A security surveillance camera overlooking a street is pictured next to a nearby fluttering flag of China in Beijing
A security surveillance camera overlooking a street is pictured next to a nearby fluttering flag of China in Beijing Reuters


  • A New York Times probe found a network that funds groups to propagate content with Chinese talking points
  • The global network reportedly uses American nonprofits and has money flowing to organizations in India and Brazil
  • U.S.-born Neville Roy Singham is said to have a large role in the financial network

Tech mogul Neville Roy Singham is at the center of a global web of Chinese propaganda that has been cracked wide open by a New York Times probe.

The millionaire is accused of hiding behind a network of nonprofit groups and shell companies in order to finance the spreading of Chinese state media propaganda to other corners of the world, according to the report.

Singham was born in the United States in 1954 and is best known as a socialist benefactor of far-left causes. His career in software engineering led him to become the founder of the acclaimed Chicago-based software consultancy known as Thoughtworks, which currently has a clientele that includes Qantas Airways, Thomson Reuters and Walmart.

During his time at Thoughtworks, Singham allegedly funded left-wing causes quietly before selling the tech firm in 2017.

The New York Times reported that Singham propagated Chinese interests by using a network of four U.S.-based nonprofits. One of them is owned by his wife, Jodie Evans, and the three others were founded by former Thoughtworks employees.

According to the outlet, millions of dollars were sent around the world through the network, while Singham remained hidden in plain sight.

The money flowed to different avenues that included a political party in South Africa, YouTube channels in the United States, and a Brazilian publication named Brasil de Fato that carried articles singing praises for Xi Jinping, The New York Times reported.

The report also said Indian news agency NewsClick was also part of the global network that published content with Chinese government talking points. NewsClick released a statement about the New York Times probe and said the allegations are "unfounded and without basis in fact or law."

"Newsclick is an independent news organization, and any insinuation that we function as a mouth-piece of the Communist Party of China or other interests is false," the news agency said in the statement.

The new allegations against Newsclick have triggered attacks by the BJP, India's ruling party, on the opposition party, Congress, which had previously defended Newsclick during an Enforcement Directorate investigation in 2021.

The New York Times probe reflects how the world has yet to understand the full scope of Chinese propaganda. Marius Dragomir, the Founding Director of the Media and Journalism Research Center — an independent think tank mapping media worldwide — told the International Business Times, "We have mapped state media in the world, and Chinese and Russian propaganda tools abroad are extremely widespread."

"I think we're very far from really understanding the scope of Chinese propaganda in the world. In our research work, every time we do a new research project, we unveil more and more projects, funds and initiatives aimed at spreading Chinese propaganda abroad," he added.

It is widely known that the chest beating of Chinese propaganda and the muzzling of free speech at home are part of maintaining the leadership's supremacy in the country. But in order to fulfill its geopolitical aspirations, Beijing undertakes similar efforts to parrot the same pro-Chinese sentiments for its rise to global power.

This kind of homegrown and foreign-backed propaganda can have a "massive impact" on public perception and mainstream public discourse, "especially in countries with low media literacy, given that people do not know who funds what sources of news and media," Dragomir added.

Shruti Pandalai, a fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, said that Beijing takes the same story of China's "infallibility" from within the country and re-tells it to the rest of the world.

"The legitimacy of the party depends on what the people believe within China, and controlling this narrative is essential to maintain the infallibility of the party-state," Pandalai told IBT.

"It stems from the belief that the party state is locked in a perpetual struggle against hostile foreign forces and while its material strength is key, it needs to win in the realm of what China calls 'discourse power.' Discourse power is understood as 'a country's power to set agendas in the international arena by influencing the political order and realigning other countries' ethics and values.' The anxiety is thus rooted in its inability to subdue what it sees as the West's discourse power 'despite its decline' when compared to China's gains in commensurate hard power," she added.

China has spent around $6.6 billion since 2009 to bolster its global media presence and invested about $2.8 billion between 2008 and 2018 in external media alone. These investments are part of the country's efforts to keep its image under control, especially in countries that are of key importance to Beijing.

"The efforts to shape narratives and manipulate and control the information space conducive to Chinese interests are particularly conspicuous in countries linked to prestige projects like the BRI or those central to its 'core interests.' One could argue, expanding the discourse power beyond the borders of China is a crucial agenda of Xi Jinping's foreign policy because it helps guarantee the perpetual rule of the CCP machine," Pandalai added.

Some of the tools China uses to reshape its foreign image are conducting educational exchanges for media professionals and providing training to local media.

Research has found that China was able to activate an existing media infrastructure, "which includes training programs and sponsored trips for global journalists [and] content sharing agreements," to affect the narrative around the Covid-19 pandemic using Chinese state-approved content.

China's neighbor, India, has also witnessed Beijing's narrative-shaping tactics since the violent border clash in 2020.

"For India, it has especially been visible vis-à-vis the contentious border dispute, given the breakdown in the bilateral relationship after the bloody clash in Galwan Valley in 2020," Pandalai said. "The duality of formal rapprochement attempted by high-profile interaction of senior leaders and calls for peace and trust-building at the official level while engaging in psychological operations and using India's open media space to sow dissent and doubt about the Indian government's competency has become routine."