The Chinese regime has been deploying “covert, corrupt and coercive” means to weaponize Chinese-language and Western media in a campaign to impose its vision of current affairs on the rest of the world, a recent French military think tank report finds.
Beijing’s efforts to export its narratives have lasted for decades. The first Chinese Communist Party-controlled English language newspaper, China Daily, started in 1981. But such attempts had been clumsy and yielded slow results, according to Reporters Without Borders.
The year 2008 marked a turning point. The Olympic Games in Beijing, an event the regime had hoped to leverage to showcase its economic success, gave rise to protests in nearly a dozen cities around the world that disrupted torch relays.
The humiliation Beijing suffered from the resulting negative coverage had stung the authorities. To better control the regime’s global image, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) soon came up with a “10-year plan,” noted the report by the Institute for Strategic Studies of Military Schools (IRSEM), a think tank funded by the Ministry of the Armed Forces.
The 650-page study, which drew on public information, research reports, and independent interviews, examined how Beijing has been exploiting the openness of the West to amplify its propaganda narratives, forming one component of the regime’s sprawling influence operations globally.
The values of tolerance that characterize Western democracies have afforded Beijing “considerable freedom of movement,” allowing it to multiply its foreign offices, recruit foreign journalists to adapt its messages to different audiences, infiltrate local press with gifts and other material benefits, while dispensing billions of advertising dollars on Western media to further expand its reach, the report said.
In China, rather than a watchdog meant to keep the government in check, the press under Beijing has become a tool to serve the Party, the report said. Such vision was made plain in a 2016 speech by Chinese leader Xi Jinping, during which he told around 180 state media representatives to align their ideology with that of the top officials, “speak for the Party’s will … and protect the Party’s authority,” according to a Xinhua readout.
To some Xinhua reporters, Xi’s coming to power had marked the beginning of a new era, in which the Chinese media “no longer need to be ashamed of being communist media,” a Xinhua reporter told one of the report authors in 2018.
By Eva Fu