In the fall of 2019, just before global borders closed, an international journalists’ association decided to canvass its members about a subject that kept coming up in informal conversations: What is China doing?
What it found was astonishing in its scope. Journalists from countries as tiny as Guinea-Bissau had been invited to sign agreements with their Chinese counterparts. The Chinese government was distributing versions of its propaganda newspaper China Daily in English — and also Serbian. A Filipino journalist estimated that more than half of the stories on a Philippines newswire came from the Chinese state agency Xinhua. A Kenyan media group raised money from Chinese investors, then fired a columnist who wrote about China’s suppression of its Uyghur minority. Journalists in Peru faced intense social media criticism from combative Chinese government officials.
What seemed, in each country, like an odd local anomaly looked, all told, like a vast, if patchwork, strategy to create an alternative to a global news media dominated by outlets like the BBC and CNN, and to insert Chinese money, power and perspective into the media in almost every country in the world.
But the study raised an obvious question: What is China planning to do with this new power?
The answer comes in a second report, which is set to be released on Wednesday by the International Federation of Journalists, a Brussels-based union of journalism unions whose mission gives it a global bird's-eye view into news media almost everywhere. The group, which shared a copy with me, hired an author of the first report, Louisa Lim, to canvass journalists in 54 countries. The interviews “reveal an activation of the existing media infrastructure China has put in place globally,” Ms. Lim, a former NPR bureau chief in Beijing who is now a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne, wrote in the report. “As the pandemic started to spread, Beijing used its media infrastructure globally to seed positive narratives about China in national media, as well as mobilizing more novel tactics such as disinformation.”
定于周三由国际新闻工作者联合会(International Federation of Journalists)发布的另一份报告给出了答案。该组织是新闻业的工会联合会，总部位于布鲁塞尔，其使命使其对全球几乎所有新闻媒体都具有全局视角。该组织与我分享了一份副本。它雇用了第一份报告的作者林慕莲(Louisa Lim)对54个国家/地区的记者进行采访。林慕莲曾任NPR北京分社社长，现在是墨尔本大学(University of Melbourne)的高级讲师。采访“揭示了中国在全球范围内已部署的现有媒体基础设施的启动，”她在报告中写道。“随着大流行开始蔓延，北京利用其全球媒体基础设施，在国家媒体中传播有关中国的正面叙述，并鼓动了更加新颖的策略，例如散播虚假信息。”
The report may read to an American audience as a warning of what we have missed as our attention has increasingly shifted inward. But it is less the exposure of a secret plot than it is documentation of a continuing global power shift. China’s media strategy is no secret, and the Chinese government says its campaign is no different from what powerful global players have done for more than a century.
“The accusation on China is what the U.S. has been doing all along,” a deputy director general of the Information Department at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Zhao Lijian, told me in a WeChat message after I described the international journalists’ report to him.
The report found that a new media push accompanied the intense round of Chinese diplomacy in the pandemic, providing protective equipment initially and then vaccines to countries around the world, all the while scrambling to ensure that things as varied as the pandemic’s origin and China’s diplomacy was portrayed in the best possible light. Italian journalists said they’d been pressed to run President Xi Jinping’s Christmas speech and were provided with a version translated into Italian. In Tunisia, the Chinese embassy offered hand sanitizer and masks to the journalists’ union, and expensive television equipment and free, pro-China content to the state broadcaster.
A pro-government tabloid in Serbia sponsored a billboard with an image of the Chinese leader and the words, “Thank you, brother Xi.”
Both the media and vaccine campaigns are intertwined with China’s “Belt and Road” global investment campaign, in which Chinese support comes with strings attached, including debt and expectations of support in key votes at the United Nations.
China is fighting what is in some ways an uphill battle. Its growing authoritarianism, its treatment of the Uyghurs and its crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong damaged global views of China, according to other surveys, even before the pandemic began in Wuhan. And some governments have begun to make it harder for Chinese state media to function in their countries, with Britain’s media regulator revoking the license of the main Chinese state broadcaster. But much of China’s diplomacy is focused on places that, while they may not have the cultural or financial power of European countries, do have a vote at the U.N. And while they appear often to be improvisational and run out of local embassies, China’s efforts are having a global impact.
“Beijing is steadily reshaping the global media landscape nation by nation,” Ms. Lim found.
Along with two other New York Times reporters, the Lima-based Mitra Taj and Emma Bubola in Rome, I spoke to journalists on five continents who participated in the report. Their attitudes ranged from alarm at overt Chinese government pressure to confidence that they could handle what amounted to one more interest group in a messy and complex media landscape.
我与另外两位《纽约时报》记者——利马的米特拉·泰姬(Mitra Taj)和罗马的艾玛·布博拉(Emma Bubola)——一起向参与该报告的五大洲的记者进行了采访。他们的态度不一，有的警惕中国政府的公开压力，有的则对在纷繁复杂的媒体环境下应对又一个新的利益集团充满信心。
In Peru, where the government is friendly to China and powerful political figures got early access to a Chinese-made vaccine, “what really stands out is such a frequent presence in state media,” said Zuliana Lainez, the secretary general of the National Association of Journalists of Peru. She said that the Peruvian state news agency and the state-controlled newspaper El Peruano are “like stenographers of the Chinese embassy.”
在秘鲁，政府对中国很友好，有权势的政治人士很早就获得了中国制造的疫苗。“真正引人注目的是它在国家媒体中如此频繁的出现，”秘鲁全国记者协会(National Association of Journalists of Peru)秘书长苏利安娜·莱内斯(Zuliana Lainez)说，她说，秘鲁国家通讯社和国有报纸《秘鲁人报》(El Peruano)“就像中国大使馆的速记员”。
Meanwhile, she said, China’s embassy has paid to modernize some newsrooms’ technology.
“Those kinds of things need to be looked at with worry,” she said. “They’re not free”
Not all the journalists watching China’s growing interest in global media find it so sinister. The deputy director of the Italian news service ANSA, Stefano Polli, said he has seen China increasingly use media to “have greater influence in the new geopolitical balance.” But he defended his service’s contract to translate and distribute Xinhua — criticized in the international journalists report — as an ordinary commercial arrangement.
China has also cracked down on foreign correspondents inside its borders, making international outlets increasingly dependent on official accounts and denying visas to American reporters, including most of the New York Times bureau. Luca Rigoni, a prominent anchor at a TV channel owned by the Italian company Mediaset, said his news organization had no correspondent of its own in the country but a formal contract with Chinese state media for reporting from China. The cooperation dried up, though, after he reported on the theory that the virus had leaked from a Chinese lab.
But Mr. Rigoni, whose company is owned by Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, said he didn’t think China’s mix of media and state power was unique. “It’s not the only country where the main TV and radio programs are controlled by the government or the parliament,” he said.
And the general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, Anthony Bellanger, said in an email that his view of the report is that while “China is a growing force in the information war, it is also vital to resist such pressures exerted by the U.S., Russia and other governments around the world.”
But there’s little question of which government is more committed to this campaign right now. A report last year by Sarah Cook for the Freedom House, an American nonprofit group that advocates political freedom, found that Beijing was spending “hundreds of millions of dollars a year to spread their messages to audiences around the world.”
但是，现在哪个政府更加努力地投身这场运动，这一点没有什么疑问。去年，萨拉·库克(Sarah Cook)为倡导政治自由的美国非营利组织“自由之家”(Freedom House)撰写的报告发现，北京“每年花费数亿美元向世界各地的受众传播他们的信息”。
The United States may have pioneered the tools of covert and overt influence during the Cold War, but the government’s official channels have withered. The swaggering C.I.A. influence operations of the early Cold War, in which the agency secretly funded influential journals like Encounter, gave way to American outlets like Voice of America and Radio Liberty, which sought to extend American influence by broadcasting uncensored local news into authoritarian countries. After the Cold War, those turned into softer tools of American power.
美国可能在冷战期间率先使用了隐蔽和公开的影响力工具，但政府的官方渠道如今已经萎缩。冷战初期，CIA曾大举发动影响力行动，秘密资助《邂逅》(Encounter)等有影响力的杂志，后来这样的行动让位于美国之音(Voice of America)和自由电台(Radio Liberty)等美国媒体，它们试图向威权国家传播未经审查的当地新闻，从而扩大美国的影响力。冷战结束后，这些都变成了美国实力的软性手段。
But more recently, President Donald J. Trump sought to turn those outlets into blunter propaganda tools, and Democrats and their own journalists resisted. That lack of an American domestic consensus on how to use its own media outlets has left the American government unable to project much of anything. Instead, the cultural power represented by companies like Netflix and Disney — vastly more powerful and better funded than any government effort — has been doing the work.
但最近几年，唐纳德·J·特朗普(Donald J. Trump)总统试图把这些媒体变成更直白的宣传工具，民主党人和他们自己的记者对此表示抵制。美国国内对于如何使用自己的媒体渠道缺乏共识，这使得美国政府无法进行任何宣传。相反，Netflix和迪士尼(Disney)等公司所代表的文化力量一直在发挥作用——它们比任何政府努力都强大得多，资金也更充足。
And journalists around the world expressed skepticism of the effectiveness of often ham-handed Chinese government propaganda, a skepticism I certainly shared when I recycled a week’s worth of unread editions of China Daily sent to my home last week. The kind of propaganda that can work inside China, without any real journalistic answer, is largely failing to compete in the intense open market for people’s attention.
“China is trying to push its content in Kenyan media, but it’s not yet that influential,” said Eric Oduor, the secretary general of the Kenya Union of Journalists.
“中国正试图在肯尼亚媒体上推广自己的内容，但它还没有那么大的影响力，”肯尼亚记者联盟(Kenya Union of Journalists)秘书长埃里克·奥杜尔(Eric Oduor)说，
Others argue that what journalists dismiss as amateurish or obvious propaganda still has an impact. Erin Baggott Carter, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Southern California, said her research has found that American news organizations whose journalists accepted official trips to China subsequently “made a pivot from covering military competition to covering economic cooperation.”
其他人则认为，那些被记者们视为业余或明显是宣传手段的东西仍然具有影响力。南加州大学(University of Southern California)政治学助理教授艾琳·巴戈特·卡特(Erin Baggott Carter)说，她的研究发现，那些有记者受邀正式访问中国的美国新闻机构，后来“从报道军事竞争转向了报道经济合作”。
In talking to journalists around the world last week about Chinese influence, I was also struck by what they didn’t talk about: the United States. Here, when we write and talk about Chinese influence, it’s often in the context of an imagined titanic global struggle between two great nations and two systems of government. But from Indonesia to Peru to Kenya, journalists described something much more one-sided: a determined Chinese effort to build influence and tell China’s story.
“Americans are quite insular and always think everything is about the U.S.,” Ms. Lim said. “Americans and the Western world are often not looking at what is happening in other languages outside English, and tend to believe that these Western-centric values apply everywhere.”