Over the past decade, Beijing has invested heavily in trying to upgrade its major state media outlets, such as China Global Television Network (CGTN), Xinhua News Agency, and China Radio International (CRI), and to make them seem more professional. It has tried to normalize them to audiences as little different from the BBC, CNN, or Al Jazeera—most likely Beijing’s preferred model—a station based in an authoritarian state but producing respected work.
In the 2010s, China hired respected foreign reporters to staff bureaus of outlets such as CGTN in the United States, Europe, Africa, and Southeast Asia, and initially gave them a bit of room to cover interesting stories—as long as those stories did not directly affect China. The global journalism market is terrible: between 2001 and 2016, newspaper publishing in the United States lost more than half the jobs in the industry, a higher rate of loss than in coal mining, not exactly an industry of the future. China’s outlets found many willing and credentialed reporters to join. Today, the Chinese government’s funding for state media dwarfs that of any other country’s state media funding, including that of the United States. In 2018, CGTN reportedly spent around $500 million to promote the network in Australia alone; it has also engaged in extensive promotion in Europe and North America.
In an effort to expand its influence within the domestic politics and societies of other countries, China in the past decade dramatically expanded other tools of influence as well, which I chronicle in my new book, Beijing’s Global Media Offensive: China’s Uneven Campaign to Influence Asia and the World. These have included the use of disinformation online, payments to politicians to spout pro-China ideas, control of Chinese student associations in many countries, the funding of programs at universities, and other tactics.
But state media has been central to China’s efforts to influence other countries, control information about and protect the party, and gain what Chinese leaders and officials have called “discourse power” to amplify China’s narratives about its policies, its party, its leader, and its role in the world. For more on China’s state media efforts, and how they have often failed, see my book excerpt in Foreign Policy, available here.