Beijing is embarking on a new campaign to strengthen international communications and tell the Chinese story. U.S. media analysts say the media tug-of-war between the United States and China is likely to continue, and the international community may see a further tightening of China’s information environment, including restrictions on foreign journalists and foreign media access.
Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, told members of the Central Political Bureau on May 31 that China should make great efforts to strengthen its international communication capacity, develop an international discourse that matches its comprehensive national power and international status, and create a favorable external public opinion environment for reform, development and stability.
Xi asked the Central Politburo to strengthen China’s international communication capacity to provide the world with a voice that matches China’s comprehensive national power and international status, and to create a favorable external public opinion environment for China’s reform and development.
Beijing launches a new round of international communication offensive
In fact, as early as 2008, after Beijing successfully hosted the Olympic Games, China has started to strengthen its international communication system and has spent huge amounts of money to build a foreign propaganda system and a media cluster with international influence.
In his recent speech, Xi Jinping proposed to effectively carry out “international public opinion guidance and public opinion struggle, and initially build a multi-body, three-dimensional pattern of foreign propaganda”, and to accelerate the construction of a Chinese discourse and Chinese narrative system, using Chinese theory to explain Chinese practice.
International opinion speculates that Xi’s speech seems to imply that Beijing will launch a government-wide campaign. What impact will China’s new international communications offensive have on the world of American public opinion?
Media and information technology analysts told VOA that Beijing has a long history of “big outreach” and is expected to continue in the same vein, but given the current international public opinion environment, which is extremely unfavorable to China, it is clear that Beijing will increase the intensity of this push in the future.
Heidi Holz, a senior fellow at the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), a nonprofit public think tank, focuses on Chinese media.
In Holz’s view, Beijing has long been engaged in a global campaign to shape the media environment in China’s favor. The scope of this campaign has involved virtually all aspects of the information environment, including efforts to promote China’s preferred narrative language, known as “telling the Chinese story,” while silencing critics.
According to He Huizhi, the Communist Party leadership recognizes that China’s image has suffered over the past few years because of its handling of the new coronavirus outbreak and human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, among other factors. As a way to respond, Beijing is seeking to redouble its efforts to shape foreigners’ perceptions of China externally and to tightly control domestic dissent and criticism internally.
She said, “Expect to see Chinese media coverage that aims to actively undermine criticism of Beijing overseas, particularly in the United States, and to delegitimize the voices of these critics.”
Hehuizhi also analyzed that the international community will also see a continuation, and perhaps even further tightening, of China’s domestic information environment, including additional restrictions on foreign journalists and foreign media access.
How Washington is responding to Beijing’s public diplomacy offensive
Xi Jinping also stressed during the “30th collective study” of the Central Political Bureau on May 31 that Chinese media should “widely publicize Chinese ideas, Chinese wisdom and Chinese solutions” to guide the international community in shaping a new, more just and reasonable international order and building A new type of international relations.
In the face of Beijing’s aggressive public diplomacy strategy, what should Washington do to counter Beijing’s growing influence?
Stephen Ezell, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a Washington-based nongovernmental organization, told VOA that to counter Beijing’s international communications and public diplomacy offensive, the United States needs to spread a clear and sober understanding to the world of the false reality of the Chinese Communist regime: Beijing’s system is seeking to impose a new international order on the United States, the United States and the United States. that this system seeks to conceal or obfuscate important information about the new coronavirus outbreak from the United States, the WHO and other countries.
Ezell stressed the importance of Washington’s efforts to clarify and expose Beijing’s mercantilist economic strategy, external violations of intellectual property rights, forced transfers of intellectual property, and internal suppression of the human and political rights of its citizens.
“The United States should also actively work to expose China’s exertion of influence in other countries. In addition, the United States should work more closely with allies and like-minded countries,” Ezell said.
According to Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) Senior Fellow Huizhi He, for the sake of U.S. national interests, Washington must develop a strategic, coordinated, government-wide strategy to meet the challenges posed by state-sponsored disinformation and propaganda from Beijing.
“Public diplomacy will be a key component of that, but it’s a much bigger puzzle involving national diplomacy, information, the military, and national power such as the economy,” Ho Hoi-chi said.
According to the CNA study, Beijing’s campaign to build an international communications system is a cross-cutting effort across its entire system of government and is broad in scope, encompassing all aspects of the information environment: digital media and ICT infrastructure, in addition to print, radio and television media.
The CNA study also argues that in order to counter Beijing’s global information and communications offensive, Washington must plan for the long term by closing and addressing U.S. loopholes and vulnerabilities at home and abroad, which Beijing has been exploiting for China’s benefit.
Will the U.S.-China “Media War” Continue?
In fact, during the Trump administration, Washington has already begun to counter Beijing’s international communications offensive.
On February 18, 2020, the State Department announced the designation of five official Chinese media outlets in the U.S. as “foreign missions,” which are required to register their employees and properties in the U.S. with the State Department, just like foreign embassies and consulates. The five media outlets are: Xinhua News Agency, China Global Television Network, China Radio International, China Daily Distribution Corporation, and the Overseas Edition of People’s Daily.
Shortly thereafter, China announced countermeasures on March 18, 2020. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked the five U.S. media outlets in China – Voice of America, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and Time Magazine – to declare all information about their staff and properties in China
Since then, there have been several rounds of “media wars” between Washington and Beijing, until around September of last year, when both sides restricted the number of expatriate journalists and work visas for each other, and even expelled each other.
U.S. public opinion is closely watching to see if the U.S.-China media war that began under Trump will continue. Will the Biden administration continue its tit-for-tat strategy or will it allow more Chinese journalists to station in the United States to demonstrate the soft power of a free American press?
Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota, told Voice of America that the free flow of information is currently being very unfortunately weaponized; as a result, journalists from the U.S. and China are sometimes prevented from entering each other’s countries to work because of political reasons. This has resulted in incidents where journalists from the U.S. and China are prevented from entering each other’s countries to work for political reasons.
While governments have a legitimate interest in protecting their citizens from deliberate attempts to disseminate false information, Professor Cottrelli said, the question of how we can determine what information is “true” is a thorny one that needs to be addressed.
Kotri argues that the ideal way to solve this problem is through a marketplace of ideas; but this will only work if the public is free to seek and receive information from a variety of perspectives and viewpoints.
“When governments try to restrict their populations’ access to information through various media, we have to interrogate: what are they really afraid of? The temptation and impulse of the government to try to control the narrative is very strong, but it runs counter to the principles of freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and shows a profound distrust of the ability of its citizens to think critically,” Kotri said.
Huizhi He, a senior fellow at the Center for Naval Analyses, agrees that this is a very difficult issue; for in fact, the Chinese state-owned media are propaganda agents of the state whose mission is to systematically try to delegitimize U.S. policies and activities. While these Chinese media outlets do engage in some factual journalism, they are not independent news outlets and should not be considered true media.
“Moreover, I doubt that easing restrictions on Chinese media operations in the United States will prompt any reciprocal action on the part of Beijing. The trend over the past few years has been to tighten controls on foreign journalists in China, and I expect that to continue,” Hehuizi said.
Ezell, a vice president at ITIF, disagreed with the proposal to roll back the Trump-era policy and allow more Chinese journalists to station in the United States. He believes the answer to ending the U.S.-China media tug-of-war is for the United States to join with other like-minded countries to push and advocate for China to allow greater press freedom.
“And allowing more Chinese journalists into the United States, especially from Communist Party-controlled or led news entities, will not achieve much,” he said.