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Controlling the public narrative is the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) modus operandi. It relies on narrative and revisionist storytelling to coerce its subjects into ideological adherence. 

Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, the CCP has consistently employed the principle of “Party control over the media” (党管媒体), which it considers the mouthpiece of the party and an essential tenet of national security. Xi seeks to control public opinion by pushing positive propaganda into the media landscape. “The principle and system of party control over the media remain immutable, regardless of evolving times or shifting media landscapes,” Xi said.1

Beyond its borders, China also seeks to control its global narrative as it chases world dominance. The CCP conducts a massive campaign to peddle propaganda and promote positive narratives abroad while implementing sophisticated digital surveillance and censorship mechanisms to suppress negative coverage.

Content Sharing: Whitewashing the CCP’s Tale

To shape perceptions overseas, the Chinese government has employed the “borrowing a boat to reach the sea” (借船出海) strategy. China “borrows” foreign media channels to reach international audiences and disseminate pro-China narratives. 

Beijing facilitates this influence through content-sharing agreements between Chinese media entities and foreign counterparts, solidifying its media presence in Southeast Asia, the Pacific region, and across Africa. Chinese state media, such as Xinhua News Agency, provide free news stories, photos, videos, and television scripts to be integrated into foreign news media outlets — often without disclosing their origin. In 2019, Xinhua signed a high-level memorandum of understanding (MOU) in exchange for news from the Thailand Government’s Public Relations Department (PRD). Xinhua also established more than a dozen content-sharing agreements with Thai news outlets, including Thailand’s Channel 3. In January 

2020, Channel 3, in partnership with Xinhua, aired coverage of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, highlighting positive stories and courageous accounts of healthcare workers and hospitals in the city. 

Beijing also offers foreign influencers and journalists all-expense-paid tours of the country — either short-term exchanges or extended professional residencies — in exchange for coverage aligned with the party’s policies. State-affiliated agencies such as Xinhua and the All China Journalist Association (ACJA) signed MOUs with foreign journalism unions to encourage foreign journalists to cover pro-Beijing propaganda. While Xinhua’s MOUs generally focus on content-sharing, ACJA agreements often include journalistic exchanges and sponsored tours. In 2018, the Indonesian Journalist Association signed an MOU with ACJA and established a prize for Indonesian journalists covering the Belt and Road Initiative. China also invited journalists on guided tours of concentration camps in the Uyghur region, asking them to cover state-sponsored narratives on abuses tantamount to crimes against humanity.

Beijing’s efforts to whitewash Uyghur forced labor and the ongoing genocide in the Uyghur Region have also reached the United States. Last December, Xinhua displayed giant digital billboards in New York City’s Times Square, showcasing commercial products from Shihezi in the Uyghur Region. Shihezi was depicted as a thriving “green city” lined with sweet fruit stands and happy “Uyghurs,” a stark contrast to reality. Rather, the city has a heavy military presence, and its cotton and tomato exports are cultivated under exploitative and coercive conditions.

Beyond traditional content-sharing partnerships, state-affiliated outlets go as far as collaborating with foreign media to co-produce content. The China Global Television Network (CGTN), the international division of the Chinese state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV), for instance, has been pushing to “tell China’s story well” (讲好中国故事) through documentaries and other long-form content. Earlier this year, CGTN co-produced a documentary with the Discovery Channel called “World’s Ultimate Frontier,” which highlighted the unique culture of the Uyghur Region and the “happy lives” of its residents. 

The China International Communication Center (CICC), another foreign language publishing and communications organization, is operated by the State Council Information Office (SCIO) and shares an address with the Central Propaganda Department’s Office of Foreign Propaganda. In 2020, the CICC and Discovery Channel co-produced the documentary “Covid-19: Battling the Devil,” which was slated to broadcast in over 200 countries. The documentary praised the Chinese government’s management of the pandemic, attributing its success to the institutional strengths of Chinese socialism and ignoring the glaring failings of its “Zero-COVID” policy. 

TikTok and China’s Use of Influencer Culture

The CCP is also using modern media platforms to push state-sponsored narratives and censor dialogue outside of China. TikTok, for example, the Singapore-based social media app, has taken the world by storm. Given its popularity, the app has attracted increased scrutiny regarding its data privacy practices, its handling of online content, and its potential ties to the Chinese government. During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on kids’ online safety, TikTok’s CEO is seen in a viral clip denying his ties to China by repeatedly saying, “No, Senator, I’m Singaporean.” While TikTok CEO Chew ShouZi is a Singaporean citizen, the company still has affiliations with China. TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is a private company based in Beijing, making it highly susceptible to the CCP’s demands. As a private company, it falls under Chinese law, including China’s national intelligence law, which subjects all organizations and citizens to “support, assist, and cooperate” with national intelligence efforts.2

The concerns over Beijing’s potential influence on the platform are not without warrant. The CCP has a long history of using mobile apps such as WeChat to facilitate overseas censorship and surveillance, and evidence indicates that the CCP used “backdoor access” to TikTok to monitor activists’ whereabouts. 

TikTok has a record of rigorous content censorship, like suspending the account of Enes Kanter Freedom, the former NBA player known for his outspoken political activism against China, and the Liberation Think Tank, which posted content about pro-democracy icon Jimmy Lai. Recent findings from TikTok’s advertising library also reveal an influx of ads from China’s state media outlets that target European users. The ads praise the CCP’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and portray the Uyghur Region as an appealing tourist destination, among other things.

Chinese officials also partner with foreign influencers, who are dubbed the “foreign brain (外脑),” “foreign mouth (外嘴),” and “foreign pen (外笔)” of the CCP, to enhance its domestic and foreign propaganda efforts (推动内宣外宣一体发展). In 2022, the Chinese Consulate in New York allocated $300,000 to the New Jersey firm Vippi Media to recruit influencers for a discreet campaign promoting the Beijing Winter Olympics on Instagram and TikTok. Last year, Shein, a Chinese-Singaporean fast fashion brand accused of exploiting Uyghur forced labor, flew a group of young American influencers on an all-expenses-paid trip to tour their manufacturing factories and meet their purportedly “happy workers” in the Chinese city of Guangzhou. While brand-sponsored influencer trips are a common marketing tactic, using content creators to cover up dismal working conditions and forced labor is an unprecedentedly sinister and twisted use of marketing. 

Censorship, Acquisitions, and Wolf Warrior Diplomacy

While actively promoting positive narratives to “tell China’s story well (讲好中国的故事),” Beijing also engages in censorship and surveillance of global media to suppress negative narratives. 

One method is acquiring stakes in foreign media. In 2015, the private Chinese conglomerate CEFC acquired a 49% stake in Czech Empresa Media, one of the largest publishing houses in the Czech Republic, and a 30% stake in Médea Group, the largest media company in Czechia. With the acquisition, all negative mentions of China were eliminated on websites and replaced by exclusively positive coverage promoting the “China Story.”

Despite CEFC’s attempts to disentangle itself from Chinese military intelligence, Chinese state media confirmed the company’s support of Beijing’s strategic interests in the Czech Republic, including carrying out industrial investment and strategic positioning. However, in 2018, CEFC’s CEO, Ye Jianming, was suspected of committing economic crimes and placed under investigation. Subsequently, a Chinese state-owned company, CITIC, stepped in and acquired CEFC’s shares, becoming the largest shareholder of Médea Group with a 57% majority share, thereby ensuring Chinese control of the Czech media company. In 2021, CITIC exited Czech media for undisclosed reasons.

Chinese embassy officials or government representatives also resort to harassment, intimidation, or pressure tactics of local officials, media executives, journalists, or commentators to suppress critical reporting. They may be pressured to edit or delete unfavorable content or threatened with defamation lawsuits. Notably, Chinese tech giant Huawei has initiated three defamation suits in France against a French researcher, broadcast journalist, and wireless network expert for their comments on the company’s ties to the Chinese government. Despite facing constant allegations of espionage, censorship, an attempted disruption of the US nuclear arsenal, and, most importantly, its ties to the CCP, Huawei has consistently denied all accusations.

Chinese officials also employ cyberbullying and online harassment to quash critical coverage. This increased assertiveness and hostility of Chinese officials and diplomats is termed “wolf warrior” diplomacy, a new style of diplomacy in China’s external propaganda (外宣) strategy encouraged under Xi. It aims to deconstruct the Western discourse hegemony and enhance China’s control over international discourse. 

In Sweden, news outlets considered critical of the CCP have received threatening emails and phone calls from the embassy, accusing the Swedish media of meddling in China’s internal affairs. In 2021, the Chinese Embassy in Sweden sent a threatening email to a Swedish freelance journalist over an article criticizing Beijing, accusing him of “moral corruption” and saying he would “face the consequences of [his] own actions” if he didn’t stop. In August 2021, the Chinese embassy in Kuwait pressured the Arab Times to remove an interview with Taiwan’s Foreign Minister, Joseph Wu, in which he discussed the global threat posed by China. The newspaper complied, deleting the interview and replacing it with a statement from the Chinese embassy in Kuwait, which described Wu as a “stubborn ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist.”

Online and Mobile Surveillance

The CCP security apparatus and foreign affairs authorities lead large-scale interagency surveillance efforts to monitor and control overseas information. According to FBI director Christopher A. Wray, “China’s hacking program is larger than that of every other major nation, combined.”

The CCP’s Central Propaganda Department has attempted to mine public X (formerly Twitter) data to track anti-CCP personnel, map relationships between critics, and fight the public opinion war overseas. Recently leaked documents have exposed the CCP’s capacity, with the help of private firms, to breach X  user data to access email addresses and phone numbers, intercept direct messages, and even publish tweets to users’ feeds. Additionally, they possess remote access trojans (RATs) designed for various operating systems that would allow the Chinese government to harvest messages from all popular messaging apps in China. This arsenal empowers Beijing to effectively stifle domestic and overseas dissent on international social media platforms and flood them with pro-CCP content instead. 

Beijing extends its informational control tactics to regions where China is interested in growing its influence, such as Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, by exporting a broad range of telecommunications infrastructure, including smart and basic phones, wireless and wired data networks, alongside information control technology and surveillance tools. In Ecuador, China provided the government with over 4,300 surveillance cameras that were integrated into the system’s surveillance system, ECU-911, which can send footage to the nation’s domestic intelligence agency, notorious for its surveillance and attacks on political dissidents. Moreover, many devices manufactured in China possess surveillance and censorship capabilities that can be activated remotely. For instance, Lithuania’s National Cyber Security Centre reported that Xiaomi phones included a default capability to censor phrases such as “Free Tibet,” “Long live Taiwan independence,” and “democracy movement.” In Uganda and Zambia, governments have even worked with Huawei technicians to spy on political opponents, including cracking into encrypted communication messages and using cell data to track their locations. 


Xi Jinping has consistently emphasized the importance of enhancing China’s “soft power” (软实力) by crafting a persuasive Chinese narrative and strengthening the party’s ability to disseminate its political message abroad. Undoubtedly, the imperative of media control, which involves constructing a positive narrative and navigating public opinion in line with party principles, is now more than a domestic agenda. As many developing countries become more receptive to Beijing’s promotion of authoritarian digital norms, the world becomes more vulnerable to Beijing’s propaganda, disinformation, and censorship. This helps the CCP realize its vision of complete media control. Beijing’s export of party-controlled media represents a concerted effort to promote its authoritarian ideology and preserve the CCP’s self-spun tale of legitimacy for the world to see. 

1 “因此不言而喻,必须坚持党性原则;胡锦涛同志强调,党管宣传、党管意识形态,是我们党在长期实践中形成的重要原则和制度,是坚持党的领导的一个重要方面,必须始终牢牢坚持,任何时候都不能动摇。”

2 See 第一章总则第七条: “任何组织和公民都应当依法支持、协助和配合国家情报工作”