Behind China's Global Propaganda Campaign

Behind China's Global Propaganda Campaign
Photo Credit:REUTERS/達志影像

What you need to know

'The Party wants to fundamentally change the conversation at the global level so as to defend China’s interests abroad and reinforce the ideological consensus at home.'

A new report suggests that while censorship has proven an effective tool in reducing foreign influence in China, Beijing is now focused on creating an "international echo chamber" for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) has released a new report documenting the CCP propaganda campaign, titled “Boosting the Party’s Voice: China’s Quest for Ideological Dominance.”

It says China sees itself in an ideological confrontation with the West, with many of its party leaders attributing the Soviet Union’s fall to Western ideological subversion.

“Instead of having to deal with an influx of ideas from other countries into China, the Party wants to fundamentally change the conversation at the global level so as to defend China’s interests abroad and reinforce the ideological consensus at home,” the report says.

"The new goal is to create an international echo chamber for the CCP. This way, ideas such as that the Chinese political and economic system are the best for China will reach China’s citizens not only through domestic but also international media and platforms."

To this end, China has sought every opportunity to hold seminars and conferences on topics it finds of ideological importance. An example is the World Internet Summit of 2015 held in Wuzhen, where Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) promoted the Chinese concept of “Internet sovereignty,” the idea that each nation must control the cyberspace within its borders.

To gain support and traction in foreign academia, China has provided generous funding to academics and researchers overseas. According to the report, countless universities and think tanks in the EU depend largely on Chinese funding. Multiple partnerships with local universities have also allowed foreign universities to set up campuses in China.

Vast resources are spent on “building a discourse with Chinese characteristics” (建設有中國特色的話語體系) in the humanities and social sciences. In its Thirteenth Five-Year-Plan, China committed to establishing 50 to 100 think tanks to buttress China’s political and economic system.

The CCP has also used its financial clout to expand its presence in the global media landscape. State media such as Xinhua News Agency and CCTV have expanded in recent years and signed cooperation agreements with foreign media – a more subtle way for the CCP to distribute its views without buying media companies.

The most recent example of such cooperation is an agreement made between six Australian media outlets and Chinese state media this May. Another example is of ChinaWatch, a paid supplement edited by China Daily; apart from the six aforementioned Australian publications, the Washington Post, International Herald Tribune, and the Telegraph have all agreed to publish ChinaWatch.

Although the CCP’s main objective is to present a Chinese counter-ideology, discrediting Western values and institutions play a major part in their efforts. The report cites a video, "How Leaders Are Made," produced with CCP backing as an example.

The report calls the video a skillful attempt to discredit Western systems of government. “While the Chinese system is presented as a meritocracy in which leaders are trained and tested over decades, the presentation of U.S. elections focuses mainly on the need to raise money to become president.”

The report concludes China will develop a global voice in the next decade, with the CCP continuing to lend massive resources to ensure ideological security. The report argues Western countries should counter the Chinese media offensive, not by restricting visas to Chinese journalists or establishing task forces to counter Chinese "disinformation," but through creating transparency in university or think tank funding, which does not single out China or contradict democratic ideals.

The report also cautions Western countries.

“Attempts to pacify China by adopting its official rhetoric, by making concessions, or by shunning groups and individuals the CCP dislikes will accomplish little to nothing. Instead, if Western countries define red lines and stick to them, it becomes much harder for the CCP to shape global opinions.”

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Edward White