maybe they agree with him, at least in his critique of America.  

In any case, at least for now, Chen seems happy to advertise his journalistic credentials without worrying about the credentialing outfits asking him to return his honorific certificates. And if that silence continues to be the case, well, that says something about Knight, WPI, and Freedom Forum. Moreover, there’s nothing stopping any journalist from criticizing Chen, an obvious propagandist in their midst. But will they do so?

And oh yes, there’s another item on Chen’s bio that’s worth noting. In all capital letters, he declares, “FREE ASSANGE.” Julian Assange, of course, is an intensely controversial figure in the West. Some say that the Australian-born Wikileaks founder is a pro-transparency crusader. Others say he’s a Russian stooge or spy. Still others say he’s a creepy sex offender.   

All of these declarations about Assange—currently living in London, fighting an extradition order to send him to the U.S. to face espionage charges—could be true, or none of them could be true.  Hopefully, a free press, and an impartial judiciary, will sort out the truth about Assange. 

Yet for the time being, there’s one thing we can be absolutely certain of: If Assange were Chinese, and had been publishing unflattering leaks about the Chinese Communist Party, he’d have long ago been in jail—or worse. And Chen Weihau would be cheering the government on, probably typing “IMPRISON ASSANGE.” 

Of course, if Chen were back in China, he wouldn’t be able to type those words on Twitter—because China bans Twitter.

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