Zhong Sheng | Minghui
In recent years, more and more people have gained a better understanding of the international reach of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s propaganda. In fact, the CCP has invested 45 billion yuan since 2009 to expand propaganda outside of China in order to control public discourse and expand its brainwashing tactics globally.
Proactive and Delicate Tactics
To further influence the Western world, the CCP has implemented several policies. The first is to increase investment in CCP news outlets, such as CCTV and Xinhua News Agency. In the iconic Times Square of New York City, a giant video monitor displays Xinhua content, and newspaper boxes for China Daily have appeared in major U.S. cities. In addition, CCTV has launched the China Global Television Network (CGTN), which is available on cable systems across the U.S. Xinhua now has about 6,000 reporters outside of China, which exceeds the number at traditional news agencies such as AP, AFP, and Reuters.
The second approach is to influence or control overseas Chinese news media. In 2001, the Jamestown Foundation published a report entitled “How China’s Government Is Attempting to Control Chinese Media in America,” which described four methods: a) directly controlling newspapers, television, and radio through full ownership or becoming majority stakeholders; b) influencing independent news media through their business interests; c) purchasing air time or advertisements; and d) arranging CCP agents to work at independent news media for the purposes of espionage and sabotage.
The third approach the CCP has used is to project its voice through mainstream news media. Over the years, paid China Daily inserts have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal, in both the print and electronic editions. These tactics are shady and deceitful.
The fourth approach is adulterating overseas news media with CCP interests. A study from Reuters found that the CCP’s China Radio International (CRI) has intervened in at least 33 radio stations in 14 countries. One example is Phoenix Television, the second largest Chinese television network in the United States. With 10% of the stock held by CCTV, Phoenix Television now speaks like a news media of the CCP.
China censors overseas news media in several ways, including directly through financial incentives or pressure, and indirectly through advertisements, online attacks, and personal attacks. For foreign news media that operate in China, the CCP threatens to cancel visas for reporters or other employees. Outside of China, it pressures senior editors to remove articles critical of the CCP, threatening to cut off relationships and business deals.
According to a former Chinese diplomat, the top five groups suppressed by the CCP outside China are Tibetans, Uyghurs, Falun Gong practitioners, democracy advocates, and supporters of Taiwan’s independence. The news media established by Falun Gong practitioners, in particular, have drawn the attention of the CCP.
Suppressing Different Opinions
The CCP censors information for two reasons: one is to suppress negative reports inside China, and another is to hush dissidents while promoting their own voice outside China. Both of these serve to strengthen the CCP’s global power.
A 2005 study by John Palfrey, a law professor at Harvard, found about 48% of the information related to the “June 4 incident” (referring to the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989) was blocked in China. Similarly, 90% of information related to the Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party and the majority of positive information about Falun Gong is blocked. In contrast, only 10% of pornography sites are blocked. These numbers highlight the purpose of censorship.
Katrina Lantos Swett and Mary Ann Glendon, former chairwoman and vice chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) wrote in 2013, “Beijing’s efforts against the Falun Gong, which stem from fears over its substantial growth as an independent-minded group thriving outside of Communist ideology and control, have been remarkable.” She added, “Falun Gong materials and websites are the most blocked content in China.”
Ms. Huang Qian, 49, is a former employee of the Guangzhou Book Center. In early 2015, she published five long posts titled “Memoirs of the Gulag” on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging website. Because these posts exposed the persecution of Falun Gong in China, Ms. Huang was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. After being transferred to Division 4 of the Guangzhou Women’s Prison in June 2017, her family visited her and found her weak and emaciated. “Please come and save me,” she begged her family. “This place has nearly driven me insane.”
Because of her belief in Falun Gong, Ms. Huang was terminated by her employer, detained in a labor camp for three years, and imprisoned for four years. The CCP works hard to block the spread of such information.
Collaboration with Western Media
Since its introduction to the public in 1992, Falun Gong has been known to improve physical health and moral values. To initiate and sustain the suppression of this non-political group, former CCP leader Jiang Zemin heavily relied on brutality and defamatory propaganda, and the news media played a critical role to mislead the public.
Predicting that such a large-scale suppression would fuel criticism in the international community, Jiang invited Western media to participate in the persecution from the beginning. If successful, it would help to justify the suppression and reduce pressure in international society. One example was in October 1999, when Jiang was interviewed by the French newspaper Le Figaro and took the opportunity to defame Falun Gong as a “cult.”
At a national conference on external publicity in 1999, Jiang emphasized external propaganda and called for a strong publicity campaign in the international society that would match China’s “prestige” and “reputation.” Li Changchun, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, followed this direction and established a coordinated system in 25 departments under the CCP’s Central Committee. Guo Jingzhe, a director of China Radio International, explained his interpretation of Jiang’s words, “We should be proactive and take the lead… Overseas propaganda is like a battle. We have to hold a shield in one hand to defend ourselves from enemies while holding a spear in the other hand to attack others.”
Under this policy, hate propaganda was exported to other countries. On May 26, 2000, CCTV’s Focus included an 18-minute program that slandered Falun Gong. Upon approving the program, the head of the Central 610 Office ordered CCTV to disseminate its videotapes to overseas embassies and consulates, as well as translate them into English for broadcast outside China. Chinese news media in various countries also followed suit to further defame Falun Gong.
Resistance in Western Society
Such propaganda from the CCP is sometimes met with resistance. After Talentvision, a Canadian Chinese-language TV station, carried CCTV’s news program on the “Fu Yi-bin murder case” on December 16, 2001, which falsely associated the murder with Falun Gong, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) decided on August 16, 2002 that Talentvision had breached four articles of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics and Violence Code, as well as the Code of Ethics of the Radio TV News Directors’ Association of Canada.
“The panel found that the references to Falun Gong in the news report constituted unfair comment, on one hand, and that the repetition of the violent video clips was excessive, on the other.” (CBSC Decision 01/02-0416+). Talentvision was directed to air the decision twice within seven days.
Participants of external publicity conferences in China include not only officers in different state organs and various provinces but also officials from Chinese embassies and consulates. These officials often take the lead in external propaganda efforts.
Voice of America reported on March 13, 2001, that Wang Yunxiang, the Chinese Consul General in San Francisco, wrote to the Chinese newspaper World Journal, telling it to stop carrying advertisements related to Falun Gong. Gu Xixian, the newspaper’s Deputy General Manager in San Francisco, dismissed the Consul General’s demand and said, “He [Wang] can have his viewpoint, and Falun Gong practitioners can have their viewpoints too.”
Wu Ronghua, the Chinese Consul General in Melbourne, Australia, once invited officials of local Chinese news media to the consulate, asking them not to publish articles related to Falun Gong. He said any such articles should be forwarded to the Chinese Consulate for approval in advance. As a result, none of the news media published articles about Falun Gong, citing pressure and concerns of retaliation by the Chinese Consulate.
CCP’s Efforts to Strengthen Soft Power
Chang Chin-hua from the National University of Taiwan warned of the CCP’s expansion of “soft power” in the international community, which seeks to influence other nations through cultural methods. An example is the popularity of the film and television culture from South Korea. Hard power, on the other hand, relies on economic incentives and threats. By suppressing and avoiding negative opinions, such a country could promote its own interests and make its opinion prevalent.
China’s hard power comes from its economic and trade advantages. Through direct and indirect influences, it can coerce certain targets to censor themselves to control public opinion. This not only interferes with freedom of speech but also threatens democratic systems and national security in Western countries. In other words, it is a strategy of asymmetric warfare waged by the CCP.
Despite the CCP’s continued efforts to infiltrate other countries, some in the West have started to put up stronger resistance. While speaking on the Trump administration’s policy on China at the Hudson Institute on October 4, 2018, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence talked about the CCP’s military power, theft of trade secrets, espionage, and human rights violations. This attitude suggests that the CCP’s efforts to influence the news media outside of China would be monitored and potentially curbed.