China’s global propaganda machine has turned its attention to Australia. The FT reports:
When Liu Qibao, China’s propaganda minister, visited Sydney last month and signed a raft of deals with Australia’s top media companies, few paid much attention.
But the fruits of that trip — a supplement produced by China Daily, the Communist party’s English-language mouthpiece, appearing in such bastions of free speech as the Sydney Morning Herald — lay bare the growing reach of China’s multibillion-dollar propaganda machine as it seeks to win hearts and minds across the globe.
China’s “soft power” strategy has for years funded Chinese language lessons in schools and supported local think-tanks. But now, as Beijing is raising hackles over territorial claims at sea, it is extending its propaganda tentacles into independent media.
It’s an open question whether China will succeed in influencing public opinion or policy. The propaganda of Beijing’s sometimes partner-in-crime Russia has been variously judged as both highly subversive and wastefully anemic.
Increasingly, foreign firms (especially Hollywood, which quietly edits many of its films at Beijing’s request) and other institutions are victims of and accomplices to Chinese censorship. While Beijing’s covert network of media assets and allies may not sway any government’s China policy, it is already undermining the ideals of free press and speech that undergird Western soft power. Last month, Australian state broadcaster ABC admitted “failures in its editorial processes” after its flagship Australia Plus Chinese language website was caught deleting content critical of Beijing. Right outside the District of Columbia, China has bought (likely illegally) a radio station that broadcasts pro-China news without disclosing the source of its funding to listeners.
China’s publicity blitz is not content with just “gaining face”. The effort that begun under Hu Jintao is evolving under Xi into Chinese soft power with rather heavy-handed characteristics.