China is actively trying to influence the global media to counter criticism and spread its propaganda. According to a report titled “China’s Pursuit of a New World Media Order” released (Dec 7) by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Beijing is using a variety of strategies including ramping up international broadcasting, undertaking extensive advertising campaigns, and infiltrating foreign media outlets to spread its world view. The Chinese government is reportedly investing $1.3 billion annually to increase Chinese media global presence. With this investment, Chinese state-run television and radio shows have significantly expanded their international outreach. China Global Television Network (CGTN) is televised in 140 countries and China Radio International (CRI) is broadcast in 65 languages. Proxies like StarTimes are also used for increasing control over global telecommunications networks, while building new digital highways.
Some of the prominent Chinese propaganda machinery active globally includes, Chinese Communist Party Propaganda Department (CCPPD), State Council Information Office (SCIO), United Front Work Department (UFWD), BRICS Media Forum (BMF),World Media Summit (WMS), Confucius Institutes (CIs),China International Publishing Group (CIPG), Xinhua, China Daily and Global Times. CCPPD implements the policies for targeting the regions/countries while SCIO drafts “positive version” of events. Similarly, UFWD oversee financial transfers to foreign media and China Media Group (CMG) channelizes the production and promotional capacities of the state radio to enhance global propaganda outreach. Separately, over 500 Confucius Institutes across 154 countries are tasked to disseminate Chinese language and culture.
As part of these propaganda efforts, China is seeking collaboration with media groups in Africa and ASEAN. Recently, CMG in collaboration with African Media house held (November 26) an event under the theme “ Our African Partners: CMG Media Cooperation Forum 2021”. Earlier, in July during the ‘2021 ASEAN Media Partners Forum,’ CMG initiated a partnership with ASEAN media to promote mutual cooperation. The event was attended by 100 guests from 33 Chinese organizations and 14 other countries. The CMG-ASEAN partnership mechanism, China Central Television (CCTV+) includes programs for ASEAN partners focusing on Chinese agriculture / industrial technology. China’s influence over overseas media is also apparent with the take-over of leading Chinese Diaspora Media such as New Zealand’s Chinese Herald and Australia’s Pacific Times. These two media segments were earlier independent and critical of the Chinese regime, but have become propaganda mouthpieces after the take-over.
Earlier, Beijing’s influence operations were defensive, reactive and largely aimed at a domestic audience. However, recently a more sophisticated and assertive strategy has been adopted, which is increasingly aimed at international audiences. Within China the media is tightly controlled with the country ranking 177 in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, just two places above North Korea. However, abroad Beijing has sought to exploit the vulnerabilities of the free press to its advantage. ‘Media Warfare’ has become an explicit part of Beijing’s military strategy aimed at undermining democratic norms, eroding national sovereignty, weakening the financial sustainability of independent media, and violating local laws.
China is trying to reshape the global information environment with massive infusion of money, including funding for advertorials, sponsored journalistic coverage and Chinese propaganda supplements that appear in dozens of respected international publications such as the Washington Post. China woos journalists from around the world with all-expenses-paid tours, providing free graduate degrees in communication, training scores of foreign reporters each year to ‘tell China’s story well’ in addition to buying stakes in foreign media outlets.
The aim is to inﬂuence global public opinion in order to nudge foreign governments into making policies favourable towards China and increase its ‘discourse power.’ Beijing seeks to shift the global centre of gravity eastwards, propagating the idea of a new world order with a resurgent China at its centre.
Another facet of Chinese media strategy is increasing its control over the global digital infrastructure through private Chinese companies, which are dominating the switchover from analog to digital television. In parts of Africa, it has launched television satellites, built ﬁbre-optic cable networks and data centres creating a ‘digital silk road’ to carry information around the world. In this way, Beijing is increasing its stranglehold, both over news productions and transmission.
Beyond Africa, Chinese companies are playing a role in digital television expansion in countries like Pakistan, Cambodia, and East Timor. In South Africa companies linked to the Chinese state have a 20% stake in Independent Media, the country’s second-largest media group, which runs 20 prominent newspapers.
Despite these moves, Chinese media in Africa is still viewed with a degree of skeptism. There is a view that enhanced Chinese presence in African media may adversely impact its press freedom and editorial independence. The blurring lines between China’s journalism, propaganda work, inﬂuence projection and intelligence-gathering is a concern for many foreign governments, particularly at a time when due to financial constraints even western journalists seem vulnerable to Chinese enticements.