Recently, the US Department of State released a report titled “How the People’s Republic of China Seeks to Reshape the Global Information Environment.” The report accuses China of employing deceptive and coercive methods to influence the international information environment. It claims that Beijing’s information manipulation involves the use of propaganda, disinformation, and censorship, and that China spends billions of dollars annually on these efforts.
While the report acknowledges every country’s right to tell its story to the world, it argues that a nation’s narrative should be based on facts and rise and fall on its own merits. However, some find irony in these statements coming from the US, a country known for its own misinformation and narrative manipulation. The US has used lies as a pretext for devastating wars in the past, such as the Gulf of Tonkin incident preceding the Vietnam War, and the claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction that led to the invasion of Iraq.
Despite these accusations, China’s ability to influence the global information environment is weak compared to America’s. China lacks several advantages enjoyed by the US, including speaking the world’s dominant language, which permeates through all culture, literature, music, news media, and film. The US is an information hegemon, shaping global discourse and narratives at its own will by coordinating the machinery of government with corporate agenda incentives. Major news organizations in the US, such as the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and CNN, follow and endorse the foreign policy of the state.
Noam Chomsky’s essay “Manufacturing Consent” explains how the US can prioritize certain human rights issues in targeted countries by plowing resources into placing those issues at the forefront of attention. Government-sponsored think tanks will follow these issues and put out the associated talking points, while experts with certain points of view are given platforms and media coverage. This creates a self-reinforcing system where experts and media professionals attach their careers and commercial interests to adhering to the established narrative.
On the other hand, China faces challenges in exerting the same level of control over the global information environment. Chinese media lacks the journalistic tradition and competitive enterprise of America’s corporate media. China’s state-controlled media system follows orders, reducing the credibility and reach of its message. Additionally, the majority of opinions about China are produced and consumed by English speakers, as only a small percentage of online content is in Chinese. This limits China’s cultural base and soft power.
Contrary to the accusations made in the report, China cannot be seen as the misinformation machine it is depicted to be. The US, on the other hand, has excelled in successful deception more than any other country. This can be seen in certain proposals to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into schemes to promote negative coverage of China’s Belt and Road initiative. The shift in public opinion towards China in Western countries may be indicative of the US’s influence over global public opinion.
In conclusion, the report released by the US Department of State accusing China of manipulating the global information environment raises ironic points. While China may engage in certain information manipulation tactics, it lacks the advantages enjoyed by the US in terms of language dominance and media control. The US has a long history of misinformation and narrative manipulation, making it the true force behind global public opinion.