Chinese Communist Party’s Overseas Public Opinion Manipulation Techniques Exposed How the West Can Respond

In addition to infiltrating and bribing the media, in recent years the CCP has introduced “integrated media” that integrates images, videos and animations to spread the Red voice.

During the Cold War era, the Chinese Communist regime did not have the opportunity to operate within democratic countries, but with the advent of globalization, over the past decade, the Chinese Communist Party has become a player in the global media market without fail. This has given the CCP the opportunity to propagate, censor, and manipulate media and public opinion within democratic countries.

A new report reveals the layers of underhandedness and tactics of the CCP’s overseas manipulation of public opinion and media infiltration, and gives recommendations for a global response to the CCP threat.

Recently, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) released the sharp power and democratic resilience series, which proposes to resist the CCP in four areas: threats to freedom of expression and the media environment in a democratic society, threats to scientific research, management of technology, and the corruption of politics by state capital. So far, seven reports have been released.

In the latest report, entitled “China’s Global Media Footprint: Democratic Responses to China’s Global Media Footprint: Democratic Responses to Expanding Authoritarian Influence,” author Sarah Cook says: “Over the past decade, the Chinese Communist Party’s global efforts to shape discourse have expanded dramatically, employing multiple languages and reaching every region of the world, using propaganda, disinformation, censorship, and control of media and infrastructure. The CCP’s global efforts to shape the discourse have expanded dramatically, employing multiple languages and influencing every region of the world, using propaganda, disinformation, information censorship and control of media and infrastructure. These efforts are not limited to “telling the Chinese story,” but often undermine democratic norms, erode national sovereignty, weaken independent media, and violate local laws wherever they occur. No country is immune, whether it is poor and vulnerable or a wealthy democracy.

The report says that while the CCP has the advantage of resources, its success also benefits from loopholes within democratic societies that cannot be ignored. The CCP’s control of information takes a whole-of-society approach, and for democratic societies to effectively resist, they must also respond with a whole-of-society mobilization, with active participation by research institutions, media, technology companies, and civil society groups to mainstream resistance to CCP information control into their own work.

The report is divided into three parts: first, the CCP’s grand outreach strategy, second, the loopholes that exist in democracies themselves, and third, how democracies can resist.

I. The CCP’s Big Foreign Propaganda Strategy

Big Foreign Propaganda

The CCP spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year to spread its message around the world, and some of its activities fall within the scope of public diplomacy or “soft power” strategies that are also used by democracies.

But there is clear evidence that Beijing has used dishonest and corrupt methods to disseminate its message: lack of transparency in the official media, bribing private media to cover up political truths, economic incentives to drive certain stories, amplifying pro-Beijing voices, and suppressing critical reporting. The tactics include, among others

  1. creating accounts for the CCP’s official media on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook while concealing their official identities, often with followers outside of North America and Western Europe.
  2. covertly importing official CCP views into Western mainstream media: this includes CCP diplomats publishing op-eds in Western mainstream media, signing news-sharing agreements with mainstream media, and inserting paid advertisements in mainstream media while concealing the source of the news, which allows CCP views to be widely disseminated to Western audiences.

Since 2018, the CCP’s Xinhua News Agency has signed news-sharing agreements with Australia, Italy, Bangladesh, India, Nigeria, Egypt, Thailand, Vietnam, Belarus, and Laos, most of whose news consumers are less aware that this is a news report from the CCP’s Xinhua News Agency.

  1. Training foreign media and journalists to report news favorable to the CCP. This has been accomplished by the CCP’s embassies abroad contacting local editors and media for training, offering full free trips to China, signing memoranda of understanding with local journalist associations to co-produce news, and offering political or economic benefits to local media in exchange for more positive and less negative coverage of the CCP government.

Over the past decade, the CCP government has funded thousands of carefully orchestrated trips to China, offered to journalists, editors, and managers around the world. Their exposure is limited to the official view of China’s development, institutions, and Culture, with the goal of getting them to publish articles praising China in their own media. The senior journalists and editors among them are also approached by local Communist embassies and others to strengthen this relationship after they return to their Home countries.

  1. Acquire local media or form new media outlets abroad. These acquisitions are undertaken by CCP institutions or private companies or individuals with close ties to the CCP. Shifts in the editorial line of media outlets acquired by the CCP have been well documented in places such as Taiwan, South Africa, and the Czech Republic.
  2. In addition to this, other trends are beginning to emerge.

First, the political influence of the CCP and its influence on, and intersection with, foreign media is becoming increasingly evident. For example, the leaders of a particular country are gaining a lot of attention from the local media for political and economic reasons as they make overtures to Beijing and respond to pro-China rhetoric.

For example, in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the president of Serbia and the foreign minister of Italy, welcomed the arrival of large quantities of medical material from China to their country and publicly expressed their gratitude. This drew media attention and reinforced public perceptions of the CCP. This is despite the fact that the EU has provided more aid.

Second, the CCP’s official media continues to achieve multilingual propaganda. Networks such as the Communist Global Television Network (CGTN) have expanded from initially offering English and Chinese to now Spanish, French, Russian and Arabic, and now have a footprint in more languages and markets. Thailand’s local media is flooded with CCP-produced news, and a major Italian news agency provides China-related stories mostly from Xinhua. 2017 saw Macau businessman Kevin Ho acquire a 30 percent stake in Portugal’s Global Media Group, which earned him a seat on the National People’s Congress, and Global Media Group is seeking new partners in other regions, such as Portuguese-speaking markets like Brazil and Mozambique.

Third, in addition to delivering the usual message and projecting a positive image of the Communist regime. Over the past year and a half, the CCP has also made a big effort to smear its opponents and protesters, such as smearing the outbreak of protests in Hong Kong in the summer of 2019 and increasing its anti-American propaganda.

Disseminating false information

Disseminating disinformation and demonizing opponents on social media is another CCP tactic, and the Oxford Internet Institute suggests that it is in 2019 that the CCP government has shown “a strong interest in using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, among other new “.

This has mainly targeted pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, domestic and foreign activists, Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and COVID-19. The tactics include flooding multiple social platforms simultaneously, pushing fake messages, hijacking or acquiring Facebook groups, pages and accounts, sending text messages, coordinated campaigns of online trolling to manipulate search results, using automated “bots ” to influence Twitter hashtags, and more.

As with propaganda efforts, disinformation campaigns appear to be expanding in size and audience. In addition to Chinese and English, there are Serbian and Italian languages. In countries such as the United States, Taiwan and Argentina, the CCP is not simply promoting pro-Beijing views; some campaigns appear to be designed to sow discord within democratic societies and coalitions.

Over the past two years, these social media platforms have announced mass cancellations of inauthentic CCP-related accounts in response to independent investigations by journalists, think tanks and ongoing revelations by non-governmental organizations.

Information Censorship

Ten years ago, the CCP’s censorship of international media was focused on international media within China and overseas Chinese language media, including Hong Kong and Taiwan. Influence activities on mainstream media in Europe, Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere were generally limited to propaganda and promoting the content and narrative of the CCP’s official media, rather than suppressing critical local reporting.

But this is changing, especially as CCP state-owned enterprises increase their investments in other countries and become increasingly sensitive to local debates about China’s role. CCP officials have begun to use economic leverage to suppress negative reporting or commentary about the CCP in local language media more frequently.

There are four broad categories of CCP tactics: 1. direct action by CCP government representatives. 2. use of positive and negative leverage to get media owners to self-censor. 3. indirect pressure through agencies such as advertisers and local governments. 4. and physical, online, or verbal attacks.

For example, in Sweden and Russia, the ambassador of the Chinese Communist Embassy in Sweden has insulted and threatened Swedish journalists and news agencies who reported on the kidnapping of bookseller Gui Minhai. In one Nigerian news outlet, their editors prioritize the opinions of CCP embassy officials when journalists attempt to report stories that may be unfavorable to China.

In the Czech Republic, after China Huaxin Group, a media group with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party, acquired a Czech media group that analyzed news coverage, the media also significantly reduced negative or even neutral coverage of China and significantly increased positive coverage of China. In South Africa, five years after two companies with ties to the Chinese Communist government acquired a 20 percent stake in the country’s second-largest media outlet, a Writer for the media group who discussed the Communist government’s crackdown on the Uighur minority in Xinjiang had his column suddenly suspended. Nepal’s state news agency has a news-sharing agreement with Xinhua, and in May 2019 the country launched an investigation into three journalists for spreading a story about the Dalai Lama.

CCP media expansion overseas has coincided with censorship of local press, such as the expansion of official CCP media in markets such as France, Cambodia, Hong Kong, and Papua New Guinea, which has coincided with or directly led to the displacement of those independent media or voices critical of the CCP.

Control of Overseas Media Platforms and Infrastructure

Researcher Peter Mattis argues that the CCP’s approach over the past decade has been to control the media along with information, “so that they can essentially monopolize the news environment, which makes their discourse more acceptable.”

There is already evidence that Chinese companies are using their control over information distribution channels to benefit the Communist Party’s official media or to suppress information that is unfavorable to the Communist Party. In the area of digital television, Chinese companies such as StarTimes in Africa have become the dominant players in the industry, providing television services to millions of Africans who previously had no access to television, indirectly benefiting the CCP’s official media. This is because StarTimes offers the cheapest packages, and such TV packages are local stations paired with Communist Party state TV. The BBC and CNN packages are much more expensive and unaffordable for many Africans.

In addition to Africa, Chinese companies have played a role in the expansion of digital TV in countries such as Pakistan, Cambodia and Timor-Leste, where CCP state TV stations also have an advantage among viewers.

The growing role of Chinese companies in the social media arena has created opportunities for the CCP to influence not only foreigners’ perceptions of China, but also their perceptions of their own country’s leaders, and thus influence policy making and election outcomes. This is already happening in Chinese communities abroad, where WeChat is censoring posts by Chinese activists and independent media, while allowing pro-Beijing media and narratives to be widely disseminated.

Increasingly, foreigners, from Malaysia and Mongolia to Australia and Canada, are also using WeChat, setting the stage for future disinformation disseminated by the CCP during election campaigns or election interference.

In addition, in August 2020, Reuters reported that millions of people in Indonesia were using the news App Baca Berita, owned by China’s ByteDance, and that from 2018 to mid-2020, the company’s Beijing headquarters had instructed that articles posted on Baca Berita that were critical of the Chinese Communist government be censored for content that These include “Tiananmen Square” and “Mao Zedong,” tensions between China and Indonesia over the South China Sea, and the banning of TikTok in the United States.

The CCP exploits loopholes in democratic societies

The growing influence of Beijing’s media on other countries’ media is due to the simple fact that China has become a global power over the past 20 years. In 2000, China was the sixth largest economy with only 22 million Internet users. It is now the second largest economy in the world and has by far the largest number of Internet users, with over 900 million.

The CCP clearly has some important assets, but its success is also due to vulnerabilities within democracies and semi-democracies that cannot be ignored.

Traditional media are in financial crisis as markets and technology change, making it easier to accept paid advertising or sell shares to companies or individuals with close ties to the Communist government. It is also difficult to refuse the cooperation of official CCP media, such as Xinhua News Agency, to publish their free news. The media’s reliance on advertising revenue also gives CCP diplomats and companies the opportunity to exert influence by funding advertising or threatening companies not to advertise in media outlets that the CCP does not like. Few foreign governments have been willing to be banned from the Chinese market or penalized for not advertising, with the economic damage that entails.

In many parts of the world, the lack of professional understanding of the CCP by local politicians, journalists, think tanks and civil society, including the control of the press by the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department and the promotion of foreign cooperation by the CCP’s United Front Work Department, favors Beijing. In contrast, the level of knowledge of the CCP’s official media and diplomats about their host countries has risen exponentially. The CCP media can use more covert methods and exploit loopholes in democratic political systems to target information to local audiences.

In countries with large Chinese diaspora populations, the CCP government is often able to control the local Chinese language media. In addition, Chinese applications such as WeChat, which has a large number of users among the local Chinese diaspora and locals, give the possibility of manipulating political issues or elections.

In Latin America, the Middle East or Africa, where the general population is more anti-American or anti-Western, warnings from Washington and its allies about the CCP do not work in these countries. They might say, for example, that Facebook does not also sell user data to third parties, as does TikTok, or that France, the United Kingdom, and the United States have not all funded foreign media campaigns, despite the fundamental differences between these campaigns and the CCP’s.

III. How Democracies Can Resist

The world’s boycott is getting louder

Hundreds of incidents around the world over the past decade have repeatedly shown that no market is too small to be spared by the CCP.

Once the CCP, or a company, media outlet, or owner with close ties to the CCP, takes a foothold in the channels of information dissemination, efforts to manipulate information inevitably follow. This may not happen immediately, but it will evolve over Time, or it will kick in as soon as something of sufficient significance to Beijing arises. At that point, CCP leaders, diplomats and other actors with ties to the state will not hesitate to use previously acquired economic and political leverage to push their will.

Communist media influence is expanding more deeply into the internal affairs of other national societies, whether it be exiles and refugees, diaspora communities, investment deals, or elections. As this expansion continues, Beijing’s influence in the realm of daily Life and policymaking in foreign democracies will increase accordingly, and with it, the CCP’s ability to push public debate in the direction it wants it to go.

A review of recent global developments reveals a growing number of propaganda, expertise, policymaking, legislative and other boycotts aimed at countering Beijing’s media influence and protecting democratic institutions as well.

Examples include

  1. The Daily Telegraph, The Economist, The New York Times and The Washington Post have all terminated paid inserts in the CCP.
  2. Emerging online media have emerged in Taiwan and Hong Kong, which are not profit-oriented and are difficult for the CCP to control through acquisition of equity.
  3. Three media outlets in Argentina refuse to publish articles paid for by CCP agents to defame Falun Gong.
  4. Thailand and Sri Lanka published articles exposing CCP interference in their media.
  5. Ghanaian media sent a letter objecting to the signing of a $95 million deal between the Chinese company StarTimes and the Ghanaian government to create a digital television network.
  6. Indian journalists reveal that during Taiwan’s National Day, the Chinese Embassy sent letters to 250 Indian journalists telling them to report according to Chinese communist standards.
  7. The International Federation of Journalists conducted a survey of 58 journalists’ unions around the world, revealing a pattern of CCP influence tactics and issuing recommendations to journalists’ unions and media owners.

8 ……. and more

The cases listed above are just a small sample.

Society-wide engagement against CCP opinion control

Despite the recent increase in scattered activities to combat CCP media influence, the most important thing to do now is to mainstream the “CCP factor” into the work of NGOs concerned with protecting media and Internet freedom.

While the CCP’s control of public opinion takes a whole-of-society approach, an effective countermeasure by democratic societies requires a whole-of-society approach, in which research institutions, media, technology companies, and civil society all cooperate and participate.

  1. Investigation and Research

Research institutions must continue to expose the CCP’s paid coverage (especially during elections), Chinese media trends, apps like WeChat and Jitterbug, test them with rigorous scrutiny, map media ownership structures, find evidence of corrosive capital, etc.

  1. Media actions

Stop paid advertising and news sharing agreements, and if choosing to continue such partnerships, label clear news source agreements, or if partial ownership is sold, include in the terms to protect editorial independence and publish content that Beijing may not like. When reporting on Beijing’s local infrastructure, financing or investment projects, local media should ask questions about environmental and corruption issues. Consider introducing digital media alternatives to avoid influence by the CCP, etc.

  1. Journalists’ and Media Owners’ Associations

should be cautious about signing news-sharing agreements and memoranda of understanding with CCP news organizations. Journalists’ associations should train journalists on media impact strategies and common false or one-sided reporting before or after their visits to China, and help journalists engage with victims of persecution from China, etc., as recommended by the International Federation of Journalists.

  1. Response from the technology sector

Technology companies are devoting more time and resources to detecting CCP media manipulation, taking down hacked accounts, improving user transparency, combating disinformation, etc.

  1. Civil Society Efforts

International and local press freedom groups, should consider whether and how to incorporate the issue of the CCP’s media influence into current or future projects, including

Internal capacity building: drawing on the experiences of other countries to raise awareness of the CCP’s media and assigning personnel to regularly track relevant trends, etc.

Journalism training and Education: The CCP’s manipulation of the media should be incorporated into existing university training programs for journalists to prevent the negative effects of the China trip. Understand the internal power structure and media situation of the CCP. Training and outreach activities should include not only journalists, but editors, management, and media owners.

Literacy for news consumers: Teach news consumers how to identify, official CCP media such as Xinhua and its relationship with the CCP, CCP-China relations, disinformation campaigns, media ownership structures and the application of Chinese capital, fact-checking common Communist Party claims, etc.

Policy Advocacy: Civil society can help legislators and regulators by improving the relevant legal and regulatory framework, as well as by filing relevant complaints with regulators and conducting regulatory reviews of CCP official media outlets and related individuals, etc.

Information sharing and coordination: Local and international NGOs should coordinate across sectors and find ways for multiple parties to collaborate among government entities, technology companies, scholars and researchers, and civil society groups, etc.