Xi Jinping’s recent speech about the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) overseas propaganda, in which he called on Chinese officials to create a “credible, lovable, and respectable” image for the nation, has gone viral.
Xi, who made the remarks at the CCP’s Politburo study session on May 31, also called on top officials in the regime to appear “open and confident, yet modest and humble” to the international community.
The CCP’s overseas propaganda policy is commonly known as “da wai xuan,” literally “big foreign propaganda” in English. It involves huge amounts of both manpower and money to spread the CCP’s narrative and ideology to foreign countries, thus achieving its goal of telling China’s story—the CCP’s way.
The general interpretation of Xi’s words is that the aggressive image of the CCP’s “wolf warrior” diplomats is annoying, thus the CCP is prepared to tone down its aggression and project a friendlier image. But it would be an underestimation of the “da wai xuan” system if one regards the CCP’s overseas propaganda as ridiculous and a total failure.
CCP’s Foreign Propaganda: An Underground Front
The main forces of the CCP’s overseas propaganda are mainly its official mouthpieces, including Xinhua News Agency, People’s Daily, and China Radio International—they’ve carried the same style as the CCP’s wolf warrior diplomacy since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out.
A growing number of people suspect that the virus that causes COVID-19 came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). COVID-19 has reportedly infected more than 176 million people and caused more than 3.8 million deaths as of June 16. The CCP has had to use its propaganda apparatus to divert attention away from the fact that the international community wants to hold the regime accountable for its mishandling of the virus when it first broke out in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, in late 2019.
China Daily, the CCP’s overseas flagship of English-language media, has been classified as a foreign mission by the U.S. State Department since last year. But to conclude that the CCP’s foreign propaganda has failed as a whole is to completely miss the point that the CCP has an underground front that supports its propaganda around the world.
The “localization of overseas propaganda” strategy had been in place for six years before the CCP officially released its foreign propaganda plan in 2009. To put it plainly, this strategy involves using foreign media to help the CCP deploy its global propaganda. This underground front is more convenient than deploying military troops and makes it easier to win the trust of local audiences.
Campaign Relies Heavily on CCP Funding
The “big foreign propaganda” is carried out on two fronts, with the CCP’s news agencies being set up in countries around the world to expand their reach. Among them, China Global Television Network (CGTN)—the overseas arm of the CCP’s domestic mouthpiece China Central Television (CCTV)—has set up operations in Africa, the United States, and the UK. By 2017, CCTV’s seven international channels, including Chinese, English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, and Documentary (in English), have been broadcast in more than 170 countries and regions. These are the overt propaganda mainstays of the CCP’s regular army. They are loud but ineffective, because it doesn’t necessarily mean that the information they disseminate is accepted.
The year 2009 was an important turning point, in which the CCP expanded its international media outlets. Beijing invested 45 billion yuan ($6.6 billion at the time) to strengthen its presence and influence in the global media.
The use of an underground front for propaganda and telling the CCP’s story has a large and imperceptible effect on the audience. In addition to its regular foreign propaganda outlets publishing media in various languages, the CCP has adopted three tactics to spread its propaganda in secretive ways.
The first tactic involves cooperating with influential local media in foreign countries via various means, including swapping space in the media for content from the other party—the CCP actually pays for its propaganda content. In doing so, the CCP plants content from its mouthpieces to appear in these local media.
The second tactic involves inviting journalists and editors from targeted countries to China for visits, training, and education, while offering them living expenses and allowances higher than they would get in their home countries. In return, the CCP asks these people to report on China in a way that is well received by the local audiences in their home countries.
The third tactic involves upgrading media equipment for the target country’s media companies. And in return, these companies are expected to report positively on the Chinese regime or the so-called contribution of Chinese overseas enterprises to the economic development of the local region, in the form of media interviews.
In July 2020, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) released a global survey called “The China Story: Reshaping the World’s Media,” revealing the various ways in which China has stepped up its influence on international media and journalists over the past decade to tell the “China story” and influence the international community’s perceptions of China.
“The most widely reported form of Chinese outreach was journalistic exchanges, with half the [IFJ affiliate] unions surveyed saying journalists from their countries had participated in exchanges or training schemes sponsored by Chinese entities. … One-third of the unions surveyed said they had been approached by, or were in discussion with, Chinese journalism unions or entities, and 38 percent of those, 14 percent of the total, had registered Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs),” according to the report.
Covert Mouthpiece Journalists in the Free World
Chinese state-run media Xinhua News Agency launched its English-language news channel on July 1, 2009, and before that, the CCP had started several English-language newspapers such as News CHINA, which is the English version of China Newsweek and “a periodical subscribed by most foreign embassies to China and most Chinese embassies to foreign countries,” as quoted from its official website. Its governing body is the state-owned China News Service, which mainly targets overseas Chinese and “compatriots” from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, according to its website.
In late February 2009, China Daily, which is also part of CGTN, planned to set up its North America edition and correspondent stations in several places, including Washington. When it ran its recruitment ads for journalists, applicants flocked to apply for a job, since CGTN offered an attractive salary.
As Louisa Lim and Julia Bergin wrote in The Guardian in December 2018, when CGTN started to recruit journalists “to work in [CGTN’s] state-of-the-art purpose-built studios in Chiswick, west London.”
“The team recruiting for the new London hub of China’s state-run broadcaster had an enviable problem: far, far too many candidates. Almost 6,000 people were applying for just 90 vacancies of ‘reporting the news from a Chinese perspective.’ Even the simple task of reading through the heap of applications would take almost two months,” they wrote.
At a time when Western media are being forced to cut their budgets and staff due to the effects of the internet information abundance and financial concerns, China’s need for editors and reporters in all languages appears to provide some journalists with a seemingly good employment opportunity. The excellent salaries in Beijing’s foreign media are enough to make some Western journalists ignore the ethics and standards in journalism when promoting the CCP’s propaganda.
According to an April 8 report in The National Pulse, several current New York Times staffers were employed previously by China Daily, including Jonah Kessel, director of cinematography; Diarmuid McDermott, a staff editor and designer; and Alex Marshall, a reporter.
Kessel served as the creative director of China Daily from July 2009 to November 2010. He wrote on Twitter that working for the CCP sometimes “has its benefits,” and mentioned that he felt “psyched” for “redesigning” China Daily. He “tweeted several times about he was ‘working for’ and ‘getting paid’ by the Chinese Communist Party,” according to the report.
McDermott worked as an editor and designer for China Daily in a Hong Kong-based role for eight years—from November 2012 to November 2020, according to his LinkedIn profile and personal website.
CCP Pays US Media to Secretly Brainwash Americans
China Daily has paid U.S. newspapers nearly $19 million since November 2016 for print and advertising, out of which nearly $11 million was paid to mainstream outlets The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, according to documents filed with the U.S. Department of Justice.
John Dotson wrote on the U.S. think tank Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief on April 12, that a “long history exists of PRC state media outlets paying for ‘advertorial’ inserts in major U.S. newspapers such as The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and New York Times—often under the banners of ‘China Watch’ or ‘China Focus,’ which are both headings used by Xinhua for its English-language content.”
“The articles in these inserts are intended to look like news and editorial material presented by the host newspaper (albeit accompanied by disclaimers, often in small print), but represent propaganda content prepared by the CCP’s foreign media apparatus. … Significant outlays are involved in the purchase of these advertorial inserts,” he wrote.
“Such advertorial content—intended to leverage the credibility of prominent English-language periodicals, and perhaps to deceive credulous readers who fail to take note of disclaimers and textual differences—provides another example of the intent of the PRC propaganda system to ‘tell China’s story well.’”
Covert Propaganda Front Influences Global Audience
This hidden propaganda front plays a brainwashing role on a regular basis and a political role at critical moments that goes beyond the reach of the CCP’s regular foreign propaganda mouthpieces.
In its 2020 report, the IFJ noted that since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016, Beijing has developed close ties with the Philippines’ Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO).
“Many staff have taken part in educational schemes, sponsored trips, and fellowships in China, often for months at a time. In the journalistic community, there’s a consensus view that this training is having an impact. ‘The way they write their stories now, they reflect the way how Xinhua or how the state media in China is writing their stories,’ one journalist said, ‘It’s normally propaganda,’” the report reads.
“Another commented, ‘Instead of getting insights on journalism from free countries like the U.S., UK, Western Europe, and even Japan, they are learning state control.’”
The media is known as the “fourth estate” in the United States. The New York Times, which is almost worshiped by Asian countries, has become the voice of Chinese interests in the United States and the vanguard of the far left, and advocates for the interests of political factions funded by their country. The degradation of this public instrument means that the media is no longer the fourth estate, but an entity dependent on political and economic power.
The above analysis provides a picture of the huge amount of spending by Beijing on foreign propaganda. It highlights the fact that the CCP, which profits from the Chinese model of communist capitalism, has developed a sophisticated technique of corrupting Western societies through lucrative incentives, and is almost invincible.
He Qinglian is a prominent Chinese author and economist. Currently based in the United States, she authored “China’s Pitfalls,” which concerns corruption in China’s economic reform of the 1990s, and “The Fog of Censorship: Media Control in China,” which addresses the manipulation and restriction of the press. She regularly writes on contemporary Chinese social and economic issues.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.