Over time, the Chinese regime has perfected its policy of propaganda and disinformation strategies it has used to maintain and expand its power. Currently, it is applying this method to protect its interests globally, promote its authoritarian model, and primarily hide its human rights abuses in China.
The economic agreements, the pandemic, and the Olympic Games were used by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to change the international perspective on China.
Covid-19 was instrumental in helping the Chinese regime portray itself as a caring country by making donations of personal protective equipment (PPE), pledges of vaccines, etc., attempting to change the negative narrative and legitimize its strict Zero Covid policy.
The method of misinforming about the number of infected people in China, closures of entire cities, and extreme surveillance was replaced by false accusations about democratic countries or criticism of their mishandling of the pandemic.
For example, in March 2020, Zhao Lijian, spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, attempted to spread lies about the responsibility for the virus and tweeted that COVID-19 was brought to China by U.S. soldiers visiting Wuhan to participate in the World Military Games, reported CNN.
It has long been known that the Chinese regime has an army of trolls responsible for spreading this type of fake news and extolling the CCP. In addition, the CCP rejected any accusations about the pandemic stating that they were all conspiracy theories, according to Reuters.
The CCP also dared to blame Italy for the coronavirus, claiming that the virus was born there. The fake news was spread by the Global Times and CCTV, Chinese news media.
In June 2020, Twitter deleted 23,750 Chinese accounts that posted false information about Covid-19 but favorable tweets about the CCP and misinformation about Hong Kong. The investigation showed that 150,000 accounts were consistently posting updated content about China.
The pandemic was also a pretext for China to deport journalists. Forcing the international media’s reliance on content produced by the CCP, Breitbart reported.
Another way for the Chinese regime to get Western media to accept its disinformation campaign and spread CCP propaganda is to organize exchange programs for foreign journalists from various countries, conduct training, and establish relationships with foreign journalists and media unions. In addition, to provide free content to international media, according to Reuters.
However, granting its press cards requires correspondents to be spokespersons for its ideology. Moreover, it obliges them to undergo an annual 90-hour training by downloading a propaganda application: Study Xi, which stands for Strengthen the Country, which collects their data, reported RSF.
Nations in the West that are linked to the Belt and Road infrastructure project are the ones that disseminate the most information from Chinese state agencies. For example, RAI, Italy’s public broadcasting company, has agreements with China Media Group (CMG). As a result, the Italian state news agency ANSA publishes 50 pro-China stories a day. So do the Philippines, Serbia, and the Czech Republic, reported Reuters.
The official Xinhua news agency also operates in Australia, Belarus, Laos, India, and Bangladesh, according to the 2019 Freedom House Report.
Africa also reproduces information directly from the CCP due to its substantial economic interests with China. Likewise, for emerging countries where there is not enough media infrastructure or investment for journalism. For example, the case of StarTimes, a Chinese-owned company based in Kenya, offers digital terrestrial and satellite television services. According to Reuters, it has 25 million subscribers in more than 30 African countries.
The CCP has also done its bit in Latin America, especially Panama. The Xinhua News agency has successfully integrated with the leading newspapers El Siglo and La Estrella, reported IRI.
On the other hand, the Chinese regime has another method of influence at the international level. For this purpose, it uses world-famous media such as The New York Times, Le Figaro, and the German media Handelsblatt and Süddeutsche Zeitung that disseminate information from the state media China Watch. With these media, communism can reach more people, as these newspapers have a large readership and give more credibility to Chinese content, DW reported.
The U.S. Department of Justice revealed that the Chinese media, CGT EN America, is a foreign agent with commercial agreements with several international news agencies, including CNN and Reuters, reported AP.
Repression, censorship, and imprisonment of journalists who try to reveal the truth
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), since 1989, after the Tiananmen Square Massacre and the rise to power of Jiang Zemin, repression and censorship of journalists by the CCP increased. By 1999, 48 Chinese journalists were imprisoned, another 21 were forced to leave the country, and 37 foreign journalists were in prison.
The CCP accused the journalists of “conducting investigations that the government ruled as ‘illegal,'” such as: investigating or reporting on the Tiananmen Massacre, an incident in which the CCP killed approximately 10,000 students calling for Freedom and Democracy on June 4, 1989.
However, in 2020, Covid-19, another global event that exposed the CCP as “the world’s biggest jailer of journalists,” 10 journalists and commentators reporting online on the pandemic crisis in Wuhan were imprisoned.
Zhang Zhan, a Chinese journalist, revealed the situation in the pandemic’s epicenter, in the city of Wuhan, in February 2020 and managed to broadcast video reports from the streets and hospitals on social networks exposing the truth. As a result, she was arrested by the CCP and then sentenced to four years in prison on December 28, 2020. So far, Zhang Zhang is known to have conducted hunger strikes in protest and is known to have been force-fed. Now her health has deteriorated, and there are fears for her life, RSF reported.
The CCP used The National Security Law in Hong Kong in 2020 to repress, censor, and arrest journalists from media outlets that enjoyed press freedom. As a result, at least 12 journalists, including the founder of Apple Daily, Jimmy Lai, are in prison for attending and broadcasting “unauthorized” pro-democracy protests. All of the journalists and press freedom advocates arrested have now been sentenced to life imprisonment, RSF said.
As of December 2021, 127 journalists remained under arrest in China, in unhealthy prisons, and subjected to frequent abuse for investigating or reporting “illegally” the facts that the CCP wants to keep silent, according to RSF.
The so-called “red lines” are another tool to apply censorship or imprisonment to journalism. So, for example, you cannot report on The Tiananmen Massacre, Tibet, Taiwan, corruption facts, natural disasters, the #MeToo movement, Hong Kong protesters, or even on the recognition of health professionals during the Covid-19 crisis, among other topics.
China uses social networks to spread propaganda
While social networks such as Twitter and Facebook are banned in China, CCP state media agencies use these same networks to spread information abroad, Reuters reported.
In 2020, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube deleted tens of thousands of accounts that the CCP used with the mission of spreading fake news and praising the CCP internationally, according to Breitbart.
TikTok, a company accused by cybersecurity experts of being part of the Chinese regime, is used to spread propaganda, censor, or misinform users.
For example, following the June 2020 military incident between India and China in the Galwan Valley, where 20 Indian and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers were killed, TikTok censored content about it. It hid the information in various hashtags and left them empty, without video links. The Times of India reported that India has the most extensive TikTok user base, with more than 150 million monthly active users.
The CCP also hires social media personalities to change the world’s perspective on China. These influencers deflect international criticism of the CCP’s human rights abuses, reported AP.
The CCP influencers use similar discourses that aim to attract audiences around the world, they are “travelers” who share photos and videos promoting China as a wonderful destination to visit. Dozens of these accounts have more than 10 million followers and non-Chinese subscribers.
China’s global influence tactics make it easier for negative news about the CCP to disappear, leaving no trace of its terrible human rights abuses, confusing people, and propagating the image that communism is a positive role model.