China’s digital totalitarian state enjoying a ‘golden field for propaganda’



A “shocking new report” from Canada’s intelligence service cites China’s domestically-focused propaganda as an example of the “total” information warfare posing an existential threat to Western democratic pluralism.

Ever since he came to power in 2012, President Xi Jinping has attempted to bolster the authority of the Communist Party in part by imposing wide-ranging policies to gain ideological and informational control over the media and Internet, notes Xiao Qiang, (rightan adjunct professor at the School of Information, University of California at Berkeley.

In 2017, the country’s first cybersecurity law came into effect; it requires Internet companies to allow even more surveillance of their networks, submit to mandated security reviews of their equipment and provide data to government investigators when requested, among other regulations, he writes for The WorldPost, a partnership of the Berggruen Institute and The Washington Post:

The University of Toronto-based Citizen Lab has identified various surveillance mechanisms used to monitor social media platforms such as WeChat, which can leave people with the sense that they have a surveillance weapon in their pockets. What’s more, these mechanisms remain in effect when individuals leave the country, as do large number of Chinese students who study abroad…..But beneath the surface of these constantly intensifying control measures, there are millions of Chinese grassroots voices, public opinion leaders and an insurgent community of circumvention practitioners who constantly push to expand the free flow of information in Chinese society. Digital activism has been and remains a vital driver of change in Chinese society.

China’s international influence operations are also causing concern within Western democracies. German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned on Wednesday that Beijing must not link investments in the western Balkans to political demands.

“We are committed to free trade,” she said, but stressed that “it must be reciprocal” and that openness must come “not just from one side but from all sides”.

A new book, Silent Invasion: How China Is Turning Australia into a Puppet State, by Clive Hamilton, professor  of public ethics at Charles Stuart University, alleges that a systematic Chinese government campaign of espionage and influence peddling is leading to “the erosion of Australian sovereignty.”

Recent trends indicate that China “has enjoyed a series of rhetorical and strategic triumphs that have enhanced its global image and increased its international influence,” notes Benjamin Carlson, Beijing correspondent for Agence France-Presse. China rarely misses an opportunity to attack democracy and extol the one-party state, he writes for The Atlantic.

Xu Guoqi, a professor at the University of Hong Kong, believes the Chinese are enjoying a “golden field for their propaganda,” Carlson notes, while the People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, has run a series of commentaries arguing that the “crisis in capitalist societies” was “proof of the truth of Marxism and the superiority of the socialist system.”

China’s maturing asymmetric strategy has emerged as a “new global battle” to “guide, buy or coerce political influence,” notes analyst Shawn Lansing. Beijing’s increased use of subversion, deception, and coercion, recently coined [by the National Endowment for Democracy] “sharp power,” exploits the democratic system’s open architecture. This has proven vexing for Washington, he writes for War On The Rocks. How does a democratic society respond to a power campaign that relies on propaganda and harassment that, if used in kind, would weaken its emphasis on promoting international laws and norms?

“So yes, we are witnessing China rise as a digital totalitarian state. But it may be the case that eventually resistance and critical thinking will become stronger than compliance and acceptance, adds Qiang, the founder and chief editor of China Digital Times. “And if that happens, the government’s repressive efforts on social media will be unsustainable.”

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