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CCP Propaganda: The Fight for Ears and Eyes

Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP, or the Party), said, “Wherever the readers are, wherever the viewers are, that is where propaganda reports must extend their tentacles.” Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, CCP overseas propaganda portrays Xi, the Party, and Party-state system as leading, responsible, and effective in a pandemic-ridden world. Additionally, these propaganda tentacles co-opt foreign leaders to praise China, further obfuscating the CCP’s initial response and cover-up and legitimizing China’s hegemonic rise.

(Note: This article does not discuss the CCP propaganda’s noted anti-U.S. messaging. For a broader view of CCP propaganda narratives, visit the German Marshall Fund’s Hamilton Weekly Report.)

Malleable Public Opinion

China is a Party-state: the CCP completely controls the People’s Republic of China. Therefore, CCP propaganda—composed of official and unofficial Party and PRC sources—aims to increase favorable views of China, which ultimately increases favorable views of the CCP. Currently, the overseas perception of China is malleable.

According to a Pew Research study of thirty-four countries, 40 percent have favorable views of China while 41 percent have unfavorable views. And narratives of China’s response will impact these opinions.

In a European Values Center for Security Policy podcast, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, China reporter at Axios, said, “This is not only a huge strategic opportunity for them [CCP] but it’s a huge strategic risk for them.” Consequently, in an aggressive global effort, CCP propaganda extols Xi, praises the Party, peddles the Party-state system, and magnifies multinational mires.

Extol Xi. After China began to control COVID-19 and therefore protected Xi’s Mandate of Heaven—the right of a Chinese leader to rule absolutely—CCP propaganda labelled Xi as central to China’s pandemic response. State-run Xinhua and Party-owned China Daily created webpages entitled “Xi’s Time” and “Xi’s Moments” to glorify Xi’s pandemic efforts, and Xinhua recently called Xi the People’s Leader—a wartime title only previously bestowed upon Mao Zedong.

Similarly, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said, “Under the strong leadership of the CPC [Communist Party of China] Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core, China has taken the most comprehensive, stringent and thorough measures to combat the outbreak.” Extolling Xi’s criticality in China’s pandemic response affirms his international leadership bona fides.

Praise Party. CCP propaganda lauds the Party. Xinhua wrote, “Defeating an invisible enemy of such ferocity would be impossible without the strong leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC).”

Comparably, MFA Spokesperson Hua Chunying tweeted, “The key is that the CPC puts people’s lives above everything else & every infected [sic] got free test and treatment at the earliest possible opportunity. This is why the CPC enjoys the highest supporting rate around the world.” Praising the Party’s virus response depicts the CCP as globally responsible.

Peddle Party-State System. CCP propaganda upholds Party-state governance by ridiculing U.S. democracy. Hu Xijin, the editor for the nationalist Global Times, tweeted, “Washington constantly attacks CPC. But the system established by CPC has saved numerous lives this time while tens of thousands of people are predicted to die under US democratic system.”

Analogously, the MFA Spokesperson account tweeted, “If the US is truly confident of the supremacy of its political system, why are they so afraid of the Communist Party of China and Chinese media?!” By demonizing U.S. democracy’s response to the virus, CCP propaganda peddles the Party-state system’s effectiveness.

Magnify Multinational Mires. CCP propaganda contrasts worldwide COVID-19 struggles with its own proclaimed success. For instance, the Party-run People’s Daily published an article entitled, “Xi: Prepare for effects of world’s woes” while the China Daily wrote, “…the spread of the novel coronavirus that is ravaging the world has largely been brought under control in China.”

Correspondingly, the MFA promoted other countries’ “shortage of anti-viral supplies” while tweeting China’s pandemic success: “#COVID19 is an unknown virus to mankind. China was the first to report it and has responded openly, transparently and responsibly and put it under control in about 2 months.” Magnifying the multinational mires of COVID-19 improves overseas opinions of China’s response and, thus, the CCP.

Narrative Convergence

Propagating the Party’s leadership, effectiveness, and responsibility in response to COVID-19 blurs the CCP’s early response and validates China’s expanding global power. But CCP messaging bears little international credibility. Consequently, the CCP seeks “to drive convergence between its own narratives about China and those of external parties,” writes Matt Schrader, China analyst at the German Marshall Fund, in his analysis of Chinese foreign political interference. Coinciding with CCP messaging, multinational praise of China’s pandemic response further muddles the CCP’s initial response and cover-up and condones China’s increasing international influence.

International Echo

British-American poet W.H. Auden wrote, “Propaganda is a monologue that is not looking for an answer, but an echo.” Today, the CCP is pressuring countries to echo its narratives, and indeed, some foreign leaders—mainly from countries economically-reliant on China—are paying tributes of praise to the Middle Kingdom.

For example, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio slighted the EU and praised China’s medical support; Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić kissed the Chinese flag after receiving Chinese pandemic aid; Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi gushed over China’s pandemic response on Chinese state-owned television; Argentina’s Foreign Ministry described China’s medical assistance as “ties that go beyond strong trade;” and Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said, “China is Algeria’s true friend” when describing Chinese medical shipments.

Furthermore, even in countries that view China negatively due to its bullish policies, like the Philippines, its leaders have praised China. Notably, the EU Ambassador to China and the ambassadors to China of the twenty-seven EU member states recently penned a China Daily op-ed celebrating China’s medical support.

CCP propaganda prominently displays these international compliments. Xinhua has dedicated an entire webpage to “Int’l comments”—solely plaudits from various countries, policy elite, and political parties—and the MFA also regularly tweets overseas acclaim of China. This external praise of China inherently praises the Party, hiding the CCP’s pandemic response and endorsing China’s expanding global power.

International Rebuttal

Nonetheless, the EU and countries like Australia, France, Germany, Sweden, UK, and the U.S. have demanded investigations into COVID-19’s origin, criticized China’s pandemic handling, and urged economic decoupling. Even in Africa where public opinions of China are generally favorable, prominent politicians have criticized pandemic-related racism against African nationals in China.

On the ChinaTalk podcast, Schrader said, “In my time looking at China and studying China, I don’t think I have ever seen the propaganda system under the [this] kind of strain.” The CCP will continue to face censure from Western leaders and even those in countries favorably disposed towards China. But, fearing economic coercion, many foreign leaders will praise China, restrain their criticism, or remain silent.

“Correct Political Point of View”

By promoting Xi, the Party, and the Party-state system as victors in a world strewn with pandemic victims, CCP overseas propaganda promotes the CCP as effective and responsible rulers globally. Furthermore, by echoing CCP propaganda, international praise of China obfuscates the CCP’s pandemic response and cover-up and legitimizes China’s hegemonic rise.

Mao Zedong said, “Not to have the correct political point of view is like having no soul.” Today, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Party is imposing its correct political point of view—that the CCP is a responsible, effective, and legitimate ruler—on the world.