The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) hidden stranglehold on global industries has triggered international alarm in recent years. Of particular interest is the media industry, which wields substantial influence on public opinion. The specifics of this manipulation – the initiation, intent, resulting impact, and the figures in play – remain shrouded in mystery to the outside world. It raises grave concerns about the potential for inadvertent support and dissemination of the CCP’s skewed narratives by unsuspecting entities, including states and governments, due to a lack of awareness of their manipulative tactics.
For Chinese Version: 【調查報道】統戰部借香港秘密持《歐洲時報》大外宣
In an attempt to bring clarity to this covert operation, Flow HK has conducted an in-depth investigation, consisting of on-site interviews in the UK and France, as well as a meticulous analysis of commercial registration data from Hong Kong, France, the UK, and Germany. The focus of this investigative spotlight is the Nouvelles d’Europe (《歐洲時報》), the self-proclaimed largest Chinese-language media outlet in Europe. According to the media company, it has a circulation across 40 European countries, and since its establishment in 1983, it has developed into a conglomerate with businesses spanning networks, newspapers, magazines, book publishing, television production, film distribution, e-commerce, and market planning, with total assets exceeding 6.4 million USD.
The Nouvelles d’Europe, despite its claims of independence, has been revealed by our investigation to be under the control of the United Front Work Department (統戰部) of the CCP. This manipulation occurs via a Hong Kong-registered company named Ya Zhou Wen Hua Enterprises, Limited (亞洲文化企業有限公司). An entity founded by three individuals in 1980, the company’s current stakeholders and directors feature several individuals suspected to be associated with the CCP, including Qiu Jianxin (邱建新), the chairman of Hong Kong’s Chinese Goods Centre Limited (華豐國貨有限公司), who is also an executive committee member of The Chinese General Chamber of Commerce Hong Kong (香港中華總商會), as well as Wang Miao (王苗), reportedly CCP member, the editor-in-chief of Hong Kong China Tourism Press (香港中國旅遊出版社), and Wang Jiabin (王佳斌), the Hong Kong branch president of China News Service.
The Nouvelles d’Europe is more than a mere puppet in the hands of the CCP; it’s an active platform for the party’s overseas propaganda. The publication’s multilingual content – offered in English, French, and German – aims to sway foreign public opinion, often partnering with prominent media outlets such as Paris Match, The Telegraph, The Economist, and The Times to jointly produce content.
The Nouvelles d’Europe‘s influence is not confined to the media. The outlet uses the Association des Amis de Nouvelles d’Europe (歐洲時報文化中心), which is funded by Confucius Institutes (孔子學院), as a platform to teach the Chinese language to young students and organise “cultural activities” in conjunction with official and non-official organisations.
Assessing the extent of the media’s impact on social ideology is a challenging task. But, to provide an example, Buon Tan (陳文雄), the ethnic Chinese member of the French National Assembly, whose father served as a “consultant” for the Nouvelles d’Europe, has been noted for his advocacy of Chinese official narratives, which include voting against a French parliamentary condemnation of China’s genocide against the Uighurs. During that occasion, he was the only member to cast a dissenting vote.
Filip Jirouš, an expert on Chinese affairs, in an interview with Flow HK, voiced concern over the CCP’s manipulation of the media. “For many years, Hong Kong, particularly after becoming part of the People’s Republic of China, has essentially served as a channel for state-owned companies. They (PRC) utilise Hong Kong whenever they venture abroad, a strategic move that essentially enhances the legitimacy of their corporate image, making it seem more civilian and non-state . . . This intricate layering makes it increasingly complex for Western entities, especially governments, to discern the true nature of these companies. Regrettably, this perception may not hold true any longer, but there was a time when Hong Kong was widely perceived as a legitimate and well-maintained jurisdiction for business and investment.” He expressed that European countries have not been vigilant enough about the issue, even though, from the perspective of the European Union, it aligns with the definition of “hybrid warfare.”
Editor’s note: Flow HK reached out to multiple entities for comment on the content of this report, including Nouvelles d’Europe, Chinese Goods Centre Limited, Hong Kong China Tourism Press, Ya Zhou Wen Hua Enterprises, Limited, Nan Hai Investment Holdings Limited, and the United Front Work Department. As of the time of publication, no responses have been received. For any potential misunderstandings or inaccuracies in this article, please contact us at email@example.com, and Flow HK will verify and correct the information accordingly.
In Paris, just south of the bustling 13th arrondissement known for its significant Chinese community, you’ll find a less remarkable but equally intriguing location: Rue Benoît Malon in the suburb of Gentilly. The road is relatively unassuming, marked by sparse pedestrian traffic and a scarcity of notable storefronts. But, if you lift your gaze, you’ll notice a sign hanging from a nondescript building, indicating the presence of “歐洲時報文化中心 Nouvelles d’Europe,” or the Association des Amis de Nouvelles d’Europe. This cultural centre is not a freely accessible public space. An unscheduled visitor without a solid reason could potentially be turned away. However, on the afternoon of April 13, 2023, our journalist from Flow HK made their approach.
“I have registered for the ‘China-France Talent Exchange Conference’,” they announced to the staff, who welcomed them in.
The reception area, beyond the emblem of the Association des Amis de Nouvelles d’Europe, showcased three plaques. One bore the inscription “Confucius Classroom (孔子課堂 / Classe Confucius de Nouvelles d’Europe),” another indicated its status as China’s National Hanban’s (國家漢辦) “Chinese Test Center,” and the third denoted its recognition as a demonstration unit for Chinese education by the China Overseas Exchange Association (中國海外交流協會). To pass the time before the conference, our journalist was led to a waiting room. Here, copies of the China Newsweek (《中國新聞周刊》) and books like Taste of Chaozhou (《品味潮州》) and Ancient Chinese Generals (《中華古代名將》) lined the shelves. Beyond the waiting room was a grand hall that housed two Chinese classrooms and a glass display case exhibiting memorabilia from the 40-year journey of the Nouvelles d’Europe.
Once the conference began, the staff led our journalist and roughly a dozen other participants upstairs to a meeting room, where Zhong Cheng (鍾誠), the Executive Vice President of Nouvelles d’Europe, was already seated. A colossal screen in the room played a short video celebrating the 40th anniversary of Nouvelles d’Europe, with a voiceover elegantly narrating, “Forty years, time flies. Forty years, reaching a mature age. As the clock turns back, with the ebb and flow of the tides, we have used the pen of ‘Nouvelles d’Europe’ to record our toil and harvest.”
Then, a shining golden phrase appeared on the screen: “Forty Years of Progress.”
Nouvelles d’Europe, as its name aptly implies, is a Chinese-language daily newspaper in wide circulation across Europe. It offers an array of editions, including the original French edition, UK, Germany, Italy, Central and Eastern Europe, and Spain versions. According to the newspaper’s own public disclosures, it disseminates tens of thousands of copies across 40 European countries. The French edition publishes 12 pages on weekdays and swells to 20 pages at weekends. A scan of past editions reveals a clear emphasis on international news with a China-centric lens. Headlines such as Promoting China-Europe, China-France Economic and Trade Cooperation: Macron, von der Leyen Visit China on April 5 and China Providing Weapons to Russia? US Smearing China, Says Austrian Media: Only China Can Serve as Mediator in the Russia-Ukraine Conflict, share space with news on the Chinese diaspora’s activities (The Second European English-Speaking Chinese Teaching Skills Championship Held) and issues concerning Greater China, including Hong Kong and Taiwan (Hong Kong Hospital Authority’s London Recruitment Attracts Over 500 People).
This sort of newspaper, at Western locales like Chinese supermarkets, Chinese restaurants, or Chinatowns, is frequently ignored or overlooked, which can foster a perception of limited influence. This is not the case for Nouvelles d’Europe. Over a span of 40 years, it has morphed from a humble physical newspaper to the Guang Hua Cultures et Media (GHM, 歐洲時報文化傳媒集團), the “largest Chinese cultural media group in Europe.” The group’s activities span newspaper and magazine publishing, book publishing, television production, and film distribution. Ascribing a singular measure to its influence is challenging, given the variability across individuals, ethnicities, and age groups. But in the realm of online presence, their statistics speak volumes. According to the World Chinese Media New Media Influence (世界華文傳媒新媒體影響力) rankings by the China News Service (China’s state-owned news agency) and The Communication University of China (中國傳媒大學), Nouvelles d’Europe stood 18th globally and 2nd in Europe in late 2022, trailing only the Sing Tao Daily EU Edition (《星島日報》歐洲版). It also manages at least 6 Facebook accounts, 3 Instagram accounts, 7 Twitter accounts, 5 YouTube channels, 5 Weibo accounts, 11 WeChat official accounts, 5 Douyin accounts (TikTok Chinese version), and 2 TikTok accounts (see [Figure 1]). Among them, the Weibo account of Nouvelles d’Europe has over 830,000 followers, and the Douyin account Nouvelles d’Europe Video (歐時視頻) has 481,000 followers. Taking its WeChat official account Dao De Jing (道德經, belonging to the Germany edition of Nouvelles d’Europe) as an example, at the time of writing, the most-read post in the past week received 15,000 views and was titled A Topic on Weibo Has Become Popular in Germany, Surprising German Media! “Didn’t Expect Chinese Youth to Be Like This”.
As per commercial registration data, The group Guang Hua Cultures et Media is registered in France and owns eight subsidiaries and has established branch offices in Germany, Italy, the UK, Spain, and Austria, along with liaisons or representatives in at least 17 countries including Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, Serbia, Hungary, Greece, Iceland, Norway, and Belgium (see [Figure 2]). Furthermore, the company operates a representative office in Beijing, and the IP location of its WeChat official accounts sometimes shows Europe, while at other times, it indicates China, suggesting that some content may be released directly from China.
The group’s expansive reach extends beyond media operations. Besides newspaper publishing, it delves into sectors like travel agencies, online shopping, market planning, and talent management. Its Euro Chine Voyages (歐洲時報旅行社 / 歐時文旅) manages tasks like visa applications, organises official visits for Chinese institutions, and arranges language training and summer camps. Another subsidiary, Ligo Groupe, operates an online store (ligostore.com) selling a wide range of Chinese products, including Huawei, Xiaomi, and products from Hikvision, which has been exposed as assisting the CCP in monitoring ethnic minorities. The group’s Influencer Hub International (華時星盟) incubates influencers across platforms, fields, countries, and cultures. Its UK branch, China Minutes, offers “one-stop services” to corporate clients in the market1.
As a testament to its extensive reach, as early as 1985, Nouvelles d’Europe served as the European printing and distribution agent for the People’s Daily overseas edition (《人民日報》海外版) since the latter was launched. The financial report for 2021 shows the Guang Hua Cultures et Media commanding assets totalling roughly 7 million euros, or 7.86 million USD, translating to a profit of approximately 1.3 million euros, or 1.46 million USD, for that year. These figures illuminate the expansive scale and enduring influence of this multinational media conglomerate.
Under the Guise of Independence
Nouvelles d’Europe presents itself as an independent media outlet, stressing its impartiality. As early as 1983, its founding speech already stated its position and attitude as “impartial”. In 2011, the launch of its UK edition affirmed its commitment to being a “minority” media platform, emphasising its “professional spirit of independence, objectivity and rationality” and a dedication to promoting societal harmony. This stance was echoed in 2013 by the Germany edition, which claimed that it “will . . . think independently about the direction of Sino-European relations”. Former president of Nouvelles d’Europe, Yang Yongju (楊詠桔), even reiterated in a 2017 interview in China, the trustworthiness of their news over any others, quoting Chinese overseas citizens as saying, “We only believe in the news published by Nouvelles d’Europe, and we don’t believe in what other people say.”
However, despite these declarations, it has emerged that Nouvelles d’Europe maintains a close relationship with, and could even be directly influenced by, the CCP.
The highest levels of Guang Hua Cultures et Media are intricately connected to the CCP. The current president, Zhang Xiaobei (張曉貝), is the son of Zhang Xiangshan (張香山, 1914-2009), who was a former Deputy Minister of the International Liaison Department (中共對外聯絡部) and Deputy Minister of the Publicity Department (中宣部) of the CCP. Zhang Xiangshan also served as a deputy of the National People’s Congress (NPC, 全國人大) and a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC, 全國政協). Prior to joining Nouvelles d’Europe in 1992, Zhang Xiaobei herself worked for ten years at the China Daily, an English-language publication under the Publicity Department.
Another senior official, Zhong Cheng, Nouvelles d’Europe’s Executive Vice President, formerly served as the editor-in-chief of the state-owned media outlet China Newsweek and President of the China News Service‘s Paris branch. Our investigation also found that numerous middle and lower-tier employees had professional histories tied to state-owned media outlets.
While these affiliations are telling, they do not conclusively prove Guang Hua Cultures et Media’s control by the CCP. However, our examination of the organisation’s structure does reveal significant CCP influence.
A deep dive into the registration details of Nouvelles d’Europe’s official website and WeChat Official Account unveils that over 90% are controlled by Beijing Zhongxin Chinese Technology Development Co., Ltd. (北京中新唐印科技發展有限公司) and Beijing Zhongxin Tangfeng Cultural Communication Co., Ltd. (北京中新唐風文化傳播有限公司). Further research into Chinese corporate registration information reveals that Zhongxin Chinese Technology is fully owned by Zhongxin Tangfeng. Notably, Zhongxin Tangfeng itself is overseen by China News Service, a state-owned news agency in China, which was originally held by the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council (OCAO, 國務院僑務辦公室). The OCAO was integrated into the United Front Work Department in 2018, which now manages overseas Chinese affairs.
Examining Guang Hua Cultures et Media’s structure, the CCP’s influence is unmistakable, but an equally noteworthy role is played by Hong Kong.
Tracing back to the origin of the group, Nouvelles d’Europe was established on January 1, 1983, by a group of Chinese-language users from Southeast Asia. However, after a disagreement among shareholders, the newspaper changed hands and was taken over by Guang Hua (光華報業公司) the following year. The significant shareholder and president of Guang Hua, Yang Yongju, is the daughter of Yang Yongzhi (楊永直), the former Minister of the Publicity Department of the Shanghai Municipal Party Committee (中共上海市委宣傳部), and the former editor-in-chief of the CCP’s state-controlled media outlet, Jiefang Daily (《解放日報》）.
Ownership of Guang Hua underwent significant changes in 1992 when a Hong Kong-registered company, Ya Zhou Wen Hua Enterprises, Limited (亞洲文化企業有限公司, literally meaning “Asian Culture Enterprises, Limited”, referred to as “Ya Zhou” below), under the control of the CCP, gained a 90% stake. Records indicate Ya Zhou was established as early as 1980, and its three initial directors, Zhang Yu Fen (張毓芬), Chang Fan (張帆), and Wu Lao Jiang (胡勞江, later changed to 吳魯江 in subsequent company documents), were connected to the CCP and its Overseas Chinese Affairs Office.
Even today, many individuals associated with Ya Zhou are linked to the CCP, notably the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office. According to the most recent business registration documents, Ya Zhou has a shareholder composition largely interwoven with the CCP. The largest shareholders are Qiu Jianxin (邱建新) and Wang Miao (王苗), while the secretary is Xu Xiaoli (許曉麗). Notably, other shareholders also include Guo Jinling (郭錦玲), Hong Kong China News Publication Limited (香港中國新聞出版社), and Nanhai Investment Holdings, Limited (南海投資控股有限公司) – both of which owned by the CCP’s Overseas Chinese Affairs Office. The current directors include Zhang Xiaobei, Guo Jinling, Qiu Jianxin, Wang Jiabin (王佳斌), Wang Mengli (王夢黎), Yin Luchang (殷路長), and Xie Tian (謝添). Many of these personnels’ resumes read like a directory of pro-Beijing figures in Hong Kong’s media landscape.
Qiu Jianxin is a linchpin in the network of CCP’s influence in Hong Kong. He is a member of the Hong Kong Election Committee; a Director of the Huaqiao University (華僑大學) in Fujian, a unit directly under the CCP’s United Front Work Department; an executive committee member of The Chinese General Chamber of Commerce Hong Kong (香港中華總商會) and a managing director of the Hong Kong Federation of Overseas Chinese Associations (香港僑界社團聯會). He is also the chairman of Chinese Goods Centre Limited (華豐國貨有限公司). According to Mainland China Studies (《中國大陸研究》) published by the Institute of International Relations at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University in 1993, Chinese Goods Centre Limited is considered one of the “major institutions” of the CCP’s trade front in Hong Kong.
Wang Miao, a CCP member, moved to Hong Kong in 1986 to work for the magazine China Tourism (《中國旅遊》) under Hong Kong China Tourism Press and is now the editor-in-chief and deputy president of the publishing house. Another figure of note, Guo Jinling, previously served as the Director of the Publicity Division (宣傳司) and spokesperson of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of China. Wang Jiabin is the President of China News Service Hong Kong Branch and also the president of another state-owned media outlet in Hong Kong, Hong Kong China News Agency (香港中國通訊社, 中通社). As for Wang Mengli, besides being the General Manager of Chinese Goods Centre Limited, he has also worked for the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, holding positions such as Deputy Director of the Chinese Language Education Division (華文教育處) and Deputy Director of the Cultural Division (文化司). Yin Luchang works for the General Office of the United Front Work Department. Xie Tian is a senior executive at Nanhai Investment Holdings Limited and has also served as the Director of the Publicity Division of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office (The relationship of the individuals and entities, as compiled by Flow HK, can be found in [Figure 3].).
Does the above imply that the CCP sent overseas Chinese affairs personnel to Hong Kong as early as 1980 to establish companies in their own names as a stepping stone for indirectly holding overseas media organisations such as Nouvelles d’Europe? While definitive proof eludes us, China specialist Filip Jirouš’s remarks shed light on this shadowy practice.
“The establishment of the first Republic (of China) was, to a significant extent, reliant on the support of the Chinese diaspora, notably in countries such as Canada and the United States. When the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, it found itself grappling with diplomatic isolation, inclusive of embargoes. Consequently, the PRC turned to diverse sources such as the Chinese diaspora, businessmen, and even smugglers from Hong Kong to procure essential resources. While it might not be entirely accurate to label it as intelligence, this network became one of the fundamental sources for the party-state.”
In addition to obtaining foreign information through overseas Chinese-language media, Filip Jirouš points out that another purpose of the CCP’s involvement in overseas Chinese-language media organisations is to monitor overseas Chinese communities: “During a certain period, there was a massive wave of migration to Europe, and this development made the party-state feel insecure. They were particularly concerned about their people being exposed to the principles and values of liberal democracies, which were prevalent in countries like France, amongst others. From the perspective of the party-state, there was a fear that such exposure could potentially indoctrinate these individuals, leading them to adopt ideologies that could make them disloyal to the party. This possibility was deemed unacceptable from the standpoint of the CCP.”
The insidious brilliance of this approach lies in its opacity. Jirouš explains, “When it comes to the origin of companies or even individuals, the PRC invariably raises more concerns than Hong Kong itself.” Hence, using Hong Kong as a base provides a veil of legitimacy and insulates these companies from direct association with Beijing. Major shareholders and directors of Ya Zhou, including Guo Jinling, Wang Mengli, Wang Jiabin, Qiu Jianxin, Yin Luchang, Wang Miao, and Xie Tian, all possess Hong Kong Identity Cards, further cementing this narrative.
As per Jirouš, “For many years, Hong Kong, particularly after becoming part of the People’s Republic of China, has essentially served as a channel for state-owned companies (to venture abroad).” This guise of a private company in Hong Kong shields these entities from immediate scrutiny and potential backlash. Filip Jirouš expresses concerns about the CCP’s behind-the-scenes manipulation. While European governments have mechanisms for scrutiny to confirm whether companies operating in their countries are related to foreign governments, these mechanisms usually only investigate direct shareholders. However, “they (the CCP) have created a complicated network that’s hard for European governments to decipher. Even if these governments were genuinely concerned about this topic, they would find it challenging to distinguish that this (a media outlet) is actually from the party-state, and not simply diaspora media, which operates spontaneously and organically within the diaspora.”
Unravelling the Multifaceted Propaganda Mechanisms
Who exactly benefits from the operations of Nouvelles d’Europe if not the diaspora community? The answer, as it turns out, isn’t hard to decipher.
The above organisational structure illuminates the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office’s pivotal role in overseeing the function of Nouvelles d’Europe. The Office has long been a department within the State Council. However, in 2018, it was subsumed into the United Front Work Department, a department with primary duties encompassing “unified leadership of overseas united front work” and “coordinating and organising work related to overseas Chinese affairs.” The amalgamation, according to Chinese affairs expert Alex Joske, signals an escalation in the CCP’s direct oversight of overseas Chinese communities. Indeed, Xi Jinping echoed this sentiment at a United Front Work Department conference in 2015, articulating that “Overseas students are an important part of the talent pool and a new focus of united front work . . . We must strengthen and improve our work with representative figures in new media, establish regular channels of communication, enhance online interaction and offline communication, and let them demonstrate positive energy in purifying cyberspace and promoting the main theme.”
The responsibility of fulfilling these objectives falls squarely onto the supposedly “independent” shoulders of Nouvelles d’Europe.
Nouvelles d’Europe leaves no stone unturned in disseminating China’s political viewpoints across its multilingual platforms. Its Chinese edition, for instance, regularly earmarks special coverage for the National People’s Congress and routinely features interviews extolling the virtues of the Chinese experience. On politically delicate matters, Nouvelles d’Europe doesn’t shy away from voicing its stance. A case in point is a 2021 piece by French scholar Bruno Guigue titled French Political Scholar: ‘Hong Kong Returning to Reality (《法國政治學者： 「香港回歸現實」》), which emphatically begins, “The separatist tendencies disguised as ‘Western democracy’ are not the future of Hong Kong” (「以『西方民主』為幌子的分裂主義傾向不是香港的未來」).
The article’s opening salvo translates as follows:
The separatist tendencies disguised as ‘Western democracy’ are not the future of Hong Kong. These separatist tendencies will be eliminated and eradicated because Hong Kong is an inseparable part of China, and this situation is irreversible. Why should Chinese people adopt foreign political systems when their own system works well? What entitles Western countries to demand that China comply with their orders? Even after a 100-year foreign colonial rule, they failed to separate this territory, which has belonged to China for thousands of years and has always been under Chinese jurisdiction, from its motherland. Therefore, a document from the US Congress (according to international law, this document is illegal) cannot achieve this goal either.
Beyond its coverage of Hong Kong, Nouvelles d’Europe also devotes attention to issues surrounding the Taiwan Strait. For instance, in March 2023, the Germany edition of Nouvelles d’Europe’s WeChat account, Dao De Jing, published articles such as For the First Time in 26 Years, a German Minister Visited Taiwan, Only to Be Slapped in the Face by Their Own Foreign Ministry? (《26 年來首次有德國部長竄訪臺灣，竟被自家外交部打臉？》). Additionally, it does not hesitate to broadcast to European audiences its perspective of a “deceptive and brazen” United States, as evidenced by articles like German News | US Evaluation of German Policies: Embarrassing, Idiotic, Cowardly, Don’t Waste American Taxpayer Money! (《德國新聞｜美國評價德國政策：丟臉，白痴，懦弱，別想浪費美國納稅人的錢！》) and Germany is Actually the 51st State of the United States??? (《德國，其實是美國的第 51 個州？ ？ ？》) (as shown in the picture below), and How Dishonest are Americans? Germany Finally ‘Gets It’! (《美國人有多不厚道，德國總算 “開始懂了”！ 》).
These ostensibly independent Chinese-language publications are often “cited” by other official domestic media for propagandistic purposes. The China News Service, for instance, posted on Facebook in Chinese, saying, “According to the French media Nouvelles d’Europe, the China-U.S. trade issue is complex and has wide-ranging impacts. Mishandling it will result in a ‘lose-lose’ situation and even drag down the world economy. Cooperation is the best choice for both countries, and negotiation is the right way to resolve the problem.”
Although Nouvelles d’Europe’s Chinese articles may not regularly reach readers in Hong Kong, according to Filip Jirouš, Chinese-language media remains the primary information source for certain overseas Chinese communities in some countries. While such readers may be business-minded individuals with little interest in political news, when media like Nouvelles d’Europe intersperse political commentary with commercial information, the resultant blend could subtly and effectively sway these readers’ opinions.
Moreover, Nouvelles d’Europe’s offerings are not confined to the Chinese language. The media group runs a multitude of outlets in English, French, and German, including Le9, a French monthly magazine; chine-info.com, a French website; China Minutes, an English website; China Rundschau, a German monthly magazine; and de.china-info24.com, a German website. These platforms employ foreign personnel for editorial duties, crafting content specifically tailored for foreign language audiences. Consequently, their articles are shared and discussed within foreign language communities on social media platforms. One such example was an article published in early May of this year on chine-info.com, titled Les Chinois, les plus heureux du monde d’après un sondage Ipsos (According to an Ipsos survey, Chinese people are the happiest in the world), which garnered considerable attention from French-speaking internet users.
Les Chinois, les plus heureux du monde d’après un sondage Ipsos.— Chris Toof (@toof_chris) May 24, 2023
Les trois quarts des adultes (73 %) de ces pays se considèrent comme heureux. https://t.co/UEy86Yq8Sw
Furthermore, by presenting itself as an independent entity, Nouvelles d’Europe manages to collaborate with influential Western media outlets, thus enhancing its reach.
One of these media outlets is the French magazine Paris Match. This cultural and political publication enjoys widespread distribution throughout France, dotting the landscape of newsstands and bookstores. In 2020, it was among the highest-circulating magazines, with nearly 570,000 copies sold. In 2000, Paris Match joined forces with Nouvelles d’Europe to bring forth the French-language magazine, Match en Chine. The collaboration was reportedly aimed at “introducing China to mainstream readers in France” and involved “topic selection and coordination by the Chinese side, and publishing and distribution by the French side.” Arranging for French journalists to tour regions like Yunnan for interviews was part of the package offered by Nouvelles d’Europe. Given Nouvelles d’Europe’s effective control by the CCP, such collaborations naturally raise eyebrows about editorial independence. Indeed, Yang Yongju, the former president of Nouvelles d’Europe, revealed in an interview the existence of editorial disputes:
Yang Yongju: During those years when we collaborated with Paris Match, almost every issue featured some small stories about Chairman Mao Zedong. But each time, the French journalists would “sprinkle a bit of pepper”2 in it, and I had to “fight” with the French side over these things for a long time.
One time, I got really angry and said, if you really want to study Mao Zedong, you can engage in academic discussions, but you’re clearly biassed against him by “sprinkling pepper” in every article. That French editor also got angry and said, who do you think you are? Are you Chinese or French? Your family suffered so much during the Cultural Revolution. Why are you still speaking up for Mao Zedong?
I immediately replied to him, “Do you want to know why I speak for Mao Zedong? It’s because Mao Zedong enabled me to stand up and speak to you.” He was immediately taken aback. The next day, he wrote me a letter saying, “Dear Madam, please forgive my rudeness yesterday.”
Whether Paris Match apologised to Yang Yongju remains unverified (Paris Match did not respond to our inquiries). However, it is clear that Nouvelles d’Europe exerted a significant influence on the editorial policy of the French magazine.
In the United Kingdom, Nouvelles d’Europe partnered with recognised outlets such as The Telegraph. From June 2014 to May 2020, Nouvelles d’Europe‘s UK edition published a two-page Chinese edition of The Telegraph on a weekly basis. Similarly, Nouvelles d’Europe collaborated with The Economist by translating selected articles from The Economist‘s lifestyle magazine, 1843, into Chinese and introducing them to Chinese readers. The Times also joined forces with Nouvelles d’Europe in 2013, agreeing to allow Nouvelles d’Europe to publish four full-page Chinese editions, marking their “first collaboration with a Chinese-language media outlet to publish Chinese-language content.”
At the time, John Witherow, the editor-in-chief of The Times, acknowledged in a letter to readers: “The Times is delighted to be able to share our articles with the world’s largest ethnic group and to have the opportunity to showcase our first-class content to China—an economically booming and politically influential country.” Our inquiries to the aforementioned media organisations elicited a response from John Witherow, now the Chairman of The Times, via his assistant, stating: “When Mr. Witherow became editor of The Times in 2013 there was a deal already in place to licence some Times content to Nouvelles d’Europe. However, he saw no benefit in the arrangement and terminated it soon after taking over.”
In addition to its prominent presence in the print media, Nouvelles d’Europe also utilises film and television production as vital tools to propagate the ideology of the CCP. In Germany, for instance, Guang Hua Cultures et Media has overseen the distribution of several notable films. These include Wu Jing’s blockbuster hit Wolf Warrior 2 (《戰狼 2》, 2017), as well as Tsui Hark’s Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings (《狄仁傑之四大天王》》, 2018). Guang Hua Cultures et Media also managed the distribution of the patriotic film My People, My Country (《我和我的祖國》) across more than 10 European countries. The film commemorated the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC and marked a milestone as the “first Chinese film to achieve a simultaneous release throughout Europe,” according to Guang Hua Cultures et Media.
In similar fashion, the documentary Leben Jenseits Der Heimat: Deutsche und Chinesen erzählen (Life Beyond Home: Germans and Chinese Share Their Stories, in Chinese; 築夢——獻給中德建交 50 年) carries a clear ideological agenda. The film was co-produced by Nouvelles d’Europe‘s Germany branch; CCTV, the Chinese state-owned television station; and the German production company Spindoco. It was broadcasted on several channels, including Hamburg1, Hauptstadt. TV, Regio TV, and Sachsen Fernsehen, during German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s inaugural visit to China in 2022. Through the lens of personal stories—featuring four Germans living in China and four Chinese residing in Germany—the documentary depicts the stories of four Germans living in China and four Chinese living in Germany, highlighting how they “overcome difficulties, focus on their dreams, and build bridges for Sino-German exchanges in different ways” (Quote from Nouvelles d’Europe in Chinese).
Some of these collaborative efforts have not gone unnoticed by local media. Deutsche Welle’s Chinese website reported in late April that private local television stations in Berlin and Hamburg were broadcasting a 15-minute program called China Info each evening. This “advertorial” content celebrated China’s history, culture, customs, economy, and technological progress, with a clear aim to “tell China’s good stories.” According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, China Info is a co-production of Deutsches Regionalfernsehen (DRF1) and Guang Hua Media, a subsidiary of Guang Hua Cultures et Media. DRF1 maintained in the Süddeutsche Zeitung report that it had no prior knowledge of Guang Hua Cultures et Media’s close ties to the Chinese government, and that Guang Hua Cultures et Media had assured them that both their headquarters and branch offices were privately funded and organised.
Beyond its media operations, Nouvelles d’Europe seeks to shape Western public opinion by promoting the Chinese language. In 1992, Guang Hua Cultures et Media established the non-profit Association des Amis de Nouvelles d’Europe, a cultural centre based in Paris. Within a decade, they had set up additional cultural centres in Vienna, London, Frankfurt, Rome, and Madrid. Between 2014 and 2020, according to available documents, the Association des Amis de Nouvelles d’Europe received annual funding of between one and two thousand euros from the Confucius Institutes. The Association’s principal activity is teaching Chinese. In 2008, the Association’s Nouvelles d’Europe Chinese School (歐洲時報中文學校) signed an agreement with the Hanban of China3 (國家漢辦), resulting in the establishment of the first Confucius Classroom in France the subsequent year. Confucius Classrooms, in contrast to the more familiar Confucius Institutes, are aimed at primary and secondary school students, whereas the latter target universities and individuals in society. In this sense, the impact of Confucius Classrooms can be considered to have a more profound influence.
The Association des Amis de Nouvelles d’Europe doesn’t only teach Chinese—it offers a range of other courses, including square dancing (廣場舞), Mulan quan (木蘭拳), calligraphy, qigong (氣功), tai chi (太極), and kung fu. Moreover, the centres host exhibitions, lectures, forums, and additional activities, like the 2014 Cultural China – Famous Scholars Forum (文化中國・名家論壇). Occasionally, Nouvelles d’Europe collaborates with overseas Chinese or local communities—and sometimes even local governments—to co-organise cultural festivals and events under its own banner. One such event is the annual Chinese Film Festival held in Germany and Italy. In the 2022 edition of the festival held in Italy, Nouvelles d’Europe‘s president Zhang Xiaobei presided over the event, which concluded with a speech by Giacomo Pascale, the mayor of Lacco Ameno, the host city. In a report by Nouvelles d’Europe, Pascale hailed the film festival as “an important opportunity for the local area and a meaningful cultural exchange event,” adding that he eagerly anticipated further cooperation with the festival.
How significant is the impact of such activities on foreign societies? We asked Ken, the spokesperson, and John, a member of the Comité pour la Liberté à Hong-Kong (CLAHK, 居法港人撐香港). They shared their views:
“These Chinese language and interest classes can attract more foreigners, as well as the 600,000 Chinese immigrants here . . . When their children are marginalised or ridiculed at local schools, they are easily influenced and inclined to learn about Chinese culture . . . It is during these times that they are being instilled with Chinese ideology. They may not be fluent in Chinese, but one day they will ‘seek their roots’ in China. And when China sees that you have some money, they will give you VIP treatment, and then you will be deceived . . . I think this is not just targeting the Chinese in France, but also other countries globally.”
“If it were just Nouvelles d’Europe (newspaper) or other publications, it would be a waste of money. Only through these cultural activities can you see their influence.”
Filip Jirouš underscores the intricate strategies the CCP employs through overseas “independent” media, aiming to establish an extensive network of external propaganda that has the potential to mould European societies and influence the politics of myriad countries. He argues that the CCP’s methods are indicative of a political mindset that perceives anyone of Chinese descent – including immigrants residing in the United States or other nations and those who have never stepped foot in East Asia or speak neither Mandarin nor Cantonese – as part of a broader Chinese diaspora that ought to pledge allegiance to mainland China.
Jirouš draws attention to the thorny issues this ideology creates when a foreign-born or naturalised citizen is viewed by China as a part of their community and is potentially coerced, even via threats to their family residing in mainland China, to give loyalty to the CCP. This situation breeds a plethora of social and political challenges.
He maintains that, in some cases, the Chinese diaspora may engage in intelligence work on behalf of the Chinese government. To foreign governments, it is challenging to differentiate between Chinese citizens with and without ties to the CCP. However, these administrations cannot take a preventative stance against all Chinese citizens, as that could risk racial discrimination. According to Jirouš, so far, nations have been unable to find an appropriate solution to this problem.
More concerning, individuals influenced by the CCP may directly participate in foreign political activities and even ascend to legislative or official governmental roles. Jirouš cautions, “Often supported by the party-state, some of them would quite frequently align with the same ideology (of CCP), whether they personally believed in it or not. It could then be possible that, rather than advancing the interests of the community they represent, they would promote the interests of the party-state in critical areas.”
Jirouš provides a case study of this dynamic in Buon Tan (陳文雄), who was born in 1967 to a Chinese community in Cambodia and relocated to France with his father, a consultant for Nouvelles d’Europe, in 1975. In 2008, Tan was elected as a councillor and deputy mayor of the 13th arrondissement of Paris, home to one of Nouvelles d’Europe’s offices. By 2014, he had become the first Chinese councillor in the Council of Paris and, by 2017, the ethnic Chinese deputy of the French National Assembly. In 2016, Tan was recognised as the China’s Glory (中華之光) annual figure by the Chinese State Council and other governmental departments, lauded as the “first Chinese councillor in Paris promoting harmonious coexistence between Chinese and Western cultures.”
Following his election to the National Assembly, Tan was named chair of the Sino-French Friendship Group. His intricate relationship with the CCP began to draw attention due to his affiliations with several CCP-related organisations, his invitations to Chinese officials to speak at the National Assembly, and his accompaniment of French President Emmanuel Macron on multiple trips to China. Tan also met and shook hands with Xi Jinping in 2019. When the French Parliament voted on whether to condemn China’s genocide against the Uyghurs in January 2022, Tan was the only deputy to vote against the motion4.
Jirouš concludes, “There’s a report5 that essentially examines an individual’s links to the party-state . . . whether due to being targeted by propaganda machines or because they are aligned business-wise with the party-state, they would often end up promoting the interests of the CCP.”
The effects of media on society are often subtle and incremental. No one can conclusively measure the degree to which it has swayed the thoughts of European and Chinese communities or secured votes for pro-Beijing politicians in various elections. However, it unquestionably exerts an impact on European society and its political dynamics.
Filip Jirouš asserts, “In general, I would argue that Chinese propaganda, when aimed at directly influencing foreigners, hasn’t been particularly effective. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t impactful. In many cases, its objective is merely to flood the information space with content that’s either positive toward the PRC or at least neutral in tone. This strategy effectively dilutes critical voices, even if they exist within a specific information space . . . When there’s an abundance of information that is either positively skewed or simply biassed, it invariably alters the way people consume news. It doesn’t necessarily have to turn them pro-China, but it’s sufficient to instil doubt regarding what the critical voices contribute to the debate.”
The public is particularly susceptible when such “positive or biassed information” appears to emanate from ostensibly independent media.
But how well do Western countries truly understand the inner workings of Nouvelles d’Europe? Flow HK has made attempts to engage with members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC, 對華政策跨國議會聯盟) and the governments of countries like the United Kingdom and France but has yet to receive any responses. However, considering instances such as the UK government’s purchase of full-page advertisements in the Nouvelles d’Europe, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s promotional photo featuring a special edition of the English Nouvelles d’Europe, former French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin’s awarding of a medal to the chief editor and deputy chief editors of Nouvelles d’Europe for their “contributions to Franco-Chinese friendship,” and former President Yang Yongju receiving the Knight of the Legion of Honour from the French government, it raises questions whether these figures either inadvertently endorse the Nouvelles d’Europe as a CCP-controlled newspaper or are simply unaware of its true nature.
The latter possibility seems more likely. Filip Jirouš remarked that the EU countries are not paying enough attention to the fact that the Nouvelles d’Europe is controlled by the CCP. “Or I would say that it’s not necessarily about awareness, but rather about the interests and priorities of European governments. These days, their focus tends to be on strategic sectors such as technology and critical infrastructure.”
Yet, if a media conglomerate under the CCP’s thumb can sway public opinion, steer the editorial direction of other major foreign media outlets, and even bolster the prospects of pro-CCP politicians in parliamentary contests, how can the media’s influence be deemed less critical than technology and infrastructure?
Indeed, even from an EU standpoint, the CCP’s manipulation of overseas media to shape European public opinion falls within the remit of “hybrid warfare.” Filip Jirouš and another scholar, Petra Ševčíková, published a report in 2021 under the SINOPSIS research project on China’s role in the Czech Republic. According to the definitions offered by the EU’s diplomatic departments and the European External Action Service, hybrid warfare encompasses “a centrally designed and controlled use of various covert and overt tactics, enacted by military and/or non-military means.” “Information warfare,” a type of hybrid warfare, involves the calculated propagation of “denials or distortions” of facts to manipulate politicians and societies. The two scholars posit that CCP propaganda corresponds with this definition, as it entails “suppress[ing] critical voices and flood the media space with often fabricated or distorted positive content.”
While the report by Filip Jirouš and Petra Ševčíková primarily scrutinises the China News Service’s influence on the overseas media ecosystem, their recommendations to EU member governments are equally applicable to the Nouvelles d’Europe. These include urging European public and private media to sever ties with the China News Service and its network, EU member governments exploring avenues to support genuinely independent Chinese-language diaspora media, and instituting requirements for institutions influenced by foreign political entities to register, thereby bolstering transparency and monitoring any impact these institutions may have on democratic systems.
Filip Jirouš commented, “Given that the EU has actually declared the PRC as a systemic rival. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the PRC is highly intent on interfering with politics in democracies worldwide. Thus, it is very much justifiable (to scrutinise relevant institutions).”
“This is not something specifically targeting only the Chinese community or money coming from China. Whenever we have good reason to believe that a significant portion of this money and support from the party-state is intended to interfere with local systems, it is, I would say, justifiable to ask these entities to declare their state links.”
As early as 1938, the United States established the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires agents representing foreign interests in a “political or quasi-political capacity” to disclose their relationship with foreign governments. Similar laws are in effect in countries like Australia and India. Media reports from May 2023 suggest that Canada will be presenting a Foreign Agents Registration Act for review later this year. Comparable legislation has been under discussion in the UK and the EU, but there are still significant political hurdles to overcome before such legislation can be enacted. For instance, how should a “foreign agent” be defined? If all institutions operating with foreign funding must register, will this also impact individuals and organisations who prefer anonymity to avoid political risks? Will it curtail the public’s freedom of association?
Nonetheless, curtailing the CCP’s covert manipulation of the media to influence public opinion is a challenge likely to be faced collectively by all nations in the future. In fact, the Nouvelles d’Europe is far from being an isolated case.
A 2020 report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) uncovered an entity known as Ya Zhou Wen Hua Enterprises (Australia) Pty Ltd, 90% owned by Hong Kong-based Ya Zhou Wen Hua Enterprises, Limited. This Australian manifestation of Ya Zhou mirrors the Nouvelles d’Europe, wielding control over multiple Chinese-language media outlets within the local community.
Meanwhile, in Taiwan, located just a stone’s throw from Hong Kong, a Chinese publication known as 旅讀 (orchina.net) has made a name for itself. Published by Wang Miao, the magazine positions itself as the “only monthly magazine in Taiwan focusing on cross-strait and cross-border lifestyle and cultural coverage.” Investigations by Flow HK revealed that 旅讀 is operated by Cheer Link Development Limited Taiwan Branch (BVI) (英屬維京群島商澤宇文化有限公司), the Taiwan distributor of the China Tourism magazine by the Hong Kong China Tourism Press. Adding another layer to this intriguing web, there’s a Cheer Universe (H.K.) Limited (澤宇(香港)有限公司) in Hong Kong operating under the business name Hong Kong China Tourism Press, whose major shareholder is none other than Ya Zhou Wen Hua Enterprises, Limited.
Given the breadth and intricacy of this network, how many Chinese-language media outlets globally remain to have their true identities unveiled?
Editor’s Note: An error in our initial report identified Buon Tan as the first ethnic Chinese elected to the French National Assembly inaccurately. Thanks to our readers, we’ve corrected this. We value your vigilance in ensuring accuracy.
1 Editor’s note: Guang Hua Cultures et Media owns two “China Minutes” websites, one of which is the one mentioned in the text, and the other is the English-language website of the Nouvelles d’Europe (www.chinaminutes.com), which publishes news about China in English.
2 “Sprinkle a bit of pepper/sprinkling pepper” (撒胡椒面) is a colloquial expression in a northern China dialect, metaphorically describing the scattering of efforts and lack of focus in handling tasks, resulting in the inability to resolve problems.
3 According to information from the Chinese government and Baidu website, Hanban of China is the headquarters of Confucius Institutes and is a direct subsidiary of the Chinese Ministry of Education. It was established in 1987.
4 In the same year, in June, Buon Tan failed to be reelected, and since then he seems to have disappeared from the political scene, with no further updates on social media.
5 René Bigey & Alex Joske (2023). The tea leaf prince – Chinese Communist Party networks in French politics. Sinopsis. https://sinopsis.cz/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/buontan0.pdf