Sponsorship of China’s political advertising in the U.S.: The example of Tung Chee-hwa

By Jerome A. Cohen

Here is a report from a few weeks ago, “Chinese Communist Propaganda Group Paying for Vox Posts”, noting that the Vox has received funding support from the China-United States Exchange Foundation, whose chair is Tung Chee-hwa, the first Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

  Photo: a screenshot of the website of the China-United States Exchange Foundation

Photo: a screenshot of the website of the China-United States Exchange Foundation

How should the media in various countries deal with political advertising—and more subtle forms of financial support—for China’s views and actions is an important issue. But we should not neglect the broader aspects of the problem—how should the independent academic and policy organizations on whose China research the media depends deal with their needs for financial support? In what circumstances is it acceptable or even desirable for them to receive the support of China-backed organizations?

No salesman for PRC views could be more attractive and persuasive to Americans than C.H. Tung, who proved more effective in the U.S. than he was in his native Hong Kong during the period he was the SAR’s Chief Executive. On behalf of one organization or another, CH has offered and provided funds to various U.S. think tanks and other research groups.

As long as no strings are attached and there is public disclosure, I am not bothered by such support, and indeed it can be very important in making possible the continuing work of useful research organizations. How long such support will continue if the recipient’s products don’t square with PRC objectives is worth examining. And, of course, CH’s sponsors will not support research organizations that have already demonstrated critical views of PRC policies.

Years ago, when I was urging the Council on Foreign Relations, where I have long worked part-time, to consider opening a branch in Hong Kong, I talked with CH about the possibility of his joining in this effort. He was enthusiastic until I noted that, of course, membership would have to be open to people with all points of view, including the famous democratic veteran Martin Lee!

CH seems to have a long-standing preference for avoiding Martin’s outlook. I recall, when CH was the SAR’s chief, I suggested to him that the Hong Kong Basic Law Committee, which advises the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, be developed into a serious forum for fairly considering the proper interpretation of controversial clauses of the Basic Law. This would be somewhat akin to what the role of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the House of Lords had been concerning Hong Kong legal issues in colonial times. His swift reaction was to reject the idea because that would only give “guys like Martin Lee” another opportunity to make trouble!