19. Corporate America Spends Big $$ on Pro-China PR

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

Sources: COUNTERPUNCH, Date: April 1-14, 1996, Title: “The New China Lobby,” Authors: Ken Silverstein and Alexander Cockburn; MULTINATIONAL MONITOR, Date: April 1996, Title: “China’s Hired Guns,” Author: Ken Silverstein; SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN, Date: May 29, 1996, Title: “China Huggers,” Author: Jim Hightower
SSU Censored Researchers: Tina Barni, Doug Hecker

In its annual battle to preserve “most favored nation” (MFN) trade status, the Chinese government received a big boost from a powerful dose of U.S. corporate money—funneled through the public relations firm of Hill & Knowlton. The PR firm’s lobbying effort, dubbed the “China Normalization Initiative,” was paid for by such Fortune 500 companies as Boeing, AT&T, General Motors, Allied Signal, General Electric, and the Ford Motor Company.

The campaign, which paid off in June 1996 with the Congressional renewal of China’s MFN status, was necessary due to China’s reputation for human rights violations, child labor, and prison-camp abuses. The alleged torture of dissidents were also criticisms that Hill & Knowlton was paid to refute and/or minimize.

American companies involved in the pro-China PR blitz spent over $1 million on the campaign which was supposed to convince the public that the Chinese leadership is deserving of greater sympathy. Critics argue that 11,000 Chinese were executed last year by their government—some for minor crimes—and that an even greater number of abuses go unreported. The wretched conditions of Shanghai’s orphanages are also an ongoing human rights violation that is largely absent from the annual debate over the renewal of China’s MFN status.

The exploitation of China’s economic potential by American corporations is big business. Bilateral trade between the two countries rose to $55 billion last year and U.S. direct investment in China has gone from $358 million in 1990 to $5.4 billion in 1995. Corporations budgeting their money toward the pro-China PR campaign include:

o Boeing, which has racked up sales of $3.9 billion and estimates that China will purchase $100 billion worth of new aircrafts during the next two decades.

o AT&T, which projects earnings of $3 billion from China by the year 2000.

o GM, which in 1995 inked a $2 billion joint venture to manufacture automobiles for China’s domestic market.

o Motorola, which has $1.2 billion worth of investments in China—and they plan on constructing a new plant in China to manufacture pocket pagers.

o Ford Motor Company, which purchased a $40 million share in a truck manufacturing plant last November in China’s Jianxi province.

Among its many activities, Hill & Knowlton was instrumental in putting corporate representatives in touch with members of Congress, and hiring scholars to draft op-ed articles for major newspapers and to speak at media events. These “third party” advocates, as they are dubbed by industry, are well paid for their labors but seldom reveal their affiliations to the public.

Hill & Knowlton’s PR blitz clearly demonstrates how corporate America, aided by the U.S. government, distorts the image of a foreign government whose value as a trading partner conflicts with its disregard for international standards of conduct.

COMMENTS: According to Ken Silverstein, editor of CounterPunch, “The topic of the covert business lobby for China is barely touched upon in the mainstream press. And keep in mind that the area I addressed—Fortune 500 firms hiring a PR firm to manipulate news coverage—is but one aspect of a vast corporate campaign, budgeted in the tens and millions of dollars, to help China win friends and influence people (especially members of Congress). The ultimate goal of the campaign is to gain permanent most favored nation trade status for Beijing, in place of the current annual presidential review. None of this merits more than a glance from the press.

“The public would benefit from [media] exposure to this subject in several ways. First, people should know that a fair amount of what they read in their daily newspapers has been placed, directly or indirectly, by public relations firms (an example being the case covered by my article). A 1991 survey by Jericho Promotions, a PR firm in New York City, found that 38 percent of 2,432 journalists surveyed said they got half of their stories from public relations flacks and an additional 17 percent said they used their PR people for every story. Second, people should know that the foreign policy debate doesn’t take place in a vacuum and is greatly influenced by corporate money and private interests.

Silverstein did not seek to obtain wider exposure for this story but noted that CounterPunch is sent to many journalists, although none inquired about this particular issue. “I’ve learned from past experience that an ‘alternative’ publication really has to have a ‘blockbuster’ (i.e., pictures of a political figure in bed with a prostitute) in order to whet the interest of the mainstream press. In this case—a story about big business hiring a PR firm to manipulate public opinion—I felt it was a waste of time to even bother. After all, that’s just business as usual inside the beltway. Most reporters in Washington don’t even blink an eye at this sort of routine, everyday corruption (perhaps because so many of their friends and associates work in PR and other subsidiary sectors of the political-industrial complex). Thank god they’re so lazy,” says Silverstein. “Otherwise, there’d be no need for the alternative press.” According to Jim Hightower, author of “China Huggers,” “The slight coverage our country’s China policy receives is mostly relegated to the business sections, where it is mired in the arcane language of corporate economists or wrapped in the silly sloganeering of free-trade boosterism.

“America’s China policy is begging for a full media expose and a serious public discussion about what is at stake for ordinary folks—i.e., shipping more of our manufacturing jobs to China’s low-wage hellholes, giving America’s technological know-how to a competitor who will soon be using it against us, and selling out our people’s democratic values and fundamental belief in human rights. It is a corrupt policy that is being bought by the campaign contributions and lobbying fees of the U.S. corporate chieftains who will profit enormously at the expense of us and the Chinese people-a classic example of why the New Global Economy amounts to Globaloney.

“The top executives of conglomerates moving massive amounts of U.S. capital to China” are who benefit from the lack of media coverage given this issue, according to Hightower, “along with the politicians who take money from these conglomerates, and the dictatorial and murderous rulers of China. I might add that Disney Inc. (which owns ABC), General Electric (which owns NBC) and Westinghouse (which owns CBS) all have massive investments in China and have a huge direct financial stake in maintaining the Clinton policy.

“President Clinton has officially de-linked any human rights issue from considerations of trade with China, and he is aggressively pursuing a new strengthening of the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (which met in Manila this month, including a Clinton audience with the Chinese president in, of all places, the ‘green room’ of the Bank of Manila) to forge a new ‘NAFTA’ that will include China.”