China making inroads, building influence through media manipulation

By Salaam Times

China is mounting an aggressive campaign around the world to have local media advance Beijing's message. []

China is mounting an aggressive campaign around the world to have local media advance Beijing's message. []

China, after gaining mastery of its domestic information environment through media censorship and repression of the internet, is turning its attention to controlling the media landscape in foreign countries as well, research shows.

Beijing relies on a combination of "wolf warrior" diplomats, state owned and private media outlets, and social media influencers to manipulate the global narrative on topics sensitive to the People's Republic of China (PRC).

"PRC messaging tactics seek to drown out critical narratives by both flooding the international information environment to limit access to content that contradicts Beijing's official line, and by creating an artificial appearance of support for PRC policies," the US State Department said in a report published August 24.

The report focused on China's efforts to manipulate global public opinion on Xinjiang, where Beijing is accused of genocide and crimes against humanity against predominantly Muslim Uighurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups.

Journalists work in front of the Great Hall of the People before the second plenary session of China's National People's Congress in Beijing on March 8. [Leo Ramirez/AFP]

Journalists work in front of the Great Hall of the People before the second plenary session of China's National People's Congress in Beijing on March 8. [Leo Ramirez/AFP]

A Kyrgyz police officer patrols next to the Chinese embassy in Bishkek on August 30, 2016. The OSCE has found evidence of a Chinese campaign to compromise the Kyrgyz news media. [Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP]

A Kyrgyz police officer patrols next to the Chinese embassy in Bishkek on August 30, 2016. The OSCE has found evidence of a Chinese campaign to compromise the Kyrgyz news media. [Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP]

Beijing is accused of detaining more than one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking people, in the far-western region as part of a years-long crackdown that the United States, other governments and human rights activists have labelled a "genocide".

The goal of China's information influence campaign in general is to suppress narratives critical to Chinese interests and to amplify Beijing's preferred narratives.

Per the report, Beijing is using more than 200 third country social media influencers to reach international audiences in at least 38 languages -- including English, Spanish, French, Arabic and Russian -- and an average reach of 309,000 followers.

The PRC's Cyberspace Affairs Commission and Central Propaganda Department directly employ about 2 million Chinese nationals and another 20 million part-time "network civilian volunteers" to target China's domestic audiences and Chinese-speaking diaspora communities.

The Chinese government also uses its vast network of diplomats and diplomatic social media accounts around the world.

A majority of the diplomatic social media messaging focuses on highlighting good relations with other countries.

Other actors, dubbed "wolf warrior" diplomats, take a more aggressive approach to deny, "disprove" and deflect narratives that run counter to PRC official messaging.

"Trolls take the lead on attacking, stirring controversies, insulting and harassing netizens to poison the information environment and distract from narratives critical of the PRC," the State Department report said.

Aside from Beijing's campaign to shape the narrative on Xinjiang, the PRC's campaigns also aim to squash pro-democracy movements in Hong Kong and Taiwan, spread disinformation on Russia's invasion of Ukraine and promote conspiracy theories on other issues of global importance.

Controlling the narrative on China is a strategic priority for Beijing as it seeks to build up its political, military and economic influence through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure project, also know as One Belt, One Road (OBOR).

Penetrating the Middle East

The Chinese model has found an audience in some environments, according to Nadia Helmy, a political scientist at Beni-Suef University in Egypt who specialises in Chinese politics.

In the Middle East, for example, Chinese Arabic-speaking journalists, media figures and activists have demonstrated "remarkable activity" on social media, particularly Twitter, to promote Beijing's official point of view on a number of topics.

"What is remarkable here, is the success of these Chinese methods in attracting Arabs, despite the delay in their presence on Arab media to clarify China's policies," she wrote July 18 for the Modern Diplomacy website.

"China has succeeded in building a vast digital infrastructure that allows it to control and monitor all social platforms, and to display the official views of the Chinese state and its ruling Communist Party," Helmy said.

With more than 300 Chinese diplomats around the world and each of them has an account on the top western social media platforms, totalling more than 500 accounts of Facebook and Twitter, she said.

"The task of these accounts is to retweet, publish or like their posts by themselves or through other followers, which ultimately leads to the dissemination and expression of China's viewpoint globally on all issues."

"China is working to create a counter force, to confront everything that is written about it globally from a point of view contrary to Beijing," Helmy said.

Inroads in Central Asia

Beijing's media presence in Central Asia provides another example.

Kyrgyzstan offers a case study on China's efforts to push into the Central Asian sphere, according to a report published August 25 by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Academy in Bishkek.

By heavily investing in Kyrgyzstan's impoverished media sector, expanding its state-run outlets and building partnerships with local companies, China hopes to shape the information landscape in the region, the report said.

Beijing "recognises the need to control the information environment in foreign countries", it added.

"Money talks, and that's a problem because [Kyrgyzstan's] media sector is very underfunded," Niva Yau, senior researcher at the OSCE Academy and the author of the report, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) for an August 27 article.

"[China] has lots of money to invest and spend," she said.

The Chinese strategy has three main elements: inserting content within Kyrgyz media, building up the local presence of PRC media and pursuing engagement on social media, the OSCE study found.

The Chinese embassy in Bishkek cultivates Kyrgyz co-operation by arranging free reporting trips and offering funding and other incentives so that local journalists publish favourable stories and withhold negative ones, RFE/RL reported.

Clumsy efforts

Admittedly, China has stumbled at times in trying to suborn foreign media.

"There is lots of clumsiness to observe on the Chinese side, but it is still growing and also adapting, especially on social media," Yau said.

"[China] is quite immature when it comes to global media," she said. "They just copy and paste that model [from home] when they go overseas and in many cases refuse to listen to the local people that work for them."

And Kyrgyz employees often join the Chinese cause for money rather than out of conviction.

"For many people, their heart's not in it. It's something pragmatic because there's no other option," said Yau.

That said, the consequences could be dire if Beijing goes unchallenged, the OSCE warned.

"Left undealt with, catering to Chinese interest can potentially turn the Kyrgyz media sector into a tool of influence over official state positions on critical issues," it said.

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Every dictator and autocratic regime tries to eliminate the free media and replace it with their supporting press that all day long publishes the lies of these regimes. Following China, the Taliban have recently initiated such moves. After the collapse of the republic, hundreds of domestic media became silenced and stopped operating. Every day the Taliban imposes new restrictions on the media. Recently, this group has banned the operation of Zawia Media and Hasht-e-Sobh daily, which reflect the lies and crimes of this group in Afghanistan. Taliban Ministry of Communications blocked these agencies' websites and tried to stem their activities. Nevertheless, this is the 21st century. Both China and the Taliban should understand that concealment and lying do not last long in this era.


In fact, a number of new channels, including Tolo TV, 1 TV, and others, were busy broadcasting ethnic and linguistic prejudices during the era of republic. Following Iran and other countries' directives, Tolo TV and Tolo News, 1 TV, Noor, Nooreen, and other TV channels whose presenters and owners were non-Pashtuns, used to target Pashtuns and tried to provoke ethnic differences. Freedom of press is true, but not in such a way that media channels receive money from Pakistan, Iran, and other anti-Afghanistan countries and stir dissension among their people.


What should a dictatorial, autocratic, and tyrannical country do? Do you want them to let the media free and respect all human freedoms? Never ever. If they do not oppress the people, not silence their voices, and not prevent the rising of their opponents, will they be able to govern? We all know that despite its slogans, the Chinese government has never been in its people's best interest. China's country and economy have indeed progressed to some extent, but there are many problems in the Chinese society. Nevertheless, China does not allow anyone to convey this news abroad. It is not only the situation in Xinjiang that is dire. The entire China is facing a similar situation. China keeps a close eye on its people, so they do not do anything that goes against the will of the corrupt Chinese leaders. I am sure the Chinese will one day stand up like the Iranian and take these leaders accountable.


Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has stated that there would be a reduction of one million barrel per day in exporting oil to the international market. Each barrel of oil consists of 159 liters. The war in Ukraine has already generated an energy crisis in the world; now, with the internal unrest in Iran, this crisis can spread even more. A few days ago, the prime minister of a world's economic power like Germany paid an official visit to the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf to negotiate a deal for purchasing oil and gas and handling the energy crisis in Germany for the upcoming winter. So please prevent another war, whether in Taiwan or any other country. China, the United States, Russia, and other major countries of the world should replace fierce high-ranking authorities with people who are busy and thoughtful to prevent another destructive war. Let us all join hands and end the war in Ukraine. God bless you.