China’s government is investing “unprecedented resources” in a range of disinformation, surveillance and censorship tactics it uses in efforts to shape international narratives in its favor among foreign audiences around the world, a new report released Thursday by the State Department said.
“As the [People’s Republic of China] has grown more confident in its power, it appears to have calculated that it can more aggressively pursue its interests via information manipulation,” the report, compiled by the department’s Global Engagement Center, said.
It warned that some of the methods Beijing has honed and is spending billions on annually are “deceptive and coercive,” use false or biased claims, or involve technologically-enabled tracking or suppression techniques to stifle criticism of its policies or political leadership.
The report, which relied on publicly available information, as well as information collected by the U.S. government, listed as examples the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) use of automated bot networks to amplify Chinese diplomats’ own posts (or attack those of critics), its use of state media employees posing as social media “influencers” to reach foreign audiences and its acquisition of satellite and telecommunications technologies to monitor and control information online.
Chinese state media “routinely amplified” pro-Kremlin or anti-NATO propaganda in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including boosting Moscow’s claims there were secret biological weapons facilities funded by the United States on Ukraine’s territory, according to the report.
“Russia has returned the favor by promoting PRC propaganda related to Taiwan and other PRC interests,” the report said.
One example included in the report noted the Beijing “heavily amplified” its own messaging about the military and economic responses it took to protest former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August of last year, while suppressing statements that were critical of the Chinese government’s reaction.
It also said the Chinese government had used real-world intimidation tactics to discourage dissent. Citing information obtained by the U.S. government, it said authorities within the CCP worked with private companies within China to “identify and locate critics abroad who might have considered online anonymity a protection against PRC government retaliation or harassment.” The report did not name the companies.
“You can see a breathtaking ambition to have information dominance in certain parts of the world, crucial parts of the world,” GEC coordinator James Rubin said in a briefing on Thursday. “That’s the threat that affects our national security that affects the national security of other parties.”
The GEC assessment said certain countries were beginning to follow Beijing’s example, noting some African governments have used Huawei communication systems provided by China to track the locations and intercept communications of political opposition members.
It also said Beijing’s successes were more limited in democratic countries.
“Although backed by unprecedented resources, the PRC’s propaganda and censorship have, to date, yielded mixed results,” the report said. “When targeting democratic countries, Beijing has encountered major setbacks, often due to pushback from local media and civil society.”