The Global Times is a perfect metaphor for China’s rise and current adventurism
The Global Times appears to have gone on a war footing with its recent slew of jingoistic propaganda in the form of badly worded write-ups ever since the Sino-Indian skirmish at the Galwan valley. From championing the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) rhetoric after the skirmish, which included publishing videos with peeks into PLA military exercises, to issuing subtle threats after the more recent de-escalation of tensions, the Global Times has indeed captured every opportunity to broadcast the CCP’s discourse in an attempt to hijack the ongoing narrative.
Owned by the People’s Daily, a CCP mouthpiece, the Global Times published its first English version in 2009, followed by its launch in the US in 2013, South Africa in 2014 and the EU in 2016. It has amassed a sizeable readership ever since, with both an estimated daily circulation of 2 million people and a website that attracts circa 30 million unique visitors every month. Presently Global Times has an entire vertical on its website dedicated to spreading its propaganda on ‘China-India’ relations in the garb of news and an appeal to ‘expert’ opinions.
Over the last few years, Global Times has used its platform to pontificate on a variety of different subjects relating to CCP’s foreign policy. This has ranged from vilifying Australia as a “paper cat” and an “offshore prison”, denigrating Hong Kong and Taiwan at every opportunity, conducting smear campaigns to lambast internal Chinese dissenters like Ai Weiwei, to threatening war with the US.
More recently, Global Times has not only used its publications but has also employed targeted Facebook and Twitter advertisements, both of which ironically are banned in China, to spread misinformation regarding the treatment meted out to Uighurs in Chinese detention camps and to create conspiracy theories which distance China from the origin of the Covid-19 virus.
Global Times has not only used its publications but has also employed targeted Facebook and Twitter advertisements, both of which ironically are banned in China, to spread misinformation regarding the treatment meted out to Uighurs in Chinese detention camps and to create conspiracy theories which distance China from the origin of the Covid-19 virus
Although Global Times and its belligerent rhetoric play a critical part in influencing the general narrative for an authoritarian regime, it has indeed exposed the existence of alternative domestic opinions in China, with Chinese career diplomats like Wu Jianmin criticising Global Times’s chief editor Hu Xijin for publishing views which are “extreme and narrow-minded”. Interestingly, Hu Xijin stated in an interview that Global Times reflects what the CCP is thinking, “but can’t come out and say”. This has essentially reiterated a dichotomy between the voice of the Chinese people and CCP’s “inner voice” which is championed by this auxiliary of the People’s Daily.
While the use of propaganda is anything but new for CCP, the growing intensity of rhetoric by Global Times has moved hand in hand with enhanced authoritarianism of CCP under President Xi Jinping. CCP until the recent past, primarily focussed on manipulating the domestic narrative by firstly controlling the domestic flow of information through the ‘Great Firewall’ and secondly injecting its propaganda at regular intervals. Accordingly, this strategy allowed CCP to create knowledge which would support the structures of CCP’s political legitimacy and power, which in turn would recreate more of the same knowledge, essentially forming Michael Foucault’s ‘knowledge-power nexus’ that is critical for any authoritarian regime.
However, with CCP’s rising stakes in the international arena, and its decreasing ability to limit the inflow of information into China which threatens to reduce its ability to control its domestic narrative, there has been an evident expansion in its scope which has now included an ongoing attempt to influence the international narrative. Global Times is essentially at the vanguard of this new adventurism by CCP.
With CCP’s rising stakes in the international arena, and its decreasing ability to limit the inflow of information into China which threatens to reduce its ability to control its domestic narrative, there has been an evident expansion in its scope which has now included an ongoing attempt to influence the international narrative.
Much like Soviet Union throughout the Cold War the CCP is working, chiefly through the Global Times, towards generating an outflow of information and propaganda to the global community that exceeds the inflow of information into China. This ensures that while CCP’s propaganda is positioned to influence the international narrative, information and ideas from external sources are comparatively less capable of doing the same within China.
An extension of this coordinated effort by CCP, described as wolf warrior diplomacy, appears to herald the transition of China’s metaphorical international image from the ‘panda’s’ peaceful rise as a status quoist power to the ‘dragon’s’ aggressive ascent as a revisionist power. This change is worrying against the backdrop of increasingly positive results of Chinese foreign initiatives which have successfully influenced and manipulated public debate, politics and the media and consequently narratives by creating media collaborations in foreign countries like South Africa and Argentina.
More concerningly, a study carried out in 2016 in six African countries underlined that the larger the presence of Chinese media, “the more favourable public opinion towards China has grown across multiple dimensions”. While there is a growing awareness about this ‘propaganda dumping’, its potential to manipulate and influence narratives across countries is a threat and looming reality for democracies across the world.
As part of this rising concern there is now a pushback with several Chinese media firms, including the Global Times, being recently designated as ‘foreign missions’ by the US which increases their regulations and compliances in an effort to control this Cold War-styled export of propaganda. In essence, the Global Times personifies CCP’s twofold approach to establish its cyber sovereignty by not only protecting its internal image but also ensuring an export of its rhetoric, policies and approach to the wider world, parts of which might be particularly susceptible to this propaganda in an environment shaped by the pressures of Covid-19.
As the world reassesses the assumptions that have shaped its perspectives about a rising China, the role of the Global Times should be seen as a metaphor for that rise.
This commentary originally appeared in The Times of India.