An agency of the U.S. State Department has issued a 58-page report warning that a disinformation campaign by China could potentially sway global decision-making and undermine U.S. interests.
According to the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, which is tasked with combating foreign propaganda and disinformation, Beijing is spending billions of dollars to reshape the global narrative toward China through such tactics as buying content, creating fake personas to spread its message and using repression to quash unfavorable internet accounts.
U.S. officials and outside experts have cited recent examples of China-linked actors generating false news reports with artificial intelligence and posting large volumes of denigrating social media posts.
For instance, according to the report, the Chinese government created a fake commentator named Yi Fan, whose pro-Beijing writings have appeared in publications in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
China has slammed the State Department’s report, calling it “in itself disinformation.”
“In fact, it is the U.S. that invented the weaponizing of the global information space,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.
But the State Department’s report asserts that China is advancing its agenda through coercion and lies, deploying armies of bots, trolls and coordinated campaigns to suppress content while boosting pro-Beijing messaging—tactics similar to those that Russia has used to disrupt U.S. elections.
The State Department’s report follows a report from the United Nations last year that cites acts by China’s government in the Xinjiang region that might constitute crimes against humanity, while the Washington has gone as far as to say the actions constitute genocide against the mostly-Muslim minority in China known as the Uyghurs.
Beijing has banned independent reporting in Xinjiang by Western journalists, and it has sought to silence criticism from Uyghurs overseas by threatening to punish their family members at home.
A member the 118th Congress’ bipartisan House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) has said, “This should be a whole of government effort….The CCP is going around the world bad-mouthing the U.S., bad-mouthing our institutions, bad-mouthing our form of government. We have to counter this because ultimately it’s not in the best interests of the United States.”
China is increasingly viewed unfavorably in the U.S., much of Europe, Australia, South Korea and Japan, according to Pew Research Center data published last year.
But other countries—often driven by Chinese investments in infrastructure and security assistance—have a more positive attitude toward Beijing.
In the event of a war over U.S.-backed Taiwan, toward which China has been saber-rattling for months, experts believe shaping global attitudes and narratives will be key in ensuring military and diplomatic support for either side.