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Singapore’s Lianhe Zaobao accused of echoing Chinese Communist Party’s positions in Washington Post report

Lianhe Zaobao, Singapore’s major Chinese-language media outlet, has been accused by international sources of amplifying the Chinese Communist Party’s rhetoric. An in-depth report by The Washington Post warned critics of potential divided loyalties as China’s influence grows among Singapore’s ethnic-Chinese citizens. This influence seems to even infiltrate government-supported publications, generating anxiety within the region.

In response to The Washington Post’s query, Lianhe Zaobao’s editor, Goh Sin Teck, defended the newspaper’s commitment to “objective, neutral, and fact-based” reporting, asserting that content is not selected based on political leanings.

Regarding the two CCP officials writing as columnists for Lianhe Zaobao, Mr. Goh claimed that the opinion section aims to encompass “a broad spectrum of views.” He stated that the paper does not “want to discard certain views out of hand solely based on the columnist’s background.



SINGAPORE: Lianhe Zaobao, a prominent Singaporean Chinese-language media outlet, has been accused once again by international media of echoing the rhetoric of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) government and advocating for its influence in the region.

An in-depth report titled “In Singapore, Loud Echoes of Beijing’s Positions Generate Anxiety” published by The Washington Post on Monday (24 Jul), highlighted concerns about China’s active promotion of its vision and the deep-rooted influence of the Chinese Communist Party in Singapore, even extending to Chinese publications supported by the government, including Lianhe Zaobao, which has a strong presence in the Chinese market.

The article by The Washington Post pointed out that critics argue China’s propaganda strategy is causing concerns about divided loyalties and potential destabilization in Southeast Asia, particularly in Singapore, where a majority of ethnic-Chinese citizens are increasingly sympathetic to Beijing.

In a 2022 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center across 19 countries, Singapore was among the three countries where China and President Xi Jinping were viewed favourably.

In June, the Eurasia Group Foundation surveyed Singapore, South Korea, and the Philippines, revealing that Singapore was the only country where China was viewed more favourably than the United States.

Less than half of the respondents in Singapore had a favourable view of the United States, while 56 per cent viewed China favourably.

In her comprehensive report, Washington Post correspondent Shibani Mahtani pointed out that despite Singapore’s efforts to pass a law to prevent foreign interference in domestic politics, the messaging by CCP on crucial issues, such as the role of the United States in the region and China’s internal politics, has already deeply ingrained in Singapore.

This influence is evident even in a prominent Chinese-language publication, Lianhe Zaobao, which has long enjoyed support from Singapore’s government.

Lianhe Zaobao undeniably holds the position of flagship Chinese Daily within the SPH Media Group. The stewardship of the SPH Media Group is under the purview of the members of SPH Media Trust, a public company limited by guarantee.

And despite the revelation of the media group’s misrepresented circulation figures in January this year,  the Singapore government is still committed to funding the media giant up to S$900 million over five years.

CCP officials writing as columnists for Zaobao

The article highlights that Lianhe Zaobao has shifted from reflecting the country’s careful neutrality between China and the United States to echoing Beijing’s narratives.

A thorough examination of over 700 Lianhe Zaobao articles in 2022 and early 2023 by the Washington Post and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute reveals the denial of rights abuses in Xinjiang and allegations of foreign involvement in protests in Hong Kong and mainland China.

The article exposes two columnists, Deng Qingbo (邓清波) and Ding Songquan (丁松泉), as CCP officials, which Zaobao failed to disclose, presenting them only as China affairs commentators.

Deng Qingbo oversees the online propaganda and comment division of Hunan province’s cyberspace administration office, while Ding Songquan holds positions within the CCP committee at Huzhou College.

Additionally, Hong Kong-based columnist Xing Yunchao (邢云超) contributes seemingly identical columns to both China Daily and Lianhe Zaobao, blurring the line between Chinese state media and the privately held Singaporean newspaper.

Opinion pieces written by Deng and Ding are still accessible on Zaobao.

Lianhe Zaobao: sole Chinese-language overseas newspaper available for purchase in major cities across mainland China

The article mentioned that China’s substantial economic influence has provided an incentive for Singapore to heed Beijing’s wishes, eroding traditional constraints in Singapore on taking sides.

The publication faced declining readership in Singapore, especially among the young, leading to efforts to attract a digital audience.

Its combined print and digital circulation in Singapore fell from 187,900 in 2015 to 144,000 in 2020.

However, Lianhe Zaobao’s China market is triumphing, with over 4 million monthly readers in China, almost twice the number of Mandarin speakers in all of Singapore, according to census data.

The newspaper gained influence in China during Deng Xiaoping’s leadership in the 1980s, when its reports and commentaries began being reprinted and circulated among top-ranking CCP officials. By 1993, Zaobao was available in Beijing hotel bookshops, and the newspaper went digital in 1995. Today, it remains one of the few accessible Chinese-language foreign news websites in China.

Additionally, Lianhe Zaobao is the sole Chinese-language overseas newspaper available for purchase in Beijing and Shanghai.

With the considerable readerships amount in China, several current and former reporters told the Washington Post that avoiding being blocked in China became the main priority of Zaobao’s senior leadership.

Lianhe Zaobao values its access to audiences in China for advertising and growth; financial incentives also play a role at smaller online outlets in Singapore, where self-censorship is practised to maintain access to Chinese social-networking apps like WeChat, as being blocked affects readership and advertising significantly.

The version of the newspaper’s website in China also differs from the one in Singapore, with editors withholding sensitive stories from the Chinese version.

Some reporters believe the Chinese paper was handpicked for an exclusive interview with Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai in December 2021, seen as a channel to promulgate the party line and trusted more by global audiences than Chinese state media.

Lianhe Zaobao’s editor defends the newspaper, stating that it maintains “objective, neutral, and fact-based” reporting

In response to The Washington Post’s query, Lianhe Zaobao’s editor, Goh Sin Teck (吴新迪), defended that the newspaper maintains “objective, neutral and fact-based” reporting and does not select content based on political leanings.

Regarding the two CCP officials writing as columnists for Lianhe Zaobao, Mr Goh claimed that the opinion section aims to encompass “a broad spectrum of views,” and the paper does not “want to discard certain views out of hand solely based on the columnist’s background.”

“These pieces do not represent Lianhe Zaobao’s views. Given that China is the largest trading partner of most countries in this region, understanding the thinking of the authorities in Beijing has its value. ”

“As far as possible, Lianhe Zaobao verifies the background of all writers, while respecting how they wish to describe themselves,” Mr Goh claims.

When asked about Lianhe Zaobao’s consideration of its access in China in editorial decisions, Mr Goh said: “Indeed, we may not be dancing to the West’s tune when we report on certain topics. But to categorise us as a pro-CCP media because of this seems to be overly rash and arbitrary.”

Lianhe Zaobao says, “no wish to be embroiled in U.S.-China contests” when questioned on their cooperation with China AI company

In its report, The Washington Post highlighted Lianhe Zaobao’s partnership with SenseTime, a Chinese AI company that has been sanctioned by the U.S. government for its use of facial recognition technology against the Uyghur ethnic minority.

In response, Mr Goh explained the one-year partnership was “designed to explore ways of using AI technology to improve the visual content presentation and user experience”.

Mr Goh asserted that Lianhe Zaobao “has no wish to be embroiled in U.S.-China contests.”

In December 2021, the US Treasury Department sanctioned SenseTime, alleging its involvement in creating facial-recognition software used to oppress Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region.

Singapore government allegedly monitoring Chinese ambassador’s outreach in Singapore amid growing concern of China’s influence

The Washington Post also noted that the changes within Lianhe Zaobao coincide with the arrival of the new Chinese ambassador to Singapore, Sun Haiyan, who actively promotes Beijing’s agenda.

Sun engages predominantly with Chinese Singaporeans and Chinese-language media, urging them to avoid sensitive topics like China’s actions in Xinjiang and Tibet.

Citing sources, the article claims the Singapore government has been closely monitoring Sun’s outreach and is growing increasingly concerned about China’s influence in the country.

Lianhe Zaobao refutes Washington Post’s article

On Tuesday (25 Jul), Lianhe Zaobao issued a statement refuting The Washington Post’s report, accusing it of making “biased comments and unfair statements” based on pre-established perspectives and agendas.

Lianhe Zaobao defended that they “strive to provide fair and balanced reporting” drawing extensively from international news sources and their correspondents worldwide, and stated that they take in Chinese and Western viewpoints while “preserving their unique stance and independence”.

It took pride in its online presence in mainland China, providing Chinese audiences with international information not always covered by domestic media, despite facing some periods of prolonged blocks.

“The Washington Post has selectively left out some facts while intentionally highlighting and putting together some information, and citing anonymous former and current journalists to paint a negative image of Lianhe Zaobao, which is regrettable but not surprising to us.”

It also published its full responses to the set of questions raised by the Washington Post.

The Washington Post’s analysis of Lianhe Zaobao’s 2022 coverage on topics like Chinese and Hong Kong protests and Xinjiang indicates a strong reliance on pro-CCP or state sources, potentially causing bias and limiting the presentation of opposing views.

Lianhe Zaobao defends this approach, stating that official local data and information are their primary source when reporting on any location.

“When we report on China, the principle is to concurrently report what China and other countries are saying, on the premise that the information sources are reliable, or that we have first-hand interviews.”

Regarding the allegation about the Chinese ambassador’s request for positive stories about China, Mr Goh did not directly address the matter.

Instead, he clarified that Zaobao regularly interacts with various ambassadors, including China’s ambassador, and publishes articles contributed by them.

“Last November, Ambassador Sun sent one in response to our editor-in-chief’s column. We published that by our guiding principle of giving the right of reply.”

Lianhe Zaobao’s previous stance on the Xinjiang issue

Despite Mr Goh’s defence of maintaining “objective, neutral, and fact-based” reporting without political bias, previous instances may suggest a different picture.

In June this year, an article discusses U.S. President Joe Biden referring to Chinese President Xi Jinping as a “dictator,” and published by Lianhe Zaobao was reportedly blocked in Hong Kong, raising concerns about possible censorship.

Articles related to the Tiananmen Square massacre and recent arrests in Hong Kong were also allegedly inaccessible, while unrelated content remained visible.

Regarding its editorial stance on China, Lianhe Zaobao was invited in April 2019 by the Information Office of the State Council of China to present a favourable image of the concentration camps in Xinjiang.

This invitation was extended to eight overseas media outlets, including BBC and Lianhe Zaobao, with the intention of portraying a positive image of Xinjiang’s Muslim Uighurs.

Previous criticisms from human rights organizations and some Western media regarding the Chinese government’s suppression and surveillance of Uighurs prompted this response.

As such, the Chinese government wanted to change the world’s perspective of these “schools” and organised a media trip to show the current status of these “re-education camps”.

Although BBC took a bold move to showcase the darker side of Xinjiang and its “re-education” camps, but other invited foreign media outlets, including Lianhe Zaobao, took a less harsher route despite trying to “uncover the mystery of the Xinjiang Education and Training Centre”.

Singapore ranked second most influenced by China in the world

According to the China Index 2022 by Taiwan-based research outfit Doublethink Lab, Singapore has ranked second globally, preceded by Cambodia and followed by Thailand, in terms of China’s growing influence on countries.

The study revealed that Singapore is particularly vulnerable to Beijing’s influence in areas such as technology, society, and academia, although it is less affected in terms of domestic politics.

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