US media outlet The China Project to close over lack of funds, showing challenges of ‘neutral path’ amid power rivalry

According to a post on its website, the company learned this week that a crucial funding source “was no longer going to come through” and had made the “difficult decision to close down”.

“We are not prepared to compromise our values for funding,” editor-in-chief Jeremy Goldkorn wrote in the statement.

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The decision came just a few days after the company wrapped up its latest annual China-themed conference in New York on Thursday. The event featured numerous prominent scholars and experts.

Experts in the two countries have increasingly voiced concern about the growing hostility between Washington and Beijing, which they fear could limit the influence of moderate views on US-China ties.

The China Project positioned itself as a gateway to information on China’s business, technology, politics, culture and society for a global audience. It aimed to tell the world about China “with a breadth and depth that general interest news organisations cannot devote to one country”, Goldkorn wrote.

He said their reporting had become more important as the US-China relationship deteriorated and Beijing’s ties with other countries became more complicated, but their work had also “put several targets on our backs”.

US Republican lawmakers Marco Rubio and Chris Smith called for an investigation into The China Project a year ago, alleging the company was influenced by the Chinese government and acted as a foreign agent, according to an article published by the American media start-up Semafor in October of last year.

The accusations put the news platform, which was blocked in mainland China, in the same category as state-controlled media like Chinese broadcaster CGTN and Russia’s RT television network.

The company publicly hit back against the claims, denouncing them as groundless and the product of “racist, populist, anti-China sentiment in the US”.

It also noted that Van Sant worked with the company for less than three months in 2020 and criticised her complaint for being based “entirely upon her subjective observations”.

In an article last March, nationalistic Chinese tabloid the Global Times labelled the company a “West-backed anti-China organisation” and accused the platform of trying to use Ukraine to create a “public opinion war” to smear the country.

Bob Guterma, the CEO of The China Project, wrote in a post in July of last year that the company was “neither pro-China nor anti-China”.

“We are dedicated purely and simply to helping the world understand China better, more contextually, and with greater care, so that better decisions can be made,” he wrote.


Australian journalist Cheng Lei in first interview since release from China detention

Australian journalist Cheng Lei in first interview since release from China detention

Still, repeated accusations from both sides that the platform was working for “nefarious purposes” appeared to put financial pressure on The China Project.

“Defending ourselves has incurred enormous legal costs, and, far worse, made it increasingly difficult for us to attract investors, advertisers, and sponsors,” Goldkorn said in the Monday statement.

“The media business is precarious, and the politically motivated attacks on us from various interested parties put us in an even worse situation,” he wrote.

Though the company’s subscription offerings have been growing, Goldkorn said they were not yet in a position to rely on these revenues to sustain their operations.

He added that some of the company’s initiatives and projects might survive the closure. “We will issue updates as our situation becomes clearer in the coming days,” he said.

Many academics, students and businesspeople flooded social networks to express their surprise and disappointment over the closure of The China Project.

“Very sad indeed but investors no longer being that interested in China is a problem for people in this space,” Victor Shih, an associate professor of political economy at the University of California San Diego, tweeted on Monday.

Zhao Jing, a well-known Chinese journalist and political blogger who is also known by his pen name Michael Anti, tweeted: “When China and the US are in rivalry, taking a neutral path is not pleasing.”

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