Chinese Influence Operations Increasingly Include Meddling in US Elections: Author

Chinese Influence Operations Increasingly Include Meddling in US Elections: Author
An early voting sign outside the Fairfax County Government Center in Fairfax, Va., on Oct. 7, 2022. (Terri Wu/The Epoch Times)
Venus Upadhayaya

While the Russian meddling in U.S. elections has been discussed the most in the past few years, it is the Chinese communists who are increasingly joining the league, said author Joshua Kurlantzick.

“By spreading disinformation on social media platforms, all the major U.S. social media platforms caught ... what they believe to be Chinese efforts to spread disinformation or divide Americans possibly to support candidates [in elections] who were more sympathetic to China,” Kurlantzick said in an interview on Nov. 10 with NTD, a sister media outlet of The Epoch Times.

He is the author of “Beijing’s Global Media Offensive: China’s Uneven Campaign To Influence Asia and the World” and a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Kurlantzick said that Meta, Google, and Twitter have found evidence of such Chinese influence operations over social media and warned of meddling in the midterm elections.

U.S. cybersecurity firm Mandiant said in an Oct. 26 report that a pro-Beijing influence campaign was targeting U.S. elections, including midterm elections.

The campaign, called “Dragonbridge,” sought to sow “division between the U.S. and its allies and within the U.S. political system itself” by adopting and promoting divisive narratives. The campaign demonstrated novelty, experimentation, and creativity in achieving its objectives, Mandiant wrote in a post.
Kurlantzick said the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) increasingly wants to get involved in the U.S. state and local elections. These elections tend to have lower safeguards than the presidential election, and the candidates involved usually don’t have the resources to do adequate background checks on their contacts or the people they interact with, he added.

“And that may lower the bar for Chinese operatives to become involved in a campaign, etc. And we saw that with the case of Fang, the alleged spy who became enmeshed in the Bay Area’s political scene ... she had some contacts with the Midwestern mayor. I think we’re gonna see a lot more of that,” he said.

Kurlantzick was referring to an alleged Chinese operative, Fang Fang or Christine Fang, who targeted local and up-and-coming politicians in the San Francisco Bay area and across the United States, according to media reports of 2020.

“Fang was able to gain proximity to political power” through networking, campaign fundraising, personal charisma, and romantic or sexual relationships with at least two Midwestern mayors, according to Axios.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) was among Fang’s most significant targets.

Christine Fang with then-Dublin, Calif., City Council member Eric Swalwell at an October 2012 student event. (Screenshot/Social media)
Christine Fang with then-Dublin, Calif., City Council member Eric Swalwell at an October 2012 student event. (Screenshot/Social media)
In an article on the Council of Foreign Relations website, Kurlantzick wrote on Oct. 31 that China also used foreign media outlets for such influence operations.

“Pro-Beijing actors—including private media outlets controlled by owners sympathetic to Beijing—now dominate the United States’ Chinese-language television, print, and online media, a tactic China first perfected in New Zealand and Australia,” wrote Kurlantzick.

The CCP regime also pays major publications to publish “deceptive inserts” that are advertorials but are not marked as such, he said.

According to a report by Freedom House, “Chinese state media content reaches news consumers in the United States directly through offline and online paid inserts from China Daily or the Xinhua news agency in national and regional news outlets, such as Time magazine, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, CNN, and Foreign Policy.”
Kurlantzick pointed out that during the New York congressional primary, Beijing tried to intervene directly and prevent Chinese dissident Xiong Yan from winning.

“(His eventual loss probably had something to do with the Chinese pressure but also with other political factors.) The U.S. Justice Department charged five Chinese intelligence agents operating in the United States with harassing Xiong Yan, another unnamed legislator, and other dissidents. Beijing seems undeterred by the charges,” he wrote.

The FBI has also warned that the Chinese agents will become the main actors in external influence in the U.S. elections, Kurlantzick said.

Ken McCallum, the director general of the UK intelligence service, M15, had given the same warning during a joint appearance with FBI Director Christopher Wray in London in July.

“The widespread Western assumption that growing prosperity within China and increasing connectivity with the West would automatically lead to greater political freedom has been shown to be plain wrong,” McCallum said.

“But the Chinese Communist Party is interested in our democratic, media, and legal systems. Not to emulate them, sadly, but to use them for its gain.”

Venus Upadhayaya reports on wide range of issues. Her area of expertise is in Indian and South Asian geopolitics. She has reported from the very volatile India-Pakistan border and has contributed to mainstream print media in India for about a decade. Community media, sustainable development, and leadership remain her key areas of interest.