Caught on state television, a Chinese reporter rolled her eyes during a press conference for the Chinese regime’s very predictable, mostly ceremonial rubber-stamp legislature sessions. She instantly became an internet sensation in China. The incident also inadvertently revealed how the regime handpicks so-called “foreign journalists” to attend its press events, who are actually closely associated with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
On March 13, a reporter dressed in blue showed her dissatisfaction as another reporter dressed in red next to her spent 45 seconds asking an extremely long, and decidedly softball, question directed at Chinese official, Xiao Yaqing.
The eye-rolling reporter was later identified by netizens as Liang Xiangyi, of the Chinese financial news site Yicai, while the reporter-in-red was Zhang Huijun, a reporter for American Multimedia Television (AMTV), a Chinese-language television station based in California.
Upon broadcast on state media CCTV, Liang’s name became one of the most searched on Sina Weibo, a platform similar to Twitter. By evening, however, content relating to the incident was blocked by censors.
At major political events, reporter questions are typically screened and arranged in advance.
What was unknown to the Chinese audience was that Zhang has a complex background closely related to CCP high-level officials.
According to an investigation conducted by Radio Free Asia, Zhang Huijun’s true identity is ambiguous. A large number of her photos that have circulated online show that she not only is involved in the Party’s propaganda machine outside of China, but also has close ties with Party diplomatic, military, and national security officials.
She was a former reporter for CCTV. On social media, she has given herself several different monikers, including “well-known TV host,” “beauty of Lianghui [common name to refer to rubber-stamp parliament sessions],” “reporter of CCTV and [state-run] China Education Television,” “yoga teacher,” and “Miss China.”
A Twitter user also dug up a photo of Zhang in Chinese military uniform, which appears to have been originally from Zhang’s Weibo account.
The AMTV channel she purportedly works for was founded in Los Angeles in 2004, according to its website. AMTV also boasts of its connections to CCTV, stating that it was the first “local television” to have signed an agreement with CCTV to air its news program on CCTV’s international channel, which broadcasts outside of China.
It has fewer than 100 followers on YouTube and its videos get about a few dozen views each. When The Epoch Times visited the company’s registered address (530 S. Lake Ave., Unit 368) in Pasadena, California, it turned out to be a P.O. box.
China-based veteran media personality and freelance writer Huang Jinqiu told New Tang Dynasty Television, a sister media organization to The Epoch Times, these kind of reporters are equivalent to reporters for Party mouthpieces located abroad. “They represent so-called international media, and they will be arranged to ask questions during press conferences. This is typical convention within the [Chinese Communist] bureaucracy, which has been exposed by this eye-rolling incident. If it hadn’t been exposed, most Chinese people would still think they [reporters] are real international media,” he said.
“The majority of [international] Chinese-language media are controlled by the CCP to some extent,” Heng He, a senior China expert, told NTD. Some are Beijing-friendly, while others are directly managed by the regime’s propaganda office under different guises.
The CCP’s propaganda strategy can be divided between domestic and foreign, and within four categories: political, economic, cultural, and social propaganda, according to “Marketing Dictatorship: Propaganda and Thought Work in Contemporary China,” by Anne-Marie Brady. The Central Propaganda Department is in charge of domestic propaganda, while the Office of Foreign Propaganda, manages propaganda geared toward foreigners in China, the outside world, and overseas Chinese. “China has been remarkably successful in recent years at gaining dominant influence over foreign-based Chinese-language schools; newspapers; social, sporting, and commercial groups; television and radio stations; indeed any grouping of Chinese outside China,” according to the book.
“[The CCP does this] to make it seem like the entire world is supporting it,” said Zheng Cunzhu, a Chinese democracy activist based in Los Angeles, in an interview with The Epoch Times.
According to a 2016 BBC report, citing an analysis by scholar David Shambaugh at George Washington University, the Chinese regime’s annual budget for spreading propaganda overseas is estimated to be $10 billion.