Long arm of China’s propaganda

In August 19, 2013, in a speech to the National Propaganda and Ideology Work Conference, Chinese authoritarian leader Xi Jinping outlined his approach to propaganda and branding of his country, urging for more “innovation” of China’s external communication under the banner of “telling China’s story well” via “external propaganda”.

Arguably, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s notion of “telling China’s story” is primarily about telling and distributing stories that mirror the Party’s control of propaganda both in China and abroad.

One aspect of the CCP-controlled narrative would be the idea that China’s global ascendency was a peaceful phenomenon and that the CCP’s rudimentary goal is to construct a “community of common destiny for mankind” benefitting other countries. 

In 2020, Xu Shana, head of the Fujian provincial section of the All-China Women’s Federation, opined in an article in the state-run People’s Daily that Chinese media should “break through” the idea that “countries that strengthen must seek hegemony”, alluding to advocates of the “China Threat Theory” in the West. 

Pushing Chinese propaganda to the global stage

In September 2023, the U.S. Department of State published a report titled “How the People’s Republic of China Seeks to Reshape the Global Information Environment”, which slammed China for using “a variety of deceptive and coercive methods as it attempts to influence the international information environment”. 

The same report stated that “Beijing’s information manipulation spans the use of propaganda, disinformation, and censorship” and China “spends billions of dollars annually on foreign information manipulation efforts”.

The report also posited: 

“The PRC’s global information manipulation is not simply a matter of public diplomacy – but a challenge to the integrity of the global information space. Unchecked, Beijing’s efforts could result in a future in which technology exported by the PRC, co-opted local governments, and fear of Beijing’s direct retaliation produce a sharp contraction of global freedom of expression. 

“Beijing would play a significant – and often hidden – role in determining the print and digital content that audiences in developing countries consume. Multilateral fora and select bilateral relationships would amplify Beijing’s preferred narratives on issues such as Taiwan and the international economy. 

“Access to global data combined with the latest developments in artificial intelligence technology would enable the PRC to surgically target foreign audiences and thereby perhaps influence economic and security decisions in its favor.” 

True enough, recent reporting in the West seems to hint at deep-pocketed firms with clear leftist leanings and Marxist sympathies using massive amounts of financing to implement public policy in favor of their desired narratives. 

China’s digital tyranny

In October this year, Politico released a report detailing how a foundation known as Open Philanthropy is bankrolling the salaries of AI fellows who have been strategically positioned in policy-shaping roles throughout Washington, D.C., including key think tanks, congressional offices, and federal agencies.

The majority of Open Philanthropy’s funding hails from Dustin Moskovitz, the CEO of Asana and co-founder of Facebook, together with his wife, Cari Tuna.

Open Philanthropy basically set up the Horizon Institute, which is directly paying the salaries of tech fellows in prominent roles, such as those in the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, the House Science Committee, as well as the Senate Commerce Committee. Notably the latter two committees have significant clout in drafting regulations for AI.

Besides, Horizon Institute fellows are involved in AI policy at the Rand Corporation and Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology.

Deborah Raji, an AI researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, asserted that Open Philanthropy is preoccupied with stoking AI fears. The group seems to be enforcing a familiar strategy from the authoritarian handbook — inculcating fear as a reason for implementing more government control and curtailing individual actions. 

Instead, Raji maintained that U.S. policymakers should concentrate on issues like the ability of AI to undermine personal privacy, disseminate misinformation, and jeopardize copyright protections.

The State Deparment’s report went on to say: “The PRC promotes digital authoritarianism, which involves the use of digital infrastructure to repress freedom of expression, censor independent news, promote disinformation, and deny other human rights. 

“Through disseminating technologies for surveillance and censorship, often through capabilities bundled under the umbrella of “smart” or “safe cities”, the PRC has exported aspects of its domestic information environment globally.”

Chinese interference in Canada’s elections

In Canada, Mike MacDonald, a former national security aide to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, told the House of Commons Affairs Committee that he did not “keep track” of an intelligence memo warning of possible interference by CCP in Canadian politics.

“Where it went in the Privy Council Office when it was sent out and to what other offices, I don’t know,” admitted MacDonald. 

MacDonald said: “The document, the intelligence assessment, did not come directly to me.”  

The July 2021 memo in question came from Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), when MacDonald was a national security advisor. This memo cautioned that CCP spies were harassing Conservative Party of Canada Member of Parliament Michael Chong.  

In May 2023, Chong divulged he had been personally threatened several times by who he believed to be a diplomat named Zhao Wei, who was serving as a CCP agent. The MP said the threats were worrying enough that he had to inform the police out of safety concerns. 

When questioned on how he first knew about the memo, MacDonald responded that he did not have the “exact date when I first read that memo,” but it was in the “spring or early summer of this year”.

New Democratic Party MP Rachel Blaney said the seeming security failure regarding Chong was a costly failure, and it meant losing “trust” in the “system.”

On October 24, Canadian Conservative Member of Parliament MP John Brassard published a report denouncing the leftist and pro-CCP government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of glossing over Chinese interference in Canadian elections via China’s donations to the prime minister’s family foundation, the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation.   

“Conservatives note that the Liberal government knew the Communist Party of China was interfering in Canada’s democracy for years and had they not been the beneficiary of this foreign interference, the Liberals may have taken action, rather than reacting to sustained public and political pressure,” the report read.

“It is clear, through testimony heard by the committee from current and former members of the Trudeau Foundation, that the Foundation had no bylaws for foreign interference, no oversight of donations, and no due diligence done of donations,” it added. 

Chinese disinformation campaign in the UK

On the other side of the Atlantic, the CCP has already stretched its tentacles of overarching media censorship as well. 

In UK, social media censors have been using “disinformation” claims to curb free speech, as per a news report by the Telegraph news citing 136 academics, historians and journalists who have warned British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Social networks, government officials, universities and NGOs are trying to classify legitimate opinions as fake news, the group of prominent thinkers quoted by The Telegraph stated. 

Figures from both ends of the political spectrum, including comedian John Cleese, author Jordan Peterson and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, voiced worries over the “censorship of ordinary people, journalists and dissidents” in a statement delivered to Sunak.

Their concerns came following revelations by The Telegraph that a clandestine government unit had worked with social media companies to label criticism of lockdown as Covid “disinformation”.

The Counter Disinformation Unit, which functioned out of Whitehall, cooperated with intelligence agencies to keep tabs on the online posts of journalists and members of the public.

At least three people whose legitimate findings about COVID were targeted by Government monitors have co-signed the Westminster Declaration, which cautioned about the abuse of labels such as “disinformation”.

“We are all deeply concerned about attempts to label protected speech as “misinformation”, “disinformation” and other ill-defined terms.

“For example, during the 2020 coronavirus outbreak, the CCP and its sycophants in the American elite, such as the now discredited COVID tsar Dr. Anthony Fauci, attempted to clamp down on essential lifesaving information, silenced doctors and ousted journalists trying to report the truth. 

“Additionally, top diplomats were permitted to disseminate false conspiracies about the origin of the virus. Individuals and institutions who tried to point out gaps in the COVID narrative propagated by establishment media outlets funded by Marxist-leaning groups were silenced or forced to retract their statements.” 

Photo credit: iStock/ Elif Bayraktar

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