US Warns of China Disinformation Plan 10/04 06:25
WASHINGTON (AP) -- For much of the world, China's Xinjiang region is
notorious, a place where ethnic Uyghurs face forced labor and arbitrary
detention. But a group of visiting foreign journalists was left with a
decidedly different impression.
On a tour in late September sponsored by Beijing, the 22 journalists from 17
countries visited bazaars and chatted with residents over dates and watermelon
slices. They later told state media they were impressed with the bustling
economy, described the region as "full of cultural, religious and ethnic
diversity," and denounced what they said were lies by Western media.
The trip is an example of what Washington sees as Beijing's growing efforts
to reshape the global narrative on China. It's spending billions of dollars
annually to do so.
In a first-of-its-kind report, the State Department last week laid out
Beijing's tactics and techniques for molding public opinion, such as buying
content, creating fake personas to spread its message and using repression to
quash unfavorable accounts.
The Global Engagement Center, a State Department agency that's tasked with
combating foreign propaganda and disinformation and that released the 58-page
report, warned that Beijing's information campaign could eventually sway how
decisions are made around the world and undermine U.S. interests.
"Unchecked, the (Chinese government's) information manipulation could in
many parts of the world diminish freedom to express views critical of Beijing,"
said Jamie Rubin, who heads the center. He said Beijing's efforts could
"transform the global information landscape and damage the security and
stability of the United States, its friends, and partners."
"We don't want to see an Orwellian mix of fact and fiction in our world," he
said. "That will destroy the secure world of rules and rights that the United
States and much of the world relies upon."
China over the weekend slammed the report, calling it "in itself
disinformation as it misrepresents facts and truth."
"In fact, it is the U.S. that invented the weaponizing of the global
information space," the Chinese foreign ministry said. It called the State
Department agency "a source of disinformation and the command center of
In a written statement, Liu Pengyu, spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in
Washington, said the report was "just another tool to keep China down and
buttress American hegemony."
Beijing argues that Western media have long held biases against China and at
times have demonized it. Chinese President Xi Jinping has demanded that China
tell its story to the world so Beijing would be trusted and respected.
But U.S. government officials say Beijing is advancing its agenda through
coercion and lies. In one case outlined by the report, the Chinese government
created a fake commentator named Yi Fan, whose pro-Beijing writings have
appeared in publications in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
In social media, Beijing deploys armies of bots, trolls and coordinated
campaigns to suppress critical content and boost pro-Beijing messages, the
report said. China-made phones sold overseas have been found to come with
A national security law in Hong Kong has allowed authorities to prosecute
those who live overseas but criticize Beijing's policy in the territory,
according to the report. On Ukraine, Beijing has cooperated with Moscow to
amplify the Kremlin's false claims, it said.
In Xinjiang, Beijing has brought in diplomats and foreign journalists on
tightly orchestrated trips with minders in tow.
The aim is to counter allegations that Beijing has mistreated the country's
11 million ethnic Uyghurs through arbitrary detention and labor programs that
send Uyghurs to work in factories far from their homes.
A United Nations report last year said the acts by Beijing in Xinjiang might
constitute crimes against humanity. The U.S. government went further, saying
the actions constitute genocide against the Uyghurs, most of whom are Muslim.
On the latest such trip to Xinjiang, the journalists praised Beijing's
efforts in preserving the region's traditional culture, creating a harmonious
and prosperous life for people of all ethnicities and religions, the party-run
Global Times newspaper reported.
One Iranian journalist described the northwestern region as a beautiful
Persian rug with different colors and patterns weaved together, according to
China News, another state-run news agency.
Meanwhile, Beijing has banned independent reporting in Xinjiang by Western
journalists, and it has sought to silence criticism from Uyghurs overseas by
threatening to punish their family members at home and deny them entry into
While the State Department report focused on Beijing's global influence
efforts outside the United States, its findings are similar to those documented
in the U.S. by think tanks and advocacy groups.
Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week, Sarah Cook, a
senior adviser for China, Hong Kong and Taiwan at Freedom House, said Beijing's
disinformation campaign targeting the U.S. could sow discord and might
influence election results at the local level, especially in districts with
large Chinese American voters. They are more likely to be using WeChat, a
popular Chinese-language messaging app heavily controlled by Beijing, she said.
Glenn Tiffert, who co-chairs a project on China's influence campaigns at the
Hoover Institute, told the committee that the use of new technology, such as
artificial intelligence, could allow Beijing to better interfere with U.S.