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China’s Disinformation Warfare Increasingly Sophisticated: Atlantic Council

Steven Li, MD
Steven Li is a medical professional with a passion for lifelong learning and spreading truth to the world. He specializes in the fields of health and science.
Arvind Datta
Arvind is a recluse who prefers staying far away from the limelight as possible. Be that as it may, he keeps a close eye on what's happening and reports on it to keep people rightly informed.
Published: April 18, 2021
A television journalist works ahead of a press conference at the media center of the fourth session of the 13th Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing on March 3, 2021. (Image: Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images)

A December 2020 report by the Atlantic Council, a U.S.-based think tank, warns that Beijing is using Russian tactics as part of its disinformation campaign against Western nations. Amidst rising scrutiny over human rights abuses and religious persecution, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is going on the offensive by highlighting America’s faults and weaponizing racial and income inequality tensions in the West.

According to the publication, “Civil unrest in the United States following police violence against African Americans, too, has been used to counter criticism of police abuse against protesters in Hong Kong.” The main drivers of the disinformation strategy have been key government actors such as the “People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the State Council and its Taiwan Affairs Office, the Cyberspace Administration of China, and the CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD).”

Dexter Roberts, senior fellow at the think tank and author of the report, warns that the CCP’s disinformation efforts are getting “more sophisticated,” with the communist regime’s military speaking openly about its use of artificial intelligence to “tailor its messages to influence social media consumers in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the United States.” 

Sarah Cook, a research director at Freedom House, agreed with these sentiments, saying that “significant human and financial resources are being devoted to the disinformation effort.” The links between numerous pro-CCP social media accounts and the Chinese government are becoming increasingly evident, diminishing the regime’s ability to invoke plausible deniability.

“When China-linked networks of social media bots and trolls appeared on the global disinformation scene in 2019, most analysts concluded their impact and reach were fairly limited… As many China watchers anticipated, that assessment now seems to be changing,” Cook said.

‘Preposterous’ CCP propaganda about Xinjiang

The Chinese embassy in Canberra, Australia recently held a press conference showcasing five propaganda videos about the situation in Xinjiang, where over one million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim ethnic minorities are detained. The propaganda campaign denied alleged atrocities against the Uyghur minority group and ignited intense backlash from Uyghur community leaders and human rights activists.The videos, titled “Xinjiang Is A Wonderful Land,” contained narratives aimed at refuting human rights concerns about concentration camps with forced sterilizations and forced labor. In one video, an Uyghur woman said that after receiving “training” in a re-education camp, she became more satisfied with her life.

On July 5, 2017, demonstrators in Munich, Germany gathered to protest human rights abuses against Uyghurs in Xinjiang. (Image: Jordan Peterson via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

In another video, a woman said that she volunteered to have an intrauterine device (IUD) placed for birth control. The CCP cited its policy allowing Uyghur parents in Xinjiang to have more than one child as proof against genocide.

All of the videos parrot a similar message of Uyghurs praising the Chinese government. At the Australian press conference, Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye accused Western media of disseminating fake news and stated that the event was aimed at “helping Australian journalists to understand the real situation in Xinjiang.” Erkin Tuniyaz, Xinjiang’s Vice-Governor, stated the government maintains “ethnic harmony” in the region and cracks down on terrorism.

However, the videos of the Uyghurs are visibly scripted, with many of the individuals appearing fidgety and nervous. Mamutjan Abdurrahim, an Uyghur who was forcefully separated from his family in China by the communist regime and who currently resides in Australia, told ABC that the videos are dangerously misleading. 

“It’s just preposterous. It makes me furious and makes me even shiver as to I cannot find any words… to describe those outrageous claims. It is outrageous to say that people are happy… How can people going through such massive persecution be happy,” he said.

International CCP publicity campaigns were further exposed in March 2021, when the party’s mouthpiece, People’s Daily, openly bragged about over 750 Chinese anti-poverty propaganda pieces published in nearly 200 media outlets in over 40 countries. The state-backed paper claimed that it “cooperated” with 15 other companies to publish 25 thematic special editions, often avoiding labeling the content as a press release or paid advertising.