US accuses China of launching global information war

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The US has accused China of trying to create a “community of digital authoritarians” in a report designed to convince other countries that Beijing is mounting a global propaganda effort as part of an “undeclared information war”.

The state department’s report listed Beijing’s efforts to shape the global information arena, ranging from censorship and propaganda to pushing authoritarianism and exploiting international organisations.

“The [People’s Republic of China] employs a variety of deceptive and coercive methods as it attempts to influence the international information environment,” the report said.

“Unchecked, the PRC’s efforts will reshape the global information landscape, creating biases and gaps that could even lead nations to make decision that subordinate their economic and security interests to Beijing’s.”

James Rubin, a senior state department official, said China was using “coercive techniques and increasingly outright lies” to fulfil a “breathtaking ambition . . . to seek information dominance”.

The state department report comes amid mounting rivalry between Beijing and Washington over everything from China’s military presence in the South China Sea to the production of semiconductors and clean energy technology.

The report also marks another US effort to counter Chinese activities that it believes threatens American influence, as some developing countries grow increasingly willing to reproduce Chinese content that undermines western media sources.

In one example, the state department said China Investment Corporation, the sovereign wealth fund, had acquired a 7 per cent stake in Eutelsat, a French satellite fleet operator, and was using the investment to promote propaganda in regions such as Africa by broadcasting Chinese state-run media with the satellites.

China was also spreading surveillance and censorship technologies to governments around the world as part of technologically advanced “smart city” programmes, particularly in Asia, Africa and Latin America, the report said. The Chinese embassy did not respond to a request for comment.

“The PRC has promoted authoritarian digital norms that other countries have adopted at a rapid pace,” the report said. “As other countries emulate the PRC, their information ecosystems have become more receptive to Beijing’s propaganda disinformation, and censorship requests.”

The report said President Xi Jinping in 2021 told Chinese state media to boost their propaganda efforts overseas. Chinese state-run media now produces content in 12 languages, while official news agency Xinhua had 181 bureaus in 142 countries and regions by the end of 2021.

Asked about longstanding US efforts to promote pro-America information, Rubin said the difference was that Chinese narratives were not based on facts. But he said the countries were in an “undeclared information war” and that the US government had to step up efforts to promote its interests.

“We are not spending enough money. I think we should spend a lot more.”

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