Semafor, the news site recently co-founded by former BuzzFeed and New York Times star Ben Smith, touted a new partnership with a China think tank suspected of having ties to Beijing’s ruling Communist Party.
The site trumpeted an “ambitious new initiative” with the China Center for Globalization (CCG) which will “create a new platform…for global business leaders seeking a way forward” despite economic tensions between the US and China.
Semafor said that the “independent news initiative will offer unparalleled insights into some of the most important global issues today.”
The collaboration will include two events titled “China and Global Business.” The first will be held in New York City in June followed by another in Beijing in October, according to Semafor.
A spokesperson for Semafor told The Post on Thursday that the news site will retain “full editorial independence and financial control.”
“We’re proud and excited to be building a unique and independent journalistic institution that will allow leaders across the world to engage in open dialogue both in China and abroad, to find actionable solutions to deep-seated challenges on a neutral platform,” the rep added.
The Post has sought comment from CCG.
On its website, CCG denies that it is “an organ of the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government.”
CCG bills itself as a “nongovernmental think tank” which “relies on corporate donations and research grants for funding” — particularly from “Chinese private sector companies and multinational corporations.”
Josh Rogin, a Washington Post columnist, noted on his Twitter feed that CCG is “affiliated with China’s United Front foreign influence operations.”
Rogin, who opines about foreign policy and national security issues for the newspaper in addition to his appearances on CNN as a political analyst, posted links to a research paper by an Australian defense think tank titled “The party speaks for you.”
The paper describes the operational methods of “United Front Work Department,” which is alleged to be a “coalition of entities working toward the party’s goals.”
One way in which “United Front Work Department” (UFWD) promotes the agenda of the Chinese government is through engaging with foreign think tanks.
The paper alleges that the CCG is headed by Wang Huiyao, who also happens to be an adviser to UFWD.
In 2018, Wang pulled out of participating in a panel at the Wilson Center, the DC-based quasigovernmental think tank, when Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wrote a letter demanding that Wang’s links to UFWD be disclosed.
Rogin noted on his Twitter feed that Semafor last month participated in an event that was sponsored by Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant.
Semafor invited Alibaba’s vice president of international government affairs, Eric Pelletier, to offer a “sponsor perspective,” during the event.
The Chinese government in recent years has tightened regulations of domestic tech companies, including Alibaba and video game giant Tencent.
Alibaba has been accused of helping the Chinese government with surveillance of ethnic Uyghur Muslims as part of alleged widespread human rights violations. China has denied the claims.
“There is a real need for smart & reasoned discussion of the U.S.-China relationship,” Rogin tweeted.
“At the same time, partnering with United Front groups is not the answer.”
Rogin added: “Foreign influence operations can only work if we enable them.”