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French Study Warns About China’s Massive Global Influence Campaign

Jonathan Walker
Jonathan loves talking politics, economics and philosophy. He carries unique perspectives on everything making him a rather odd mix of liberal-conservative with a streak of independent Austrian thought.
Published: September 27, 2021
Chinese President Xi Jinping is seen between China and France's national flags in Beijing on January 9, 2018. Chinese President Xi Jinping and French counterpart Emmanuel Macron met Tuesday for talks and to oversee the signing of business deals as the two global leaders seek closer ties. (Image: LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images) Chinese President Xi Jinping and French counterpart Emmanuel Macron met Tuesday for talks and to oversee the signing of business deals as the two global leaders seek closer ties. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / LUDOVIC MARIN (Photo credit should read LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images)

A 650-page report by the Strategic Research Institute of France’s Military College has warned about Beijing’s massive campaign to influence the world. Titled, “Chinese Influence Operations – A Machiavelli Moment,” the report was written by Paul Cheron, a Chinese specialist and intelligence expert, together with political scientist Jean-Baptiste Jeangene Vilmer.

The report states that Beijing has mostly sought to be loved rather than feared by the international community for a long time. But recently, it has begun to sway to the other side. 

The Chinese regime’s influence operations have “hardened considerably” in recent years, with its methods increasingly resembling those “employed by Moscow.” 

Quoting Machiavelli’s 16th-century political treatise “The Prince,” the report says that China today believes it is “safer to be feared than to be loved.”

According to an abstract of the report, Beijing’s foreign influence operations have two aims. The first is to “seduce and subjugate” foreigners by exposing them to a positive narrative of the country. The second is to infiltrate and coerce, with the ultimate goal of obstructing any actions that are contrary to the interests of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Coercion involves “systematic sanction” of any state, company, organization, or individual who is a threat to the communist regime. 

Beijing’s global influence operations

The CCP wants to control the Chinese diaspora so that it does not become a threat to their power. To this end, Beijing is engaged in a transnational repression campaign that the NGO Freedom House calls the “most sophisticated, comprehensive, and complete in the world.”

Since 2008, the Chinese regime has invested 1.3 billion euros (US$1.52 billion) to improve its image across the world. Chinese media has created an international presence in multiple languages on all social media platforms, including those which are blocked on the mainland like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.

“They are investing a lot of money to artificially amplify their online audience… The Party-State is also interested in container control, influencing every step of the global information supply chain, with television, digital platforms, and smartphones,” the abstract states.

On one hand, Beijing seeks to influence international organizations and standards. For this purpose, the Chinese state also implements clandestine influence operations. On the other hand, officials are increasingly adopting a “wolf warrior” attitude that involves displaying higher aggressiveness with regard to protecting CCP interests.

China uses its economy as leverage to attain specific objectives. Economic coercion can include embargoes, investment restrictions, trade sanctions, restrictions to market access and tourism quotas. Beijing is also making censorship a necessary policy to adhere to in order to gain entry into the market, something which many businesses are being pressured to accept.

The political influence is aimed at impacting the mechanisms of development of public policies. Beijing is reported to have interfered in 10 ballots in seven nations. “Maintaining direct relations with parties and influential political figures makes it possible to infiltrate the target companies, to garner official and unofficial support, and to bypass any blockages within power by playing on political figures of the opposition or retired,” the abstract reads.

The CCP targets foreign universities, generating financial dependence and forcing them to adopt self-censorship policies. It also monitors Chinese students and teachers, while pressuring universities to modify course content. In addition, the CCP uses foreign universities as a source of acquiring technology and knowledge either via espionage and theft or through joint research programs. Confucius Institutes act as another propaganda arm of the CCP in overseas educational institutions.

Beijing is establishing Chinese think tanks abroad as well as partnering with local think tanks that may act as a “sounding board” in the local market of ideas.

China exerts considerable influence in Hollywood. In a bid to not upset the CCP, many American film studios practice self-censorship, which not only includes cutting and modifying scenes but also giving the Chinese characters the “right role.” By denying access to the vast Chinese market, Beijing can force artists to alter their works.

Beijing creates fake online identities to disseminate propaganda through social media networks via paid “internet commentators,” and trolls. It pays for propaganda content to be published by third parties. In social media, Beijing seeks to promote the “Chinese model” which involves the degradation of other models.

In addition to the above, Beijing also uses citizen movements, separatist activities, influencers, and pacifist groups to expand its influence operations abroad.

In January this year, the French army published a policy paper that warned that the country might have to compete militarily with China.

“Whether it concerns Russia or China, the return of strategic and military competition has now been asserted… The People’s Republic of China has doubled its defense budget since 2012 – pushing it to the second-highest in the world –, increased its nuclear arsenal and demonstrated new ambitions in terms of projecting power,” the paper summary stated.

Back in 2019, an EU report on China had called the Asian nation a “systemic rival.” Early this year, Japan’s China Security Report warned that Beijing’s unilateral military activities “may lead to the disruption of international order.”