While the world is on tenterhooks to deal with the new Chinese epidemic (Chinese Communist Virus Outbreak, COVID-19), the Chinese Communist Party is taking the opportunity to increase its manipulation of global public opinion and embellish its international image.
The International Federation of Journalists, based in Brussels, Belgium, released a report Wednesday (May 12) titled “The COVID-19 Story: Unmasking China’s Global Strategy,” revealing that the Chinese Communist Party has tried to manipulate foreign media into more positive coverage of the outbreak since it began. .
The survey covered 54 journalists’ unions in 50 countries and regions. The survey found that 56 percent of the countries and regions surveyed said that coverage of China has become more positive since the outbreak, while only 24 percent have become more negative and the remaining 20 percent have remained unchanged.
On a scale of 1 to 10, Europe had the most positive coverage of China at 6.3, while North America had the most negative coverage of China at 3.5.
A further 76 percent of countries and regions surveyed believe that the influence of CCP media is already evident in the local media ecosystem, an increase of 12 percent from last year.
Over the past year, Chinese Communist authorities have used epidemic coverage to project their more positive image in some countries. For example, the CCP has provided support and training to local media in exchange for positive coverage, through sponsored trips to China for journalists from various countries, content-sharing agreements, and increased control over publishing platforms.
One-third of respondents said that their media outlets had signed memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with Chinese organizations. Some respondents also said that negotiations for MOUs with China for media cooperation at their outlets had stalled due to the travel ban caused by the epidemic.
Second, the Chinese Communist Party also meddles in the content of media reports, using facts that are distorted in its favor to dilute and cover up reports that are unfavorable to it. Nearly one-fifth of the countries/regions surveyed said that the CCP ambassador or embassy in their country would comment on the content of local media reports.
In an interview, one Italian journalist said, “As the new pandemic begins to spread, Beijing is using its global media infrastructure to spread a positive narrative about China (the CCP) in the national media (in Italy), while using more innovative tactics such as spreading disinformation.”
He described the situation as a “fake news infodemic”.
Some Italian journalists also said that after the first wave of the outbreak, Chinese officials have been trying to draw them in and make them feel good about themselves, including by trying to get close to Italian journalists and providing free content tailored to local Italian readers.
Another interviewed journalist said that Chinese sources asked them to give more airtime to Xi Jinping’s New Year’s message by giving them free feeds and direct translations into Italian. Then their media did eventually broadcast Xi’s New Year’s message and put it in the best time slot.
More than 80 percent of the countries and regions surveyed expressed concern about the disinformation disseminated by Beijing.
In terms of influence on host countries, the report says the CCP has integrated its foreign propaganda efforts and vaccine diplomacy into investment projects under the Belt and Road Initiative in exchange for international support and praise from beneficiary countries.
Experts: CCP One Factor in Overall Deterioration of Global Freedom of Expression
Some experts told Voice of America that the Chinese Communist Party’s image beautification project around the world is nothing new.
Maria Repnikova, an associate professor of political science at Georgia State University and a researcher on media and politics in non-democratic countries, told VOA: “For a long time, the Chinese [Communist Party] government has been trying to build its positive image to enhance its global reputation and appeal. Some of these are narratives aimed at the West, but some are more about telling the story of China. This is nothing new and has been going on since as early as the early 2000s.”
Dan Garrett, a former Pentagon intelligence analyst, told Voice of America that Beijing’s current outreach campaign is aimed at discrediting the Western media and portraying it as biased, racist and anti-China.
“On the one hand, whenever a crisis occurs, the (Communist) government uses the entire media apparatus, as well as the national security intelligence apparatus, to respond to the crisis. So the new crown epidemic is both a crisis and an opportunity for China to use new crown diplomacy, vaccine diplomacy, protective clothing diplomacy and other types of diplomacy related to the new crown pandemic to boost its image.” He said.
“On the other hand, Beijing also sees this as a battle of public opinion with the United States and the West over who is responsible for the origins of the pandemic and the spread and intensification of the epidemic. From Beijing’s perspective, the New Crown crisis is a global crisis and an opportunity to push the superiority of the socialist system and Communist Party leadership over Western systems such as democracy, universal values and liberal institutions.” Garrett said.
“So it’s only natural that China (the Communist Party) has a huge global media apparatus that has invested billions of dollars over time and now, once a crisis occurs, they try to activate it to help its image and spread their opinions elsewhere.” Garrett added.
Some experts have also questioned the effectiveness of the Communist Party’s propaganda offensive. Joshua Kurlantzick, a Southeast Asia fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S. think tank, said, “I think China [the CCP] is a factor in the overall deterioration of freedom of expression globally. There has definitely been a huge deterioration (in freedom of expression) within China, with the expulsion of foreign journalists and the repression of almost all types of independent media.”
“For another, China (CCP) has taken over many Chinese language media outlets in many countries around the world, and these outlets have played a role in suppressing free speech.” Kolanzik said.
He said official Chinese (Communist Party) media outlets play a role in worsening free speech around the world, and while they are not very effective, they do try to churn out the right information.
Official Chinese Communist media have been boycotted in some countries. The United States has capped the visas of journalists from five Chinese media outlets, including Xinhua News Agency. In February, the U.K. revoked CGTN’s broadcasting license. Germany subsequently suspended CGTN, and Australia’s public broadcaster SBS called off CGTN’s daily broadcasts in response to complaints.
In response to a series of moves by various countries, Beijing has sought to restrict foreign media access to Chinese territory, and foreign journalists have been denied visas or deported.
Chinese Communist Party Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying slyly argued at a regular news conference in Beijing on Tuesday (11) that the media sphere should not be just CNN and the BBC, but that countries should have their own voices.
Kolanzik countered, “If some voices are not free and independent, or if the media is actively spreading disinformation, I don’t think it will be conducive to news and a better news environment.”