(Bloomberg) -- China spends billions of dollars each year to enhance its image around the world, including by sponsoring online influencers and bolstering authoritarian governments through the export of “smart cities” technology, the US government says in a new report.
The State Department’s Global Engagement Center, which works to counter foreign disinformation and propaganda, labeled China a “leading concern” in an 81-page report released Thursday that argues Beijing has worked to spread false information around the world, amplify its propaganda and suppress and censor dissenting voices.
“The PRC employs a variety of deceptive and coercive methods as it attempts to influence the international information environment,” the report said, using the country’s formal name, the People’s Republic of China. “Unchecked, the PRC’s efforts will reshape the global information landscape, creating biases and gaps that could even lead nations to make decisions that subordinate their economic and security interests to Beijing’s.”
The State Department report comes even as the US continues a process of diplomatic re-engagement with China. Senior US and Chinese officials have held recent discussions on a range of issues, including whether Chinese leader Xi Jinping will come to the US for an economic summit in November.
China’s focus has mainly been on Africa, Asia and Latin America, the report indicates. It says China pays for favorable media coverage in East Africa — while concealing its sponsorship — and also seeks to “gain significant control” over Pakistan’s media. It details China’s attempts to pressure newspapers into retracting content, and the efforts of Chinese diplomats to pressure universities.
Among concerns cited in the report are Beijing’s support for “digital authoritarians” through its export of digital infrastructure and surveillance capabilities and the “contraction of global freedom of expression” as local government fear angering China.
China has hit back at US assessments that it works to improperly influence other nations. In a statement in August, the Foreign Ministry said that it’s the US government that “has not only carried out large-scale, systematic and indiscriminatory cyber espionage against other countries in the world, but also attempted recently to deploy cyber forces to relevant countries in the name of capacity-building cooperation to infiltrate these countries’ cyber system.”
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