Chinese agitprop lights up Times Square

Propaganda comes in all sizes, and communist China wants a piece of Times Square now. Xinhua, the state-controlled propaganda agency of the Chinese Communist Party, has leased a long-term advertising logo space in Manhattan’s iconic Times Square, renting a huge LED sign called a “spectacular” in U.S. advertising parlance. According to the New York Times, the Xinhua sign is underneath a sign for Prudential and above signs for Samsung, Coca-Cola and Hyundai brands.

The problem is that Xinhua is not a brand. It is rather the mark of branded disinformation and propaganda. Americans need to know that.

Like the former USSR, today’s China thinks it can fool the Western world with glass skyscrapers, space flights and glowing Times Square signs. But the West knows better - or does it? Xinhua is merely flexing its public-relations muscles as it attempts to pull the wool over gullible eyes in America and Europe.

Xinhua isn’t a news agency. Let’s be honest: It’s the propaganda arm of a one-party state in an undemocratic land ruled by fear and paranoia that uses trumped-up prison terms to keep dissidents in line. Xinhua is akin to the old Soviet propaganda machines of yesteryear that served Russia so well in the 1970s and ‘80s. Remember Tass?

It’s one thing for Times Square to open its advertising space to private brands from across the globe, and surely Chinese brands like Haier and Lenovo are welcome to showcase their logos there. But a “news agency” that prints blatant falsehoods about events inside China and in the West, and has the unmitigated gall to call its workers “journalists”? Whoever let Xinhua into Times Square ought to have his head examined.

A New York real estate firm called Sherwood Equities seems to think there’s nothing wrong with pocketing the hefty monthly rental fees from Xinhua. After all, America wants to be pals with Beijing, and what better way to show it than to say “ni hao” (hello) in Times Square?

Why China’s soft public-relations push in Times Square? For one thing, Xinhua has introduced a CNN-like 24-hour English-language broadcast service - China Network Corp. (CNC World), that seeks to reach millions of gullible viewers around the world with state-sanctioned propaganda of the most nefarious and sophisticated kind.

Xinhua is also flexing its propaganda tentacles with an English-language wire service, hoping to compete with veteran news agencies like the Associated Press and Reuters.

Does anybody not remember that official disseminator of government news releases in the former Soviet Union? Xinhua is just Tass in sheep’s clothing. Wake up, America.

Behind the Times Square sign is China’s desire to counter what it insists is “widespread bias against China” in the Western media, from CNN to the New York Times.

But as the New York Times itself said in a recent article about the new Xinhua sign in Times Square, Xinhua has some work to do. “Reports by Xinhua on topics like Taiwan and Tibet, which are of considerable political concern to its government bosses, are not necessarily known for being objective,” the Times editorialized.

Welcome to Times Square, Xinhua. Maybe you’ll learn something about freedom and democracy while you’re there.

By Dan Bloom, a freelance writer who has lived in Asia for 20 years.

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