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CNS was established in 1952. It has news offices and stations in every province in mainland China, as well as in Hong Kong and Macau. CNS also has news offices in foreign countries, including the United States, Japan, France, Thailand, New Zealand, and Australia. CNS also controls the Chinese New Zealand Herald, which is co-owned by New Zealand Media and Entertainment. The editor-in-chief of CNS until February 2015 was Liu Beixian, who was later charged with bribery offenses during the anti-corruption campaign under Xi Jinping.
In 2018, CNS became part of the United Front Work Department when its host organization, the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, was folded into the department.
In 2014, CNS published an editorial which derided outgoing American ambassador to China Gary Locke. The editorial was widely criticized both within China and internationally for referring to the Chinese American ambassador as a banana which was interpreted as a racial slur. The article also mocked his Mandarin Chinese abilities and said that his ancestors would disown him if they knew about his loyalties.