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China Splashes Billions on Global Influence Campaign, Threatening Democracy Around the World

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SIDNEY – Experts are warn China’s media is being wielded as a tool to shape public opinion and serve the ideological aims of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) across the globe.

And, as a part of its efforts, Beijing is training up foreign journalists, buying up space in overseas media, and expanding its state-owned networks on an unprecedented scale.

When the international arm of China Central Television (CCTV) news rebranded and became CGTN in 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged the media organization in a congratulatory letter to “tell China stories well” and spread China’s voice.

The message was seen as part of Beijing’s ambition to build a new global narrative around China while also challenging liberal democracy as the ideal developmental and political framework.

But as China continues to extend its reach across the world, some Western countries are pushing back.

In the same month CGTN billboards sprung up across Australia, the United States ordered the network and China’s state-run media agency Xinhua to register as foreign agents over fears they could be used as tools for political interference.

And observers say that China is quickly understanding the importance of information warfare, and the power of media to shape public opinion not just at home, but around the world.

China Splashes Billions on Global Influence Campaign

Under Mr Xi’s leadership, China’s role on the world stage has transformed.

Graeme Smith, a research fellow at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific, told the ABC that while China was “sort of very happy to hang back” in the past it was now actively seeking to exert its influence.

“In the expression of [China’s former paramount leader] Deng Xiaoping, to ‘hide your strength and bide your time’ — the hide and bide maxim has now very much gone by the wayside,” said Dr Smith, who is also the host of the China-themed Little Red Podcast.

The CCP’s aspiration has grown beyond just controlling news domestically — where many Western media outlets, including the ABC, are now blocked in one of the most restrictive media environments in the world — it now wants to create a “new world media order” beyond its borders.

In a Wall Street Journal opinion editorial published in 2011, Li Congjun, former president of Xinhua, called for the “resetting of rules and order” in the international media industry where information flowed “from West to East, North to South, and from developed to developing countries”.

Meanwhile, a five month investigation published in The Guardian in December revealed the “astonishing scope and ambition” of China’s world-wide propaganda campaign over the past decade.

This included a commitment by Mr Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, in 2009 to spend 45 billion yuan ($9.3 billion) on a media expansion campaign to develop CCTV, Xinhua and the People’s Daily newspaper.

According to a report released by the Pentagon this month, Xinhua launched 40 new foreign bureaus between 2009 and 2011 alone. That number jumped to 162 in 2017 and it aims to have 200 by 2020.

It claims to be broadcasting to 1.2 billion people in English, Russian, Arabic, French and Chinese — including 30 million households in the US — which would make it the world’s largest television network.

By By Sean Mantesso and Christina Zhou

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