Chinese dictator Xi Jinping commanded the Communist Party Politburo this week to enhance its global propaganda initiatives, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported on Tuesday.
The Chinese state already boasts a formidable stable of government propaganda outlets, of which Xinhua is its main newswire service. Other media outlets include the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party; China Daily, which publishes English-language propaganda targeting mainstream Western audiences; and the Global Times, which publishes more strident anti-American propaganda than China Daily. China’s Foreign Ministry spokespeople and hired propagandists also maintain a visible presence on Western social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, though the regime bans the general Chinese population from using them.
China amplifies the messages of its propaganda outlets through cooperation initiatives or information sharing with outlets deemed largely legitimate in the West, such as Bloomberg, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and CNN.
Xi told the Politburo during a meeting on Monday that Beijing needed to expand “the country’s capacity for engaging in international communication to present a true, multi-dimensional and panoramic view of China,” Xinhua relayed.
“Xi stressed the need to have a profound understanding of how important and necessary it is to improve the country’s international communication, and to develop a voice in international discourse that matches with China’s comprehensive national strength and international status,” Xinhua paraphrased. “Xi stressed greater efforts to construct China’s own discourse and narrative, interpreting China’s practices by its own theories.”
Xi reportedly called it a paramount responsibility of the regime to present a “reliable, admirable and respectable image of China” and convince the world the Communist Party “is pursuing is nothing but the Chinese people’s well-being.”
Among the Communist Party’s many actions that pose a challenge to convincing the global public of this is the ongoing genocide of the Uyghur people in western Xinjiang, China; the widespread torture and persecution of Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners, and other faithful; and the disappearance and imprisonment of human rights lawyers, journalists, environmentalists, and anyone questioning the Communist Party, often on charges of “stirring quarrels and provoking trouble.”
In addition to general encouragement to boost propaganda efforts, Xi requested specific investment in “carrying out people-to-people exchanges, cultivating capable professionals for international communication, studying its theories and better grasping its laws, so as to increase the appeal and effectiveness of the country’s international communication and enlarge the circle of friends who understand China.”
The Global Times, citing Chinese regime-approved “experts,” defended Xi’s call as necessary in the face of “a stigmatization and propaganda warfare launched by the U.S. and its allies” on Wednesday. The outlet noted that China’s poor handling of the outbreak of novel coronavirus in Wuhan, where the Chinese coronavirus pandemic originated, had significantly damaged China’s public image. Chinese officials initially responded to reports of an unknown respiratory disease by imprisoning and arresting doctors warning health workers the disease may be infectious, allowing 5 million Wuhan residents to travel around the world for Lunar New Year, and hosting a family-style banquet for 130,000 people, turning the regional epidemic into a pandemic,
“When China is successfully controlling the epidemic situation and making huge contributions to reinforcing the global fight against the pandemic, the West’s poor performance and selfish decision-making look very embarrassing under the comparison,” Zhang Weiwei, director of the China Institute of Fudan University in Shanghai, told the Global Times. The newspaper did not mention the aforementioned Communist Party actions in Wuhan in praising the Party’s public health efforts.
The Global Times acknowledged nonetheless that the pandemic “has brought a dramatic change in the public opinion fields inside and outside China” and admitted that China’s “voice [is] still weak.”
The Communist Party has already greatly amplified its media reach in the past year, according to a study published in May by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
“The coronavirus story over the past 12 months has been successfully used by China to create a more positive image of China, in a number of countries,” IFJ deputy general secretary Jeremy Dear told Voice of America News (VOA). [China began] putting a lot more effort and resources into trying to shape the media narrative” since the pandemic began, he added, particularly in developing countries.
The IFJ study identified a particularly successful strategy to control the narrative: China expelled foreign reporters and effectively banned journalism in the country while restricting travel, then sold government-produced propaganda as legitimate news to outlets seeking content.
“This had the effect of creating a vacuum in China coverage, creating a demand for stories from China, which could then be filled with state-sponsored content already available through content-sharing agreements,” the study noted. “This has the effect of increasing the global media’s dependence on China for content, whether that be news stories or softer cultural content.”
As a result, coverage of China during the pandemic in much of the world became overwhelmingly positive.
The Global Times declared victory in “the ambitious war to shape global opinion” during the pandemic in May.