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SCSNW Advisor Ray Powell

Chinese media continues its propaganda campaign to discredit scholars who counter their policy narratives. For the past two decades, there’s been a wave of Chinese anti-West nationalism directed against anyone who challenges Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea. On the May 15, 2024 edition of China Global Television Network’s (CGTN) “The Point”, Sealight Director and SCSNW Advisor Ray Powell came under direct fire from the Chinese state news service as an agitator and “Darling of the Filipino Media”. In a segment entirely dedicated on Powell, host Liu Xin and assembled experts speculated interestedly on the mechanics behind Powell’s apparently insidious media operations. 

The 10-minute feature tackled everything from Powell supposedly receiving significant U.S. government funding to his “True Blue” military background. However, the program took greatest issue with Powell’s recent flurry of tweets regarding the Scarborough Shoal. Powell had previously assessed that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy was possibly preparing to blockade the area, a claim which the newsroom scoffed at. “He’s tweeting all the time about the South China Sea,” Liu told her guests puzzledly. In the end, both Liu and her guests concluded that the only logical explanation for Powell’s use of social media was that he received around the clock social media assistance from an alleged staff member. 

Liu was particularly perplexed as to the origins of Powell’s “colorful” vocabulary, which she speculated was meant to portray China as a geopolitical bully. Einar Tangen, one of the show’s guests and a Senior Fellow at the Taihe Institute, suggested that Powell used sophisticated AI software to create style sheets of buzz words for Powell’s alleged staff. “Obviously, they are using word packages,” Tangen told Liu when pressed. 

In the end, the show confidently concluded that Powell was part of a broader conspiracy of U.S. commentators with orders from Washington to speak ill of Beijing’s territorial ambitions. “He either believes in the Kool-Aid he’s drinking, or it’s part of his environment,” Tangen, who studied law in the United States, later remarked. It is worth noting that CGTN receives funding from the Central Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party. 

“Sealight is entirely volunteer run (including myself). Most of our minor administrative costs (such as web site hosting, etc.) have been personally incurred by me and other volunteers,” Powell remarked to SCSNW staff. 

“Our maritime domain awareness and open-source intelligence tools have primarily been made available at no or reduced cost through various partnerships and arrangements with educational and commercial providers. While the Gordian Knot Center has received a grant from the Office of Naval Research, Sealight has received none of that money. We have no relationship whatsoever with any U.S. government intelligence organization.”

Sealight is part of Stanford University’s network of think tanks and research institutions. Using technology and qualitative analysis, Sealight aims to raise awareness surrounding China’s use of aggressive gray zone tactics in the South China Sea. 

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