US diplomat: ‘We’re in an undeclared information war’

China spends billions of dollars each year in efforts to achieve “dominance” in global information flows, a new U.S. government report says, with the aim of furthering its propaganda so countries “subordinate their economic and security interests to Beijing’s.”
Released Thursday by the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, which is tasked with countering foreign propaganda, the report also accuses Beijing of seeking to censor news around the world that “contradicts its desired narratives” on Taiwan, its human rights record, the South China Sea and its overseas development loans.
The report says Chinese state-run companies have, for instance, purchased stakes in media across the world in order to ensure only positive stories about China are published, while promoting stories about problems in the United States and other democracies.
At the same time, it says, Beijing has exported internet censorship technologies to many governments around the world – “with a particular focus on Africa, Asia, and Latin America” – before ensuring local officials then censor any information not to Beijing’s liking.
“Beijing’s efforts could result in a future in which technology exported by the PRC, coopted local governments, and fear of Beijing’s direct retaliation produce a sharp contraction of global freedom of expression,” it says, using an acronym for China’s government.
An ‘information war’
Speaking to reporters at the State Department, James Rubin, the special envoy and coordinator of the Global Engagement Center, said that American officials had been blindsided by the return over the past few decades of authoritarian propaganda and censorship.
“We’re in an undeclared information war – for a long time now – and it"s taken a while for us to appreciate it,” Rubin said, calling it an error for the Clinton administration to close the U.S. Information Agency, which had a mission to “to understand, inform and influence” foreign publics.
Rubin said too many American officials and diplomats believed the spread of the Internet would render state propaganda obsolete, and meant the U.S. government no longer had to work to counter it.
“People thought the internet and social media was going to be a solution,” he said. “I"ve talked to people who worked here during the 2000s – they thought by spreading Twitter and Facebook, and all of these social media, that this was a way to spread democracy.”
“They didn"t think through the dark side of globalization, the dark side of these tools,” the envoy added. “We"re not spending enough money. I think we should spend a lot more. That’s my personal opinion.”
Reputation laundering
Another common form of Chinese disinformation is via “laundering,” the report says, where state-produced content is made to look organic.
It outlines social media influencers being found out as fake personas created by China’s government to surreptitiously promote views in line with Beijing’s, and even allegedly fake columnists like “Yi Fan,” whose commentaries have appeared in media around the world.
A common form of Chinese disinformation is via “laundering” by which state-produced content is made to look organic to promote views in line with Beijing’s, and allegedly fake columnists are created – like “Yi Fan” whose commentaries have appeared in media around the world. (RFA screenshot)Rubin there were also more traditional methods of laundering.
He pointed to Xinhua, a Chinese government wire news service, which he said was “largely accurate” but reports heavily on “every problem” in the United States and “only wonderful things that happened in China,” and was often provided free-of-charge to media around the world.
“They take that wire service and provide it to third parties – newspapers in Africa or Asia – but insist that no other wire service gets used,” he said, adding that it served to prioritize Beijing’s views of world events into articles seemingly written by local journalists.
“Think of how pernicious that is,” he said. “A Fiji editor is writing for a Fiji audience in a Fiji newspaper, with a Chinese view of the world.”


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