China Appears To Be Investing Heavily in Shaping Public Narrative

( – Founded in 2011, the US State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC) supports federal-led “public communications” efforts targeting terrorist groups and violent extremism. The GEC accomplishes its mission by engaging in five lines of activity.

  1. Research and Analytics: Data scientists collect information from foreign actors to produce analysis and conclusions on their “malign information influence narratives.”
  2. Exposure: Coordination of the inter-governmental agency exposure of foreign influence activities like using social media networks and proxy sites.
  3. Campaigns and Programs: Operation of teams designed to create institutional and societal “resilience” to foreign disinformation and propaganda efforts.
  4. International Partnerships: The Center works with foreign states and international coalitions to coordinate their systems to analyze and combat disinformation.
  5. Technology Engagement and Assessment: The GEC hosts private sector demonstrations, identifies solutions through technology programs, and assesses challenges to engaging counter disinformation tech.

The GEC recently released a report detailing the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) effort to shape the global public narrative in its favor.

China Invests Heavily in Shaping the Public Narrative

On September 28, the GEC announced the landmark release of its report on the PRC’s efforts to “reshape the global information environment.” James Rubin, the center’s coordinator and special envoy, told reporters that although every country should be allowed to present its version of its government’s policies, it should involve a “fact-based narrative vs. deceptive practices.” He warned that the PRC’s manipulation of global media could “diminish” the ability of some to “express views critical” of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Beijing.

The 58-page report explained that Beijing spends billions of dollars annually on its foreign information/disinformation efforts to present “biased information” to promote a positive view of the CCP and PRC. Simultaneously, the PRC suppresses any information opposing or contradicting its “desired narratives” on various issues like its international public engagement, domestic economy, human rights practices/abuses, and Taiwan.

The PRC strives to manipulate public information by exercising control over Chinese-language media organizations, exploiting bilateral partnerships and international organizations, promoting digital authoritarianism, and leveraging censorship and propaganda. Beijing uses those elements to shape the global narrative along multiple axes, like:

  • Influencing Platforms and Content: Sponsoring online influencers on big tech platforms and acquiring stakes in foreign media outlets by overt and covert means to co-opt prominent voices critical of Beijing’s narrative, like journalists and “foreign political elites.”
  • Promoting Digital Authoritarianism: Using digital infrastructure systems to deny human rights, disseminate disinformation, and repress freedom of expression.
  • Constraining Freedom of Expression Worldwide: Using “real-world” and online intimidation to “silence dissent and encourage self-censorship” globally.

The Office of the Spokesperson for the State Department issued a brief fact sheet explaining the GEC’s landmark report. It warned that unchecked, the CCP and PRC efforts to control the global narrative regarding its policies could create “biases and [information] gaps,” leading some countries to make decisions subordinating their security and economic interests to Beijing.

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