The Platform

Man reading a newspaper in Bangalore, India. (Mike Prince/Wikimedia)

China’s influence-seeking drives throughout the world have been gaining in intensity and scope, as underlined by a recent report from Freedom House. Global perception and opinion on China have been on a nosedive since the start of the pandemic and have now reached new lows, which prompted a scramble for a more intensive persuasive and propagandistic drive from Beijing.

As outlined in the report, more than half of the 30 countries surveyed were experiencing a high degree of media influence efforts by China in which the intensity of these efforts increased over the past three years in 18 countries. The Chinese Communist Party and its proxies, alarmed by the overwhelmingly negative public and global sentiments against China, are using more sophisticated and increasingly coercive measures to shape media narratives and suppress critical reporting.

Unfortunately, Chinese efforts have become harder to detect. Taiwan registers the highest level of resilience to these efforts, followed by the U.S., UK, France, and Australia. China would counter that it has the right to convey its true perspectives of reality in opposing what it terms as the West’s sustained and combined effort to discredit China with various disinformation campaigns regarding Xinjiang and Taiwan.

Beijing has continued to accuse the West of unfair targeting, but its own press record has been a lost cause, where mere mentions of forbidden words are swiftly deleted and people being hauled up within days if not hours if they post anything critical of the Chinese Communist Party or Xi Jinping. Usually, they will be lost on the national radar for weeks and months before reappearing with their public apologies and remorse for their actions.

In spending more on internal security to control information and suppress freedom of speech and assembly, Beijing is trying to shape the direction and content of information and news and will continue to be beholden to this strategy for as long as Beijing embraces authoritarianism.

For now, no country comes close to China’s sophisticated sphere of influence-seeking measures. Despite the efforts, public wisdom and awareness remain the ultimate decider and importance. Media literacy and great foresight remain imperative, but risk crumbling at the onslaught of the relentless pursuit by Chinese propagandists to stake their claim of the global order and its soft power dominance, often at the expense of public awareness and call for action. The last lifeline for others remains that Beijing’s own bellicose and forceful tactics are its own worst enemy, pushing other players to seek further refuge in the West and to galvanise greater pushback efforts.

Collins Chong Yew Keat has been serving in University of Malaya for more than 9 years. His areas of focus include strategic and security studies, America’s foreign policy and power projection, regional conflicts and power parity analysis and has published various publications on numerous platforms including books and chapter articles. He is also a regular contributor in providing op-eds and analytical articles for both the local and international media on various contemporary global issues and regional affairs since 2007.