by Philip Lenczycki
The China Project (TCP), a New York-based media outlet renowned for its China reporting, has had professional and financial ties with organizations that may have been headed by members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or members of alleged Chinese influence operations, a Daily Caller News Foundation investigation found.
Over 20 organizations that may have been led by such individuals have apparently partnered with or financially sponsored TCP, including the China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF) and the Confucius Institute, the DCNF found. Both groups apparently began professional relationships with TCP after the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) identified them as CCP influence operations in 2018. Furthermore, the DCNF found that TCP’s “board director,” Clarence Kwan, may have been simultaneously serving as a director of an alleged CCP front group at the time he joined TCP’s board and provided initial equity in the company.
Kwan did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
These revelations come over a month after journalist Shannon Van Sant, a former TCP business editor, delivered a sworn declaration to Congress and the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Oct. 21, alleging TCP fired her in June 2020 for being out of “alignment” with the organization’s alleged pro-CCP bias.
Van Sant’s declaration also stated that after being fired she “conducted open source research and found links between the organization and China’s Communist Party,” however, Van Sant’s declaration did not provide any documentation to substantiate her claim.
“It is important to me to provide transparency and shed light on my experiences,” Van Sant’s declaration stated. “That is why I am doing this disclosure.”
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith — both of whom sit on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China — recently told Semafor that TCP “should be forced to register” under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires the disclosure of service to foreign entities.
In response, TCP’s attorneys at Boies Schiller Flexner sent a 12-page letter to Semafor on Oct. 31, demanding Semafor retract their piece on Van Sant’s allegations. TCP’s attorneys allege Van Sant had been fired for “poor work performance” and had “an axe to grind.”
“Nothing in Ms. Van Sant’s ‘sworn declaration’ comes close to providing evidence, direct or circumstantial, that TCP is working for or has worked for the Chinese government,” Boies Schiller Flexner wrote to Semafor.
Neither TCP nor their attorneys at Boies Schiller Flexner responded to multiple requests for comment from the DCNF. Van Sant declined the DCNF’s request for comment through her representatives at Whistleblower Aid.
‘A Jewel In The Crown Of China Reporting’
TCP — which until September was known as “SupChina” — is a multimedia group that claims to reach “more than two million people per month” through a variety of platforms including news articles and podcasts. Former Ambassador to China Max Baucus — who recently came under fire for Nov. 11 and 12 meetings with alleged Chinese influence operatives — called TCP “a jewel in the crown of China reporting,” according to the outlet’s website.
The multimedia outlet also runs a nonprofit arm, Serica, which seeks “to educate and cultivate empathy around the issues of Sinophobia and anti-Asian hate,” according to its website. TCP also maintains a “United States Sinophobia Tracker” that’s collected numerous articles on CCP espionage allegations, such as a 2020 NBC News piece about the growing number of FBI counterintelligence cases, which TCP tags on its website as “paranoid rhetoric.”
TCP has also published articles and podcasts critical of the DOJ’s China Initiative — an anti-espionage program launchedduring the Trump administration which was ultimately terminated in February 2022 after the “civil rights community” expressed concern that the program had “fueled a narrative of intolerance and bias,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen said at the time.
China’s United Front
In her declaration to the federal government, Van Sant claims to have discovered links between TCP and the China Overseas Exchange Association (COEA), an organization which billed itself as an “important platform and bridge for people-to-people exchanges,” according to an archived version of COEA’s website.
China intelligence analyst and former senior analyst at the Canberra-based Australian Strategic Policy Institute Alex Joske identified COEA as a “key” United Front Work Department (UFWD) front group that merged with the China Overseas Friendship Association (COFA) in 2019 — an organization which USCC also identified as a UFWD front group.
Joske is the author of “Spies and Lies: How China’s Greatest Covert Operations Fooled the World” published in October 2022, which was well-received by the international press.
The UFWD is a Chinese government agency, which oversees CCP influence operations and reports directly to the CCP’s Central Committee, according to USCC. General Secretary Xi Jinping has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the UFWD. He even described the agency as the CCP’s “magic weapon” for “realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” in a 2015 speech.
“The UFWD is essentially an intelligence agency of the CCP tasked with infiltrating different communities and organizations, co-opting and influencing them,” Salih Hudayar, Uyghur prime minister of the East Turkistan Government in Exile, told the DCNF.
While TCP’s attorneys conceded in their October letter to Semafor that Kwan formerly served as a COEA “director,” they claim his involvement with the group “was limited to participating in two trips to China in 2013 and 2014.” TCP’s attorneys also claimed Kwan’s COEA tenure preceded his joining TCP’s board and his providing nearly 2% of the outlet’s initial equity.
Yet, the DCNF discovered that archived versions of COEA’s website — which was deleted after the organization merged with COFA around 2019 — list Kwan as a “director” for two consecutive four-year terms running from 2013-2017 and 2017-2021. This appears to indicate that Kwan’s time at COEA overlapped with his $150,000 purchase of SupChina First Notes in September 2016, according to Security and Exchange Commission filings. Likewise, this indicates Kwan may have been serving as COEA’s director when he assumed the role of “director” of SupChina — now called TCP — in May 2017.
Kwan is currently listed as an “advisory board member” on TCP’s website.
Additionally, Kwan appears to have also held leadership positions in several companies that have financially sponsored TCP, including KCY Family Office, East West Bank and Piermont Bank, the DCNF found.
The Committee Of 100
TCP also appears to have partnered with, and donated $25,000 to, a New York-based organization called the Committee of 100 (C100) — a nonprofit that claims to seek “constructive dialogue and relationships between the peoples of the United States and Greater China.”
Yet, C100 members appear to have included Chinese government advisers and 10 COEA directors, including Kwan, who, based on the committee’s website, may have served as C100’s chairman while simultaneously serving as COEA’s director.
Moreover, in addition to TCP’s founder, Anla Cheng — a hedge fund manager by trade, who apparently is also a trusteeand former C100 director — seven of TCP’s 23 advisory board members appear to belong to C100, including John Long, S. Alice Mong, Frank Wu, Li Cheng, Ted Wang, Janet Yang and Lesley Ma.
TCP’s attorneys accused Semafor’s article of relying on “racial profiling and stereotypes” by citing a C100 report which claimed “Asian defendants are more than twice as likely to be falsely accused of espionage” without acknowledging any financial or personnel ties between the two organizations.
C100 did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
‘CCP Agents Often Target The Chinese Diaspora’
Van Sant also claims in her 11-page declaration that the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST) told TCP’s founder, Cheng, in June 2020 about a Chinese scientist whom the U.S. government had charged with espionage, prompting Cheng to direct staff to “protect him.”
CAST is a unit of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which oversees the UFWD, according to USCC. The CPPCC “operates as a way for the CCP to falsely claim that it represents the full breadth of Chinese society,” according to a 2020 report written by Joske, the intel analyst.
“In practice, those organizations are controlled by the CCP,” Joske wrote. “Their leaders are often party members, and, historically, some have been manipulated through inducement and coercion, including blackmail.”
Although TCP’s attorneys did not deny Van Sant’s allegation in their letter to Semafor, they claimed that “protecting a ‘wrongly investigated’ Chinese scientist” did not amount to “evidence of espionage.”
Yet, TCP listed CAST as a “partner organization” on flyers from a 2022 “Women’s Conference,” the DCNF found.
Furthermore, TCP appears to have partnered with around 10 organizations that may be led by members of the CCP or alleged UFWD fronts, the DCNF found. For example, the “About Us” tab on CAST’s website includes a section on “Leading Party Members” and features CAST’s Party Secretary Zhang Yuzhuo and five other Communist Party members.
Likewise, TCP partnered with another organization called NYO China for its 2019 “Women’s Conference.” NYO China appears to be headed by He Mei, vice chairman of the Center for China and Globalization (CCG), which was identified by USCC as a UFWD front back in 2018.
The year before the State Department designated the Confucius Institute as a UFWD “foreign mission” in 2020, TCP also partnered with the Chinese government-run propaganda center to host an event on “China’s Food Revolution.” Li Changchun, former CCP propaganda chief, once called Confucius Institutes “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda setup,” according to the State Department.
“Confucius Institutes are the United Front’s most well-known overseas outreach program,” Helen Raleigh, author of “Backlash: How China’s Aggression Has Backfired,” told the DCNF.
“Confucius Institutes have been noted to present students with only the CCP-sanctioned version of Chinese history, which omits the CCP’s human rights violations, and Chinese teachers at Confucius Institutes are all thoroughly vetted by Beijing,” Raleigh said.
In total, about 10 organizations that appear to have been headed by CCP members or alleged UFWD front members financially sponsored TCP, the DCNF determined. These organizations paid as much as $50,000 to sponsor events hosted by the multimedia outlet, according to various flyers.
Youhe Invest — whose website identifies its chairman Su Jie as a member of the CCP and CPPCC — is listed on TCP’s website as a sponsor of past events. Likewise, the China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF) sponsored a TCP screening of a documentary on “the history and evolution of Afro-Chinese relations in America” in 2021.
Several companies run by individuals from CUSEF’s leadership have also sponsored TCP, such as Wisdom Valley — whose founding director, Victor Fung, is listed as CUSEF’s vice chairman — and Value Partners — whose co-chairman, Cheah Cheng Hye, is one of CUSEF’s “counsellors.”
Rep. Smith told the DCNF that once Republicans take control of the House it will become a priority to investigate Chinese influence operations.
“Beyond national security concerns, we know that CCP agents often target the Chinese diaspora in the United States,” Smith said. “We must help defend our fellow citizens and lawful permanent residents from pressure — and in many cases, transnational repression up to and including assassination attempts — by the Chinese Communist Party.”
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Philip Lenczycki is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “The China Project” by The China Project.