Tencent’s Reddit Play a Strategic Move for Chinese Regime

China’s drive for technological dominance, cultural control, and censorship the forces behind Tencent’s Reddit investment
February 17, 2019 Updated: February 19, 2019

News Analysis

As one of the most popular social media sites on the internet, Reddit is visited by more than 330 million monthly active users around the world. But by the looks of its latest financing round, Reddit has yet to make a profit.

Nonetheless, Chinese technology giant Tencent has agreed to invest as much as $300 million into the self-proclaimed “front page of the internet.”

It’s no mystery why. As the fifth-most-popular site in the United States and ranked 18th worldwide, with more than 1.4 billion views in December 2018 alone, Reddit is a major cultural presence on the internet and is still seeing considerable growth. These key facts would seem to qualify Reddit for being at least one of the front pages of the internet.

Key Win for Tencent—And China

Tencent is a multinational conglomerate that invests in internet-related companies, as well as artificial intelligence, entertainment, and gaming. But this deal is more than just another technology acquisition. Dominance in those verticals is a critical part of China’s plan to expand its global influence, since all are integral in identifying and shaping cultural trends and human behavior.

And, of course, Tencent isn’t just a “China-based” company. As with all Chinese corporations, Tencent is an asset of the state, that is, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The core purpose of all Chinese companies is to support the CCP in every way possible, not just making large profits (many don’t), including executing business and policy decisions handed down to them by the CCP. Therefore, Tencent’s 10 percent stake in Reddit is most accurately viewed as a CCP policy decision.

Perfect Timing—for China

In the midst of the ongoing trade war with the United States, China is feeling the negative economic impact, with trade falling 4.4 percent in December 2018. Without any resolution in sight, that statistic could become a new reality for China. What’s more, with the Trump administration regularly and publicly condemning China’s adversarial trade policies and its long history of technology and IP theft from the West, China’s public image is taking a beating.

That’s no small matter to the Chinese leadership. The CCP knows that to expand its global influence, it must not only wield its financial and economic clout wisely, but it must also possess “soft power.” That primarily involves cultivating an attractive, exportable cultural identity in entertainment and academia.

And although China has seen success in building its image in entertainment as a whole, and specifically in cinema, its image is suffering a setback. As more information about the atrocities committed against the Chinese people hits the mainstream consciousness, China looks less ideologically attractive. That’s true even in U.S. academia, as universities continue to kick one of the CCP’s main propaganda arms, the Confucius Institute, off campuses.

That’s why the Reddit deal couldn’t have come at a better time for China. The foothold in Reddit gives the CCP a powerful new channel to influence U.S. culture and the West in general through the internet, the most pervasive channel of all. It’s not merely a business decision, but a geopolitical one.

Grand Opportunity for Censorship

The implications of the CCP exercising its influence over Reddit are crystal clear. As China is the world’s greatest perpetrator of censorship, Reddit users are absolutely spot on to protest Tencent’s ownership position. After all, Reddit is banned in China; why would anyone expect China not to censor it throughout the rest of the world? Has the CCP suddenly stopped caring what hundreds of millions—if not billions—of people will say about it? Not likely.

Of course, some apologists for Tencent are working overtime to present a much more benign version of the truth to assuage such fears. But given China’s very recent history of censoring other major digital channels, such as Twitter and Facebook, who believes that the same scenario won’t happen again? It will. The CCP is all about control, domination, and oppression. That trend is only worsening as the CCP’s power grows.

Goldmine of Personal Data

China has decades of experience in information suppression; it’s a key aspect to the CCP’s survival. That’s why Reddit will become subject to Chinese censorship. The Chinese regime knows that, for many in the world, perception is reality. It won’t happen immediately, but it will over time, especially when Tencent dangles China’s huge market before the eyes of Reddit’s majority holders.

But just as compelling about Reddit’s new owners is Tencent’s—and the CCP’s—access to the personal information of millions of Americans and other Westerners. The CCP already exploits the personal data of its citizens to impose a punitive social credit system, in which citizens have their lives arbitrarily interrupted, and are even imprisoned without cause or legal recourse.

Why Beat Silicon Valley?—Buy It

China’s strategy with buying a stake in Reddit is a smart one. As with other technology, why try to out-invent Silicon Valley when Beijing can just buy it, steal it, or both?

Given these considerations, it’s hard to overstate the importance of China’s new stake in one of the most powerful digital properties in the world.

Think not?

Ask Hong Kong how much free expression they’re allowed today after being absorbed into the mainland Chinese communist beast in 1997. There’s also the rising level of oppression in mainland China.

Does it make sense to expect a different result with anything the CCP touches? After all, censorship and data exploitation are just business as usual for China. In this era of a U.S. foreign policy inclined to confront China economically and militarily, it seems ironic that such a deal would not be considered ill-advised from the Trump administration’s perspective.

James Gorrie is a writer based in Texas. He is the author of “The China Crisis.”

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

James Gorrie
James Gorrie
James R. Gorrie is the author of “The China Crisis” (Wiley, 2013) and writes on his blog, TheBananaRepublican.com. He is based in Southern California.