Chinese Propaganda at Home and Abroad: Complicity of US Actors

Part 2 of 3: Beijing's international propaganda campaign is aided by US citizens and companies, dependent on Chinese money
September 3, 2021 Updated: September 30, 2021

News Analysis

According to the Hoover Institution, Beijing has been conducting an ongoing propaganda campaign in the United States for some time. This campaign has been focused on undermining U.S. confidence and policies, while exploiting the freedom of speech and the current wave of Americans’ self-criticism.

The Chinese regime’s primary tools have been U.S. social media, classrooms, and mainstream media.

Over 200,000 Twitter accounts were found to be working directly for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), exploiting the death of George Floyd or other U.S. claims of systemic racism. Meanwhile, in China, ethnic Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Mongolians have been the victims of all manner of repression and abuses, including cultural genocide, torture, detention, and crimes against humanity.

U.S. classrooms have been another front where the CCP has waged its propaganda war. The Confucius Institutes (CI), placed on U.S. college campuses, were paid for by China, but came with stipulations that students can’t discuss sensitive topics such as human rights, Tibet, the Tiananmen Square massacre, or Taiwan. The CIs were also accused of spying and of keeping tabs on the activities of Chinese and Taiwanese students on U.S. campuses.

logo of Twitter
The logo of Twitter is displayed on the screen of a smartphone and a tablet in Toulouse, France, on Oct. 26, 2020. (Lionel Bonaventure/AFP via Getty Images)

One of the CCP’s largest mouthpieces, Xinhua News Agency, was allowed to rent a tremendous billboard in New York’s Times Square, in 2011. Signage in Times Square is very expensive, and the landlords were happy to accept payment, even from the CCP.

Similarly, over a period of just a few months, China Daily paid millions of dollars to U.S. newspapers, magazines, and other media for propaganda inserts, supplements, printing, and advertising. Over a four-year period, the payments were estimated at a total of $19 million, of which The Wall Street Journal received $6 million, while The Washington Post got $4.6 million. This underscores the fact that the CCP’s international propaganda campaign is aided by U.S. citizens and companies, dependent on Chinese money.

Many of the CCP payments to U.S. media were for inserts that appear to be news stories, but are actually promoting the Beijing narrative of world events. One of these inserts had the headline “Belt and Road aligns with African nations,” espousing the benefits of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Africa, and how the people of Africa welcomed China’s friendship and aid. The article failed to mention negative aspects of the BRI, such as debt slavery, corruption, loss of sovereignty, and Chinese businesses driving locals out of certain sectors. Another story told how U.S.–China tariffs negatively affected American homebuyers, through the increased cost of lumber.

While this story was meant to discredit then-President Donald Trump for enacting the tariffs, and turn his voters against him, it failed to mention that the tariffs were put in place to save jobs in the U.S. lumber industry or that they were in response to decades of China charging higher tariffs on U.S. products.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reported that China Daily paid for $50,000 of advertising in The New York Times, while it paid $240,000 to Foreign Policy, $34,600 to The Des Moines Register, and $76,000 to the CQ–Roll Call. The total spent by China Daily came to $11,002,628 paid to newspapers, for advertising, plus an additional $265,822 paid to Twitter. Other recipients of a total of $657,523 in CCP money were The Los Angeles Times, The Seattle Times, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Chicago Tribune, The Houston Chronicle, and The Boston Globe.

Consequently, the DOJ required China Daily to disclose its activities under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

China’s media propaganda campaign is enabled by U.S. mainstream media. U.S. left-leaning media have, at times, promoted Beijing’s positions while discrediting conservative media, simply for publishing an opposing viewpoint. One example would be outlets that supported China’s claims that the origin of COVID-19 wasn’t the Wuhan Institute of Virology, while criticizing conservative media for publishing evidence to the contrary. At the same time, CCP media in America attempted to shift blame for the origin of COVID-19 to other countries, including the United States.

A subtle example of U.S. media’s complicity in Party propaganda is that they often refer to Xi Jinping as the “president” of China, rather than the General Secretary of the CCP. By definition, a president is elected. Not only was Xi not elected, but the constitution of the People’s Republic of China was altered, allowing him to remain in power for life.

U.S. self-censorship is another tool in the CCP toolbox. The fear of losing access to Chinese markets drives many U.S. private firms to avoid doing anything that might upset Beijing. U.S. filmmakers are among the worst culprits. Several of the largest U.S. media, including NBC News, CNBC, and MSNBC, are owned by Comcast, which also owns Universal Studios. China is now the most important export market for films, and, consequently, Universal has edited a number of its films to accommodate the Communist Party.

The film “Top Gun” removed a Taiwanese flag from the main character’s flight jacket. The remake of “Red Dawn” changed the script, having the United States implausibly invaded by North Korea, rather than communist China. YouTube has been known to defund or delete videos critical of the CCP regime. The general manager of the NBA’s Houston Rockets apologized to Beijing, after tweeting in support of the Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters.

One of the more bizarre examples of self-censorship was when the European Union removed language blaming China in a report on disinformation.

Through its propaganda efforts, U.S. media complacency, and U.S. self-censorship, Beijing is able to portray China as a country with a “different” but equal style of government, where the citizenry enjoy a high standard of living, a great deal of freedom, and universally support the Communist Party. Of course, if this were true, the regime would hold general elections and would have no need to censor media and social media at home or abroad.

Editor’s note: Part 1 examines how the Chinese regime uses American mainstream media to wage its propaganda battle abroad. Part 3 delves into how China’s domestic propaganda machine praises the CCP, controls its people, and mocks America.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Antonio Graceffo, Ph.D., has spent over 20 years in Asia. He is a graduate of Shanghai University of Sport and holds a China-MBA from Shanghai Jiaotong University. Antonio works as an economics professor and China economic analyst, writing for various international media. Some of his books on China include "Beyond the Belt and Road: China’s Global Economic Expansion" and "A Short Course on the Chinese Economy."