The People's Republic of China (PRC) has redoubled its efforts in influencing and controlling the global flow of information, particularly online information, according to a recent US State Department report, as cited by Estonian counter-misinformation site Propastop.
Propastop enumerates the PRC's approach to information manipulation as including the amplification of propaganda and censorship, the promotion of digital authoritarianism, exploiting international organizations and partnerships and controlling the media.
When successfully pursued, these approaches can help Beijing to reshape the global information environment via overt and covert influence on content and platforms.
In this, Beijing seeks to maximize the reach of biased or misleading pro-PRC content, Propastop says, while the PRC has acquired stakes in foreign media through public and non-public means, and has and sponsored online "influencers."
Additionally, the PRC has used online and real-world intimidation to silence dissent and encourage self-censorship on sensitive issues, or issues it considers sensitive, and has promoted digital authoritarianism, including via the use of digital infrastructure to suppress free speech, to censor independent news, to promote disinformation, and/or deny other human rights, Propastop says.
While officials in, for instance, the U.S., have repeatedly warned against PRC influence campaigns of the kind outlined above, a recent State Department report issued in September identifies a sea change, whereby manipulation efforts have matured beyond specific campaigns focused on a specific issue or event.
This, it is argued, is a more ambitious approach.
"Beijing's manipulation of information includes the use of propaganda, disinformation and censorship," the report states, while, if successful, Beijing will be able to develop an almost surgical capability of shaping the information consumed by specific groups and even individuals, the report added.
Some tactics even include concluding restrictive content-sharing agreements with local outlets in various countries and which can result in credible banner ads which nonetheless provide legitimacy to concealed pro-PRC content, Propastop says.
Ultimately, China's goal is to: "Construct an information ecosystem in which PRC propaganda and disinformation gain traction and become dominant," the report said.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson, following the report's publication, said that the global information ecosystem the PRC has cultivated has cost billions of dollars to create.
At the same time, these developments "May even lead countries to make decisions that subordinate their economic and security interests to Beijing's," the State Department report says.
For their part, PRC government officials have declined to comment directly on the details of the report, though a letter to U.S.-funded international broadcaster Voice of America (VOA) from an embassy spokesperson referred to the report as "just another tool to keep China downtrodden while supporting American hegemony."
A tu quoque followed, in which it was the U.S. that was charged with spreading misinformation, sharpening ideological confrontation and smearing China's domestic and foreign policies, according to the spokesperson.
Propastop is run and staffed by volunteers from the Defense League (Kaitseliit) and publishes content in Russian and German, as well as in Estonian and English.
In September 28, the US released a report highlighting China's alleged call to reshape the global information environment to change the will of many countries in Beijing's favor.
China's ambassador to Estonia recently said that if the opening in Tallinn of a representative office of the Taipei government were to go ahead, this may lead to her having to leave the country. The planned office is not a diplomatic mission as such, however, and Estonia will continue to follow the EU's "One China" policy, one which in its stated approach engages in realpolitik just as its name may be a reference towards a policy in place in the PRC from the late 1970s to 2015.
Editor: Andrew Whyte