Status: 01.10.2023, 03:52 a.m.
Omnipresent not only in China: State and party leader Xi Jinping on a screen in the Chinese city of Fuyang. © Imago
What do foreign countries think about China? The government in Beijing wants to increasingly control the discourse about the country. According to a report, Germany is also affected.
In a report published on Thursday, the U.S. State Department warns of attempts by the People's Republic of China to determine the discourse on sensitive issues abroad. "Beijing has invested billions of dollars to build a global information ecosystem that promotes its propaganda and facilitates censorship and the spread of disinformation," the report said.
On the one hand, China is concerned with spreading positive news about the country and the ruling Communist Party. "At the same time, the PRC suppresses critical information that contradicts its desired narratives on issues such as Taiwan, its human rights practices, the South China Sea, its domestic economy and its international economic engagement."
To this end, China's government uses the following ways, among others:
- China's state broadcaster CCTV provides 1700 media organizations worldwide with free material that reflects Beijing's worldview. Often it is not recognizable that the material comes from China's government.
- In Africa, China has become a leading provider of digital TV. "By controlling cable TV providers, the PRC gains the power to determine which channels viewers can receive by excluding Western news channels from the basic packages."
- In Thailand, a leading Chinese technology company controls the country's most popular news site through a local subsidiary.
- In 2021, almost 100 Chinese influencers who reproduce official propaganda reached "more than eleven million followers in dozens of countries".
- Beijing wants to suppress critical information about China through targeted countermeasures. For example, more than 1000,<> pro-Chinese online accounts have tried to make a report by the Spanish NGO Safeguard Defenders on the activities of so-called Chinese "police stations" abroad disappear from public discourse.
- In Lithuania, phones from the Chinese company Xiaomi have been pre-programmed to censor around 450 expressions used by users, including "Free Tibet" and "democracy movement".
- ByteDance, the parent company of the popular app TikTok, suppresses information about the situation of the Uyghurs in the Chinese province of Xinjiang and blocks users who disseminate such information.
China rejects U.S. report
"We've learned that there's a dark side to globalization," James Rubin of the Global Engagement Center, which authored the report on behalf of the U.S. State Department, told reporters Thursday. "If we do not allow this manipulation of information to be stopped, democratic values and the secure world of rules and rights will be slowly and steadily destroyed."
A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington dismissed the report as "disinformation". "The report, written with the Cold War mentality, is just another tool to suppress China and underpin American hegemony," Liu Pengyu said in a statement.
China uses "propaganda and disinformation to dilute public discourse"
A study published on Tuesday by the Berlin-based China think tank Merics also deals with Beijing's attempts to influence the discourse about the country worldwide. According to the report, China's state and party leader Xi Jinping in his first term in office, which began in 2012/13, focused primarily on determining the discourse in his own country. In the meantime, however, Xi's main concern is to convey China's view of the world and his own policies to the outside world. China is also increasingly targeting Europe and the member states of the European Union. These are "of strategic importance for China's leadership, both as an economic partner and as a counterweight to the United States."
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The Merics report mentions the following points, among others:
- China wants to improve its standing abroad by using "propaganda and disinformation or flooding social media with seemingly apolitical content to dilute public discourse."
- China is trying to "remove undesirable content from international debates and stifle debates through threats, economic coercion and, increasingly, laws with extraterritorial effect."
- Beijing wants to silence critical voices by restricting access to China for foreign journalists and researchers.
- New technologies such as artificial intelligence have made it increasingly easy for Beijing's propaganda apparatus to place content on social media.
Report: China also targets Germany
Germany is also mentioned in the report. For example, China's propaganda apparatus has tried to persuade influencers on YouTube and TikTok to create "non-political content" about the People's Republic. In addition, German regional television stations would rebroadcast Chinese content without adequately labeling it. "Media investment regulations in Germany and other European countries pose significant hurdles, but they are not a panacea against propaganda and disinformation by malicious foreign actors," the Merics study said. The authors call for the EU to "rethink its communication strategies towards China" and take countermeasures. (sh)