The US subsidiaries of Hong Kong newspaper Sing Tao Daily — which publish its American edition — have been forced to register as foreign agents under the requirements of the US Department of Justice.

SingtaoUSA’s website. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

Filings received by the Department on Monday indicated that Sing Tao US has registered its four companies, owned by Hong Kong parent Sing Tao News Corporation, as foreign agents operating in the US: Sing Tao Newspapers New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chinese International Radio.

Apart from its North American editions, Sing Tao operates dozens of websites and social media accounts for its American audience.

Sing Tao was originally majority-owned by Hong Kong businessman Charles Ho. Ho sold his stake in June to Kwok Hiu-Ting, daughter of mainland real estate developer Kwok Ying-Shing, for HK$370 million. Mainland Chinese tycoons own several media outlets in Hong Kong.

‘Political activities’

Under the US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), entities or individuals considered to be promoting foreign influence in the country, and owned by or acting under the direction of foreign governments or organisations, must register as “foreign agents.”

Registered foreign agents must declare in public filings every six months the details of their activities in the US as well as any funding received from their foreign principal or paid to other parties.

Sing Tao US received over HK$29.6 million (US$3.8 million) from its parent company two months before its initial FARA registration and has a budget of over HK$76 million (US$9.8 million) from the parent company for its news dissemination, according to the filings.

Although it complied with US requirements to declare itself a foreign agent, the news outlet disputed in its filings that its activities were political in nature, or amounted to foreign influence.

Sing Tao Daily, Hong Kong edition. File Photo: HKFP.

“The ultimate parent company of the Sing Tao US entities, Sing Tao News Corporation Ltd., is a publicly traded, for-profit corporation, which is not owned by or affiliated with any foreign government or political party. To this extent, the Sing Tao US entities believe that they are similarly situated to other for-profit media companies operating in the United States,” its registration form read.

“The Department of Justice’s FARA Unit has concluded that this constitutes political activity for purposes of the FARA.”

“[T]he Sing Tao US entities do not believe that this constitutes registerable activity; however, we have checked the ‘yes’ box above based on our understanding that the FARA Unit does not concur with this assessment,” its filing read, referring to the requirement for Sing Tao US to declare that it conducts “political activities” on behalf of a foreign principal.

The news outlet also said that it engaged the New York Times, The Associated Press, and a Shenzhen-based company, Star Production (Shenzhen) Limited. It said over half of its content in the first half of 2021 came from Star Production, one of Sing Tao’s three mainland subsidiaries co-directed by Sing Tao HK’s chief executive officer Siu Sai-wo.

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Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.