Propaganda from Beijing allied to Maduro: “humanitarian aid”, support to Telesur and use of its web to “advise” Europe, shed doubts on China’s role and U.S. response to COVID-19.
In general, there was a clear distinction. Russia has been busy overloading social media and related outlets with different theories about any given event in order to create confusion and uncertainty among the public. China has perfected a model of control and censorship. The latter, however, seems to undergo a full transformation in response to the global COVID-19 crisis.
The European Union, for example, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, has set off alarms about the misinformation generated by Russia and China. While these two regimes have not yet acted synchronously, Beijing is also disseminating versions of the poor response from the West to COVID-19. In this way, it questions the policies of various nations and exalts ITS “humanitarian aid” along the way.
On September 8, several Venezuelan media outlets reported the arrival of a seventh shipment of “humanitarian aid” from China. This type of propagandistic ploy, whereby the Chinese regime tries to whitewash its image before the world, has been repeated in diverse countries.
Against the backdrop of COVID-19, with so many signs of the responsibility of Chinese health and political authorities, the aid from the Asian giant has not only been destined for poor Third World countries, but also European nations have ended up receiving supplies and donations “made in China”.
Another sign of the metamorphosis that China is undergoing, in the expansion of its informative influence to disseminate its version of reality in Venezuela and Latin America, has been the incorporation of state news agency Xinhua into a prominent place in the website of Telesur, a regional channel of which the Venezuelan regime is the main owner, even with a sub-domain (https://xinhua.telesurtv.net) something that is quite striking.
The economic crisis crippling Telesur, which was even left without money to pay its staff in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, could be behind a decision like this, along with the incorporation of a weekly program of CCTV-Español, a subscription television channel operated by China Central Television.
In both cases, the media are part of Beijing’s propaganda machine. As mentioned above, China has stood out as an information censoring and controlling regime. The international organization Reporters without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF), headquartered in Paris, has repeatedly requested that the European Union (EU) impose sanctions on Xinhua and CCTV. The commercial weight of Beijing has so far spared it from being penalized for disinformation or censorship.
The EU, conversely, has applied pressure on the major online communication platforms (Google, Facebook, Twitter) so that they act vicariously against the disinformation strategy of Russia and China. Last August, for example, YouTube announced that it had eliminated 2,500 accounts originating in China dedicated to disinformation.
In Beijing, they have learned a strategy that until some time ago was typically Russian. Several of these accounts were dedicated to shedding doubt and uncertainty on the U.S. strategy towards COVID-19.
It is worth reviewing the general background. The lack of freedoms is what has distinguished China since the establishment of the communist regime in 1949. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been dead letter in the Asian giant.
Censorship in China, in a general framework of absent freedoms, has been perfected in the digital age. RSF holds: “By relying on the extensive use of new technology, President Xi Jinping has succeeded in imposing a social model in China based on control of news and information and online surveillance of its citizens”.
In China, over 60 journalists and bloggers are behind bars in deplorable conditions. The regime is ruthless, even in humanitarian situations: in 2017, Liu Xiaobo, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (2010) and the RSF Press Freedom Prize (2004), and blogger Yang Tongyan died of cancer; they did not receive proper medical treatment while in prison.
Sanctions are not just against those who write or broadcast. The search for information by citizens, on issues that the Chinese regime considers sensitive, may entail time in prison, even when a ‘private’ messaging service is used – quotes are intentional, as there is no privacy. The Big Brother, the Communist Party-led State, watches everything and the citizens know it.
China’s digital sophistication is significant. If the words “Xinhua + disinformation” are entered on a search engine, as I did at the time of writing this piece, the top dozen results are Chinese news accusing Western countries or companies of disinformation.
Regarding the global spread of the coronavirus, RSF exposes this double face of the regime: The day China officially alerted the World Health Organization (WHO) to the existence of pneumonia of unknown origin, it simultaneously forced platform WeChat to delete a large number of keywords that alluded to the then epidemic. When it comes to trusting fellow Chinese with information, the regime does not seem to believe that blood is thicker than water.
In a specific report by RSF released in April, this organization concludes as follows: “without the control and censorship imposed by the authorities, the Chinese media would have informed the public much earlier of the severity of the coronavirus epidemic, sparing thousands of lives and perhaps avoiding the current pandemic”.
The supposed Chinese “protection” of citizens’ health, but in a context within which they are misinformed and unable to know for sure the scope of the problem, does not make a regime that denies basic freedoms any better.
The new Chinese dynamic, in response to COVID-19, of activating its own scheme of disinformation and propaganda finds an ally in the regime of Nicolás Maduro and a platform in Telesur, hungry for cash. Venezuela being a beachhead of sorts for Beijing’s Spanish-language strategy towards Latin America is therefore not surprising.