How does western media influence China

Disinformation from ChinaBeijing invests in propaganda

How we rate Merkel's pandemic management, what we think of the Russian corona vaccine, how successfully the Chinese government has contained Covid 19 - all of these assessments can easily be influenced if we come across false information online and do not recognize it as such. On YouTube, Facebook and WhatsApp, there are countless messages lurking that distort real events or are entirely made up with the aim of influencing political opinion-forming.

The Russian government is often mentioned in connection with disinformation campaigns. With her online channel RT DE (formerly Russia Today) she has become a fixture in Germany among those who are disappointed with the established radio stations and newspaper houses, and is repeatedly criticized as Moscow's propaganda tool. RT DE plans to go on air with its own television channel by the end of the year.

(IMAGO / Uwe Meinhold)Russian state media in Germany
The Russian foreign broadcaster RT Deutsch, now RT DE, is repeatedly criticized as the Kremlin's propaganda weapon. RT DE is still producing content for the web. Now the online channel is to become a TV channel.

But China is also systematically expanding its media influence worldwide. The Chinese still lack a powerful program like RT, said China correspondent Steffen Wurzel in the Dlf, their own foreign broadcaster China Global Television News (CGTN) is not so attractive for users. Because the country is geographically further away from Germany, it is also less of a focus in Europe than Russia.

Nevertheless, the Foreign Service of the European Union (EEAS) recently warned of extensive disinformation from China, as "Spiegel" reported. Accordingly, the German embassy in Brussels reported that the Chinese leadership had "a broad toolbox for manipulating the global information system" and that the corresponding instruments were "increasingly active and robust". Accordingly, the extent of Chinese propaganda has long eclipsed Russia's activities.

Beijing spreads the narrative of happy Uyghurs

A central theme of the worldwide campaigns is how to deal with the Muslim Uighur minority in the Chinese region of Xinjiang. The human rights organization Amnesty International estimates that around a million people have been imprisoned there since 2017 and politically indoctrinated in "re-education camps". China rejects this representation and propagates its own narrative: The camps are intended for vocational training.

A report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, an Australian think tank, shows how strategically the Communist Party is disseminating its own representation on Twitter and Facebook and using state channels for this purpose, including the Twitter accounts of Chinese diplomats. In the past year in particular, China's media activities on Facebook and Twitter have increased significantly. For example, YouTube videos are being distributed that showcase Xinjiang as an idyllic landscape.

The Chinese government also uses influencers who report from or about China, said Beijing correspondent Steffen Wurzel. The spectrum ranges from supposedly apolitical feel-good videos and culinary topics to foreign influencers who deliberately let themselves be harnessed to the cart of Chinese propaganda.

Influencer reports on bike tour through Xinjiang

One example is a British man who had toured Xinjiang by bike and told CGTN that he had not observed any human rights violations. The video was viewed nearly half a million times on YouTube. The former SPD politician Rudolf Scharping, who earns a lot of money in China with consulting activities, and Herbert Diess, CEO of Volkswagen AG, also praised China for the green clover without going into critical points, reported Wurzel.

The Chinese government not only equips social networks, but also wants to use the CGTN channel to establish its own voice alongside foreign broadcasters such as BBC World, CNN, Deutsche Welle and Al Jazeera. One of the targeted target groups is the population on the African continent, but CGTN also broadcasts in Europe. In February, the British media supervisory authority withdrew its broadcasting license from the television channel due to political influence, but it subsequently switched to the sovereignty of the French media supervisory authority and can now be received again.

(dpa / picture alliance / Alexei Danichev / Sputnik / editing: Deutschlandradio)Media dispute over China's foreign broadcaster
After a break of several weeks, the program of the Chinese state broadcaster CGTN can be received again in Germany. The responsible British media regulator had revoked the license to broadcast. But now France is responsible - also because of the Brexit.

In addition, state media agencies offer material from China that Western media can use for their own reporting. The SWR resorted to this, for example, in its documentation "Inside Wuhan", which dealt with the handling of the corona pandemic in China and which was taken out of the program at short notice in June after criticism. Parts of the image material came from the China Intercontinental Communication Center (CICC), an institution that clearly had a propaganda mission, said the sinologist Mareike Ohlberg at the time in the Dlf.

No visas for German correspondents

So while China uses various means of communication to positively influence its global image, it is becoming more and more difficult for foreign media to get an idea of ​​the situation in the country for themselves because the government is making independent reporting from China extremely difficult. Lea Deuber, who works for the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" in Beijing, reported in "Medium Magazin" about the surveillance, shadowing and obstruction of foreign journalists. In some regions they are no longer allowed to research at all.

The number of correspondents is now historically low, warned Deuber - also because the communist leadership rarely issues visas to media representatives. German journalists have not been able to travel to China for more than a year, reported ARD correspondent Steffen Wurzel. His new colleague for the ARD radio studio in Beijing has also been waiting for entry for more than a year. China cites the corona pandemic as the reason, but business travelers can come to the country without any problems, said Wurzel.

Taiwan as an alternative location

More and more editorial offices, including those of the French and US media, are reporting from Taiwan as a result. "You only have advantages here. That is, a democratic government that tries to promote transparent journalism," said the Algerian-French photographer Walid Berrazeg in January in the Dlf. There are no obstacles to reporting.

Nevertheless, they cannot replace local correspondents in China: Only they can find out what the glossy films are hiding from Chinese propaganda. Beijing will play an increasingly important role as a partner in politics and trade in the years to come. The interest in independent reporting from the country is all the greater - and all the more important is a critical look at the influence that the Chinese media apparatus has on the formation of political opinion in Europe.