The Chinese Propaganda Machinery


In the 21st century wars will be fought less on ground and more in cyberspace. The battle for the control of the minds is the ultimate one where a country can break its adversary by influencing opinions of its subjects and seek a psychological victory. This is the work of propaganda which seeks to influence or mould the public opinion as part of Psychological Warfare (hereinafter referred to as Psy-War). We have already elucidated at length the core reasons for the Dolam Standoff between India and China on Bhutan-China border; however what is more astonishing is the mindless propaganda and war mongering from the Chinese Media, ostensibly the front of the Communist Party of China. The Chinese media including the state run People’s Daily and its off shoot Global Times have been continuously spouting venom on India ever since the Dolam standoff took place where India has effectively trapped China into a Catch 22 situation of retreat and a credible face save for the PLA and President Xi as he heads into CCP Congress in November 2017.

The Global Times (an off shoot of the People’s Daily, the CPC’s official mouthpiece) is known for belligerent and hawkish stands aimed at provoking reactions and forming international opinions while The People’s Daily is more circumspect in tone and tenor firmly stating the party’s views. The Global Times, since the Dolam Standoff, has written provocative Op-eds and articles targeting India accusing it of being an aggressor and intruding into Chinese territory in the Dolam Region. Moreover, its Op-eds and articles have threatened to promote secessionist movements in Sikkim & parts of North East India and an escalation of standoff into a wider conflict and warned India to not count on “the illusionary support US and Japan against China”. It has even called Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj a Liar on denouncing the Chinese claims in Indian Parliament. The People’s Daily has not been far behind either disdainfully warning India about 1962 war loss at the hands of China along with clippings of that time while going into selective amnesia about its 1967 and 1987 losses against India.

All this propaganda flowing out of China is a carefully orchestrated campaign aimed to build and mould public opinion both inside and outside China on the Dolam Standoff advocating China’s stand while painting India as an aggressor. It is therefore essential to understand how the Chinese Propaganda machinery works and how it has evolved with time into a potent disinformation campaign taking its core values from the Soviet era propaganda techniques. Chairman Mao drew on the experiences of imperialist and nationalist regimes across the world like Nazis, the Soviet Union etc. to formulate a propaganda machine and control the flow of information across China. The Chinese Communist propaganda system represented the Leninist “transmission belt” for indoctrination and mass mobilization and is known as Agitprop in Soviet terminology.

The CPC propaganda system had its origins in Yan’an and the movements carried out there by Mao in an effort to transform Chinese society after 1949 Revolution. Mao used various techniques to control the flow of information and the people’s way of thought which included mass mobilization campaigns, creation of study groups and ideological monitors in society, incarcerating people for brainwashing, documents, control of education system, control content of newspapers and editorials, controlling media broadcasts and the nationwide loudspeaker system. These propaganda techniques were embodied in terms like ‘xuanchuan dui’ to indoctrinate specific segments of the population.

The current Propaganda system in China is similar to that of the Church in Medieval Europe where Propaganda is considered spiritual work and Chinese propagandists are like priests guiding their flocks. In the aftermath of Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, Jiang Zemin set out a new propaganda policy which is being followed to this day. Jiang’s doctrine of propaganda was ‘Seize with both hands, both hands must be strong’ (liang shou zhua, liang shou dou yao ying), re-emphasizing that the CCP should focus on the twin strategy of economic growth and rigorous propaganda to spread political thought across China.

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The CCP’s propaganda department is known as Zhong Xuan Bu in Chinese or the Central Publicity Department in English; and is the actual nerve center of the entire system. CCP’s propaganda is divided into two categories i.e. Internal (duinei) directed towards the Chinese people and External (duiwai) directed towards foreigners and the outside world. The kind of propaganda that this department disseminates can be broadly classified into 4 categories i.e. political, economic, cultural and social. The Central Propaganda Department (CPD) of CCP oversees internal propaganda while its brother organization, The Office of Foreign Propaganda (OFP) oversees the department of external propaganda. Both the CPD and OFP are supervised and controlled by a small powerful group comprising of the bureaucracy and leaders belonging to the Communist Party of China and are closely interlinked.

The control of the CCP is so tight on propaganda and information dissemination that all editorials of major dailies like People’s Daily, Guangming Daily, China Youth Daily, Workers Daily, Xinhua News Service are formally vetted and cleared by the CPD prior to publication and in some cases are drafted by CPD for publication. China’s biggest state news agency Xinhua is another part of the domestic propaganda wing of CCP and serves as an organ of the State council. Xinhua plays a dual role of reporting news and disseminating party propaganda. Xinhua, like any other communist state run organization runs two set of news services – one for the general public that is influenced by propaganda and censorship and another for the party officials which is uncensored. As per China’s Statistical Yearbook 2004, the Central Propaganda Department or Publicity Department has supervisory control over 2,262 TV Stations, 2119 Newspapers, 9074 periodicals and 1123 publishing houses, 68 million Internet accounts with 100 million users and 300 million mobile phone users!

The Central Propaganda Department of CCP has a guiding role and does not implement policing and censorship. This is generally tasked to state run organizations like State Bureau of Publishing, The Public Security Bureau, The Ministry of Culture, Party and non-party newspapers, television and so on. Thus, CCP through its domestic propaganda arm as we have seen above indoctrinates and brainwashes its public and military through controlled and censored information while the Party officials at the top remain well connected and apprised of world developments.

The foreign propaganda wing or the Office of Foreign Propaganda/State Council Information Office as it is known unlike CPD both guides and implements Foreign Propaganda dissemination. External propaganda works on four principal objectives: (1) tell China’s story to the world, publicize the Chinese government policies and perspectives, and promote Chinese culture abroad; (2) counter what is perceived to be hostile foreign propaganda (such as the so-called “China threat theory”); (3) counter Taiwan independence proclivities and promote unification; and (4) propagate China’s foreign policy. Along with these primary goals, the other guidelines of the propaganda arms of CCP are avoiding bad news during holiday periods or sensitive dates like Tiananmen massacre or Democracy movement in Hong Kong, hushing up stories that reflect poorly on China such as the 1998 SARS epidemic, pushing China’s growth, praising its “fast growing economy” and a clear ban on any contrarian views while moulding international opinion on China. The CCP is very conscious of its perception and image is everything in China to maintain an iron grip. CCP does not encourage humour or jokes and does not tolerate any kind of dissent or any opinions that would make it appear weak, effete, etc. In a first of its kind, the CCP banned the cartoon character Winnie the Pooh after several memes and comparisons were made between Pooh and President Xi. For CCP any criticism is not only respectful but in sync with the communist paranoia of undermining the government and the authority of the ruling party.

The Foreign propaganda wing researches and develops China’s foreign publicity material activities while monitoring, policing and censoring all such activities in China which may come under the ambit of foreign propaganda like the activities of foreign journalists, monitoring foreign social science research on China, and controlling the Internet. The MII (Xinxi Chanye Bu) was created as part of State Council Organizational reform plan of 1998 which assimilated several ministries and departments and was tasked to manage the technical aspect of electronic communications in China i.e. hardware and telecom networks. Parallel to MII is GAPP (General Administration of Press & Publication/Guojia Xinwen Chubanshu or Guojia Chuban Ju) which deals with the publishing industry for copyright infringements, regulating ISBN’s, piracy, and audio and visual guidelines for other ministries like the Ministry of Culture. The Office of Foreign Propaganda covers a wide variety of media including Radio Beijing, People’s Broadcasting System Taiwan and Hong Kong services, CCTV broadcasting to Taiwan of Cross-Strait Voice (Haixia zhisheng), publications such as People’s Daily foreign edition (haiwai ban), China Today, Beijing Review, People’s China, China Pictorial, China Daily, Voice of China, Liaowang weekly edition and various other publications of the Foreign Languages Press. Xinhua’s international department also comes under the purview of the external propaganda department. Though the hawkish Global Times unlike People’s Daily is not connected to CCP or PLA directly, Global Times chief editor Hu Xijin has unabashedly admitted to endorsing the party view in blunt language which is masked in diplomatic language in the People Daily.

External propaganda is also done through “United Front Works Department” which carries out exchange programs with Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs (Foreign Ministry), China Association for International Understanding (CCP International Department), China Association for International Friendly Contact (PLA General Political Department), China Institute of International Strategic Studies (PLA General Staff Department Second Department), Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, Think tanks like China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (Ministry of State Security), China Institute of International Studies (Foreign Ministry) and others.

In addition to the domestic propaganda machinery under CPD controlled by CCP, the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) has its own propaganda system at two levels, (1) General Political Department (GPD) and (2) Party Committee (dangwei), Party Branch (dang zhibu) and Party Small Group (dang xiazou). While the second primarily deals with party members inside the PLA, GPD deals with propaganda work for all members of PLA. GPD’s role has been to indoctrinate the rank and file of the PLA and seek obedience of the military institutions to the party. GPD also deals with officers’ management, welfare of carders, military courts and some intelligence functions. The GPD in this context manages the education, publication, literature, film, television and arts tightly controlling the information consumed by the PLA carders.

Apart from the above domestic and external propaganda arms, the other modes through which China exerts Foreign Propaganda is by opening Confucius Institutes around the world. These institutes work with foreign universities in liaison with the local Chinese embassy offering no strings attached courses through huge funding from CPD via China’s Ministry of Education. These institutes provide courses for promoting Chinese culture, arts, language etc. along with small riders of the host universities promoting the One China policy and refraining from raising controversial issues like Tibet, Taiwan, Falun Gong, Persecution of Uighurs, Hong Kong independence, Democracy and human rights inside China etc. We have also elaborated on the role of Chinese intelligence, MSS in our earlier article about how it actively works in censoring the internet and creating propaganda to prevent the Chinese citizens from knowing facts that are outside the acceptable norms of CCP. Recently a Chinese billionaire turned dissident Guo Wengui, part of MSS also revealed that China has 20,000 spies operating in United States, some of them recruited locally to work for China in US.

As we have read above, the Chinese propaganda machine is highly organized and potent especially when combined with Social Media and Cyber Space in 21st century digital world. The Chinese propaganda dissemination has not even left US untouched by way of organizing ‘Festival of China’ at Kennedy Center in Washington DC in September 2005. Similarly China also broadcasted its propaganda video on South China Sea at Times Square, New York last year. We have already analyzed the Chinese penetration within the United States in our book “The New Global Order”.  Recently, to promote OBOR, China launched a propaganda video using children to showcase its role as a defender and promoter of free trade and globalization. The video says , “When trade routes open up, that’s when the sharing starts. Resources changing hands and shipping auto parts!” This is quite ironical for a country that is only using other countries to dump its goods to solve its burden of oversupply while putting them in a debt trap they can’t escape from.

The penetration of Chinese intelligence & propaganda is far more shocking in Australia where recent revelations of funding of CCP’s activities in Australia have raised suspicions. Dr Chong Yi Feng, another dissident hauled up by China made detailed revelations to ABC News in Australia as to how systematically the CCP propaganda department- CPD has funded the local Chinese media in Australia. He exclaimed that Central Propaganda Department (CPD) of CCP is carrying out External Propaganda Program for which it has invested billions of dollars in major state media outlets establishing overseas offices and is helping the Chinese diaspora in target countries to setup Chinese media outlets promoting Chinese viewpoints. He also explained how China is funding civil society organizations in Australia and funding programs of Australian university campuses promoting Chinese viewpoints through Confucius programs in a three prong strategy. Recently Australia’s Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) made a worrying disclosure on how China has been interfering in Australia, influencing minds on an unprecedented level specially targeting the Chinese diaspora.  A Chinese Expert and Swinburne professor John Fitzgerald has also elaborated that the agency responsible for Overseas Chinese Strategy and policy today is the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department. The phrase United Front (Tongyi zhanxian, literally ‘Unified Battlefront’) is a term of war in the orthodox Communist Party’s language dating back to 1920s and that China is targeting 1.3 million people of Chinese descent as resident Australians through cultural exchanges.

On Friday, Singapore expelled and permanently banned from the country a professor of Chinese descent Huang Jing and his wife. Huang has written extensively on China and contributed articles to Xinhua and the People’s Daily. The Singaporean Government has accused him of acting as an “agent of influence” and engaging in “activities inimical to Singapore’s national interests”. While China and Singapore have enjoyed good relations, there were tensions after Singaporean troops conducted military exercises with Taiwan earlier this year along with raising Vietnam’s stand in the South China Sea against China last year. It was thus unsurprising that the Chinese propaganda machinery went into overdrive and gloated in June this year when Singapore’s first family’s feuds went public.

Similar Chinese propaganda was carried out in a leading Indian daily with a full page on Chinese claims in South China Sea with sponsored excerpts by Xinhua news agency coinciding with the Hague tribunal verdict in July 2016. The Chinese propaganda machinery during the current standoff at Doklam is adopting a similar tone where it seeks to reassure its public about Chinese superiority over India while underplaying India’s Chess moves in the current standoff  that has put China in a flummox. China’s domestic propaganda seeks to portray that India is the aggressor and an inferior power trying to match up to the Chinese influence in the region while conniving with the west. This domestic propaganda is also intended to secure President Xi’s CCP’s Congress due in November 2017 while nudging India into a corner with Pakistan internationally by using a host of “useful idiots” within India who spout the Chinese propaganda and talk of the PLA’s might.

However, unlike previous times, the Chinese Psy-War has miserably failed thus far to break the Indian leadership’s resolve; leave aside installing any fear in the Indian public mindscape of an impending conflict in the region. Though India has so far stood resilient to the Chinese Psy-War onslaught against it in the form of daily threats and war mongering,  the battle for control over the mindscape is far from over and a long duel between the two Asian giants lies ahead. It is time that India started its counter propaganda war and answered the Chinese in kind laying bare its umpteen Faultlines, exposing its imperialist agenda, bubble economy, oversupply and hollow threats showing it for the bully that it truly is.

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