The AtlanticThe Atlantic

How China Weaponized the Press

By Timothy McLaughlin

09 Sep 2021 · 12 min read

Early one morning a couple of years ago, at the height of Hong Kong’s prodemocracy protest movement, Ta Kung Pao, a Chinese-government-owned newspaper based in Hong Kong, published what it claimed was a major scoop. An American diplomat had met with a group of high-profile activists, including Joshua Wong. A photo accompanied the piece, a low-angle shot from across the lobby of the hotel where the meeting had ostensibly taken place. For Beijing, which at the time was promoting the baseless theory that foreign forces were behind Hong Kong’s protests, the gotcha moment was a juicy story.

Western media largely ignored the meeting: A diplomat talking with activists is not typically news. Once trumpeted by Ta Kung Pao, however, the story was picked up by other pro-Beijing outlets and twisted as it reverberated across Chinese state media. The meeting eventually made its way to English-language outlets; the far-right website ZeroHedge published a story that was subsequently posted on the website of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, an organization founded by the former Texas congressman.

Sign in to informed

  • Curated articles from premium publishers, ad-free
  • Concise Daily Briefs with quick-read summaries
  • Read, listen, save for later, or enjoy offline
  • Enjoy personalized content