While he provided no evidence for his remarks, which derailed a meeting that was supposed to focus on issues of nonproliferation, he later accused China on Twitter of “placing propaganda ads in the Des Moines Register and other papers, made to look like news.”
“I think it’s trying to maximize pressure on the administration to change its trade policies toward China by attempting to show White House and Republicans that they’re going to pay a price with the mid-terms,” David Skidmore, a political science professor at Drake University, told the Des Moines Register in a piece by the paper about the insert.
On Wednesday, Xi himself extolled state media’s “contributions to the cause of the Party and the people,” and praised television workers in “promoting in-depth integration and innovation in international communication to present a true, multi-dimensional and panoramic view of China.”
While there is no evidence Xi is attempting to influence US elections, Trump is absolutely correct that Beijing uses its media to shape foreign opinions of China — what he left out, however, is that Washington does as well with its own government-funded media.
Telling China’s story
Unlike most other English-language state media, like broadcaster CCTV or the Global Times, China Daily is not an offshoot of a domestic product but has always targeted foreign readers.
Today, it claims a circulation of around 800,000, with the majority of readers overseas. The paper’s blue vending machines are ubiquitous in Washington DC and parts of New York and other US cities, and it is also often given out for free in hotels and by airlines around the world.
China Daily did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Daily Telegraph did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding their China Watch sections. A spokeswoman for the Washington Post said the section was clearly marked as not involving “the news or editorial departments of The Washington Post,” adding the China Watch section differs in layout and format “from our editorial content in a number of ways, including headline style, body font and column width.”
Of course, publishing something and having people read it are completely different things, as many media companies have learned to their chagrin. But no matter its reach, China Daily clearly has the backing of Beijing, expanding overseas staff and advertising even as other newspapers slash costs and lay off employees.
While it was China Daily which drew Trump’s attention, it is not the most important outlet in Beijing’s state media strategy. That title belongs to state broadcaster CCTV, and its international offshoot CGTN. (CNN has an affiliate relationship with CCTV.)
Like China Daily, CGTN receives a large amount of state funding, which it has used to expand massively. It now broadcasts in more than 180 countries and regions around the world, and is currently building an expensive new London headquarters.
But as with its newspaper sibling, broadcasting in a country doesn’t necessarily mean anyone is watching.
This could be down to content, while CGTN has relaxed considerably from its highly staid past, it lacks the type of slick appeal of RT, nor has it been so willing to host the type of conspiracy theorists who tend to do so well on YouTube.
Whether or not its investment in China Daily and CGTN is paying off, Beijing clearly sees great value in promoting state media overseas, building on its effectiveness as a propaganda tool at home.
China hawks such as Marco Rubio, chair of the Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC), have long accused Beijing of using its influence around the world to stifle debate and promote its agenda.
Responding to question regarding the alleged move by the US government, Chinese Foreign Ministry Geng Shuang promoted the importance of free speech.
“Media serve as an import bridge and bond to enhance communications and understandings between people of different countries,” he said at a Beijing press conference, adding that countries “should perceive media’s role in promoting international exchange and cooperation in an open and inclusive spirit.”
While the hypocrisy of China complaining about restrictions on the press is self-evident, it’s important to remember that while US lawmakers complain about foreign media influence operations, Washington continues to run several of its own.
Beginning after World War II and ramping up during the Cold War, the US government invested billions of dollars in Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and related publications and broadcasters.
BBG subsidiaries broadcast in more than 60 languages to an audience of around 278 million people each week, with thousands of employees based in 50 news bureaus around the world.
In its statement to Congress, the bureau said its coverage is “particularly strong” in regions where “global actors that do not share American values are attempting to make further inroads.”
Both of the main broadcasters targeting China — RFA and VOA — are bound by their charters to be objective and are not subject to the same kinds of direct oversight exercised over Chinese state media, but this does not stop the countries which they target seeing them as malicious tools of US influence.
RFA in particular produces some excellent reporting from local journalists — often at great risk to themselves — out of Tibet and Xinjiang, areas of China from which most foreign journalists are locked out.
Since RFA and VOA started targeting China, Beijing has invested heavily in jamming radio signals from the two US-funded broadcasters, and state media has denounced them as tools of the CIA. Their websites and email newsletters are also heavily blocked and censored.
In one particularly ironic article, the Global Times lauded cuts to VOA, which it described as a “government-funded propaganda tool of the US,” even as it praised Chinese efforts to improve overseas broadcasting. Perhaps all involved need to look in the mirror.