The New York Times
has unravelled a financial network that stretches from Chicago to Shanghai and uses American nonprofits to push Chinese talking points worldwide.
An investigation by NYT reveals a charismatic American millionaire, Neville Roy Singham, known as a socialist benefactor of far-left causes, is at the centre of a lavishly funded influence campaign that defends China and pushes its propaganda.
According to the report, speculation about Mr Singham first emerged on Twitter among self-described anti-fascists. Reports followed in the publication New Lines and the South African investigative outlet amaBhungane. The authorities in India raided a news organisation tied to Mr Singham during a crackdown on the press, accusing it of having ties to the Chinese government but offering no proof.
"What is less known, and is hidden amid a tangle of nonprofit groups and shell companies, is that Mr Singham works closely with the Chinese government media machine and is financing its propaganda worldwide," the report says.
From a think tank in Massachusetts to an event space in Manhattan, from a political party in South Africa to news organisations in India and Brazil, NYT tracked hundreds of millions of dollars to groups linked to Mr Singham that mix progressive advocacy with Chinese government talking points.
These propaganda groups are funded through American nonprofits flush with at least US$275 million in donations.
"But Mr Singham, 69, himself sits in Shanghai, where one outlet in his network is co-producing a YouTube show financed in part by the city's propaganda department. Two others are working with a Chinese university to "spread China's voice to the world." And last month, Mr Singham joined a Communist Party workshop about promoting the party internationally," the report says.
Mr Singham told NYT that he does not work at the direction of the Chinese government. "But the line between him and the propaganda apparatus is so blurry that he shares office space — and his groups share staff members—with a company whose goal is to educate foreigners about the miracles that China has created on the world stage."
He and his allies are on the front line of what Communist Party officials call a 'smokeless war.' Under the rule of Xi Jinping, China has expanded state media operations, teamed up with overseas outlets and cultivated foreign influencers. The goal is to disguise propaganda as independent content.
"Mr Singham's groups have produced YouTube videos that, together, racked up millions of views. They also seek to influence real-world politics by meeting with congressional aides, training politicians in Africa, running candidates in South African elections and organising protests like the one in London that erupted into violence. The result is a seemingly organic bloom of far-left groups that echo Chinese government talking points, echo one another, and are echoed in turn by the Chinese state media," NYT says.
Mr Singham did not offer substantive answers to questions about those ties. He said he abided by the tax laws in countries where he was active. "I categorically deny and repudiate any suggestion that I am a member of, work for, take orders from, or follow instructions of any political party or government or their representatives," he wrote in an email to NYT. "I am solely guided by my beliefs, which are my long-held personal views."
The son of a leftist academic, Archibald Singham, Mr Singham is a longtime activist who founded the Chicago-based software consultancy Thoughtworks, the report says.