“Tell China’s stories well to the world.” This is Xi Jinping’s standing instruction to his administration, and his agencies across the globe have been doing just that, by hook or by crook.
The Communist Party of China – which has crushed every trace of press freedom in its own country – is out to subvert press freedom in powerful democracies of the world, by “developing discourse and narrative systems” that promote its agenda.
China declared an undeclared war on the world a long time ago. The world is waking up to the danger only now. There’s nothing conventional about China’s assault – it has gone beyond conventional land grab tactics and even the spy games that nations play through espionage and counter-espionage. The attack is directly on the mind space now, and the goal is to make CCP’s information and influence apparatus global.
Major democracies of the world are the main targets – the United States, the United Kingdom, Bharat, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, and more. Internal studies, books, research reports, and analyses have started talking about how Communist China has been targeting the key global democracies. These democracies are now in the process of discovering how deep China’s influence is into their administration and civil society, and how heavily their policies are influenced by pro-China pressure groups among the bureaucracy, think tanks, academia, and the media. In 2021, the US administration found that major US media houses had been receiving funds from CCP’s media arm China Daily to publish pro-China propaganda dressed as ‘news’. The revelation sent shockwaves across the world.
In this backdrop, it hardly comes as a surprise that similar cases of journalistic subversion are getting unearthed in Bharat as well.
On October 3, the Delhi Police Special Cell arrested NewsClick founder and editor-in-chief, Prabir Purkayastha, and head of its human resource department, Amit Chakravarty, after day-long searches at over 50 locations linked to the news portal, its employees and contributors. They were arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and subsequently sent to seven days of police remand.
“We will accelerate the development of China’s discourse and narrative systems, better tell China’s stories, make China’s voice heard, and present a China that is credible, appealing, and respectable”- Xi Jinping’s report to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2022
The Delhi Police, in its remand note, said Purkayastha and “others” received funds to create unrest in Bharat and to peddle the narrative that Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh are not part of Bharat. This was not a sudden development. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Delhi Police had been investigating the financial dealings of the news website since before 2021. The ED is reported to have evidence that Newsclick received 38 crore rupees from US-based entities linked to CCP in the 2018-21 period. It received funds from three US-based companies, all of them having the same office address. In the records, Newsclick has shown that most of the money it received was for “export of services”. But Purkayastha could not explain what services did Newsclick export. Neither could he explain why an electrician was paid 1.55 crore rupees. The ED also found that a part of the money was also paid to Urban Naxal Gautam Navlakha who was arrested in the Elgar Parishad Case.
In February 2021, the ED searched premises linked to NewsClick. Again, in September 2021, the Income-Tax Department conducted surveys in the premises of NewsClick and Newslaundry in South Delhi, to examine their financial records.
In August this year, an investigation by The New York Times revealed that NewsClick is among organisations funded by a network tied to US millionaire Neville Roy Singham for pushing Chinese propaganda in Bharat.
The NYT investigation found a “lavishly funded influence campaign that defends China and pushes its propaganda”. At the center is Singham, known as a socialist benefactor of far-left causes, the report said. “What is less known, and is hidden amid a tangle of nonprofit groups and shell companies, is that Singham works closely with the Chinese government media machine and is financing its propaganda worldwide.”
“In New Delhi, corporate filings show, Singham’s network financed a news site, NewsClick, that sprinkled its coverage with Chinese government talking points,” the NYT said, adding a quote from one video that said “China’s history continues to inspire the working classes”.
On Purkayastha’s arrest, some Left-leaning mediapersons were quick to cry foul and claim that ‘Freedom of Expression’ and ‘Freedom of Press’ have been violated. The question is whether the tag of a ‘journalist’ gives anyone the license to undertake unlawful and seditious activities. Surely it does not. The courts will examine evidences and the law will take its own course.
CHINA’S WAR OF NARRATIVE
In 2014, a year after he took over as President, Xi Jinping explicitly stated that China’s goal is to “turn China’s neighborhood areas into a community of common destiny”. Taking it further, Xi set out his vision for China’s future at the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 2017 and talked of “Constructing a Community of Common Destiny with Mankind”. China will “take an active part in reforming and developing the global governance system”, Xi stated clearly.
Vis-à-vis Bharat, we all know what happened in Doklam in the summer of 2017 when China transgressed into the ‘neighbourhood areas’ that belong to Bharat.
In simple words, Xi’s “community of common destiny” is a global order wherein China calls the shots. When Chinese president Xi Jinping officially launched the “Global Civilization Initiative” in March 2023 to build an international “community of common destiny”, US media called it the “Chinese president’s euphemism for a world order in which China predominates”. American international relations magazine The National Interest in a report titled “The Clash of Xivilizations?”, said “the Global Civilization Initiative will likely act as a benign front for expanding the CCP’s information and influence operations already working to control global public discourse on the party”. “Information operations will likely entail efforts to expand the global operations of state media companies and increase the export of CCP propaganda that celebrates the party’s governance model. Augmenting this global propaganda campaign will be CCP influence operations that recruit political and intellectual elites, primarily in the Global South, to promote policies within their home countries that align with China’s interests,” the report said.
The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference coordinates the party-state bureaucracy’s overseas influence and information operations. Wang Huning, chairman of this body, is reported to have stated that officials should “accelerate the construction of Chinese discourse and narrative system, and deepen exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations” to “showcase the achievements of Chinese civilization”.
“This statement echoes Xi’s directive delivered at the 20th National Party Congress to “tell China’s stories well” by creating a CCP-friendly global media ecosystem, one circumventing Western networks,” The National Interest report said.
AMERICAN MEDIA INFILTRATED
In 2020, the US Justice Department found that major US media outlets were receiving large sums of money from the Chinese Community Party, via the regime’s official propaganda newspaper, China Daily.
US-based news website Daily Caller confirmed the US Justice Department had access to these documents, which were made available to them by no other than China Daily itself. FARA regulations in the US require China Daily to furnish its activity records and receipts semi-annually. In its disclosure submitted to the Justice Department for the time period between November 2016 and April 2020, China Daily revealed that CCP pushed in USD 19 million into the pockets of some major media houses of the US like the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Other US ‘clients’ of China Daily are The Los Angeles Times, The Seattle Times, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Chicago Tribune, The Houston Chronicle and The Boston Globe. The Chinese outlet paid the Los Angeles Times $657,523 for printing services, according to the FARA filings.
“Even if NewsClick did, for argument’s sake, (publish Chinese talking points), it’s not illegal. You may agree with a particular talking point of a country including China, that is not an offence under the law, and certainly nothing to do with terrorism” -N Ram, Journalist and Director, The Hindu Group of publications
The payments, clubbed under “advertisement and printing” expenditure, were actually a part of a trade-off between US media houses and the CCP’s mouthpiece, China Daily. The newspapers were required to publish paid supplements called “China Watch“, which were designed to look like real news articles.
The international media analysed this information as China’s ploy to curb anti-China sentiments in the US media, and subsequently, among the readers and public. The report came at a time when China Daily as well as other Beijing-controlled propaganda media outlets have come under intense scrutiny owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
Chinese government officials tried to divert blame for the spread of the virus to the US and other Western nations. Many of the regime-controlled outlets, including China Daily, have echoed the communist leaders’ talking points.
CHINA INFLUENCED CANADIAN POLLS?
Early this year, leaked intelligence reports kicked off a fierce debate in Canada over allegations that China interfered in the country’s federal elections. Justin Trudeau’s government came under intense pressure when Opposition leaders demanded a public inquiry into how China attempted to sway the result of two federal elections in its favour.
The main source of revelations were leaked documents from CSIS, Canada’s main intelligence agency, a Guardian report said. Both the Globe and Mail and Global News cited the documents in their reporting on Chinese attempts to tamper with the federal election.
Then in a curious turn of events, a Canadian official appointed to investigate these allegations abruptly resigned, blaming the “highly partisan atmosphere” surrounding his work.
In December 2022, US-based think-tank ‘Council on Foreign Relations’ came out with a report on ‘China’s Growing Influence Over Canadian Media and Politics’. The report said: “Beijing has multiple goals for this new global influence offensive, which began in the Asia-Pacific region but now has spread to rich liberal democracies in North America, Europe, and other parts of the world. It wants to use its influence efforts to get publics and opinion leaders in other states to have warmer views of China’s global leadership, which would smooth the way to China exerting more power internationally. China could then use this power to undermine democracies and to shape the world in its image: to promote Beijing’s idea of authoritarian capitalism and a kind of closed, heavily censored internet and media environment.”
An Australian think-tank ‘Centre for Independent Studies’ in a survey-based report in 2022 titled ‘China’s media influence and pushback in Australia and Asia’ said – “China has been waging a global influence campaign across the globe.” It highlighted the concern that “an autocratic government has used its vast economic resources and market access as a political tool”.
“This is a grave concern because of its threat to the ideal of liberal democracy and its fundamental values of freedom, justice and human rights. Also, as the Chinese propaganda voices are being elevated to a higher level, it weakens civil societies by reducing their knowledge of what has happened inside China and its capacity for breaching of human rights and the common good.”
In its conclusion the report said: “Australia has stronger performance in curtailing the influence of China on media than most studied countries in East and Southeast Asia. It is suggested that these countries stay alert and work together to forge a cross-nation network in exchange for strategies, organisation, and skills to achieve effective resilience against China’s global media campaign.” n