China’s ‘fake news’ campaign is costing billions of dollars

Beijing accused of using ‘repression’ to silence critics in a state-organized propaganda push

Welcome to the 20th edition of Between The Lines. This week we look at China’s “fake news” campaign that is costing billions of dollars. Also, we focus on Beijing’s backlash to the European Union’s road rage over Chinese EVs and the Cold War in space. Let’s get started.

China’s ruling Communist Party is spending billions of dollars a year on propaganda, “fake news” and the use of “repression” to silence critics. Last week, the US State Department released a 58-page report on Beijing’s “Orwellian” operation.

The white paper was compiled by the Global Engagement Center, a State Department agency, and it warned about the scope of China’s “information campaign,” as reported by the Associated Press

Unchecked, it could in many parts of the world diminish freedom to express views critical of Beijing.

“We don’t want to see an Orwellian mix of fact and fiction in our world. That will destroy the secure world of rules and rights that the United States and much of the world relies upon,” Jamie Rubin, who heads the center, told AP.

Beijing’s reaction was predictable. Zhang Zhouxiang, a journalist at state-controlled China Daily, parroted the Party line in a commentary on Sunday:  

How shameless is the US government in issuing a report that blames China for ‘foreign information manipulation?’ What made them so confident as to blame a victim of disinformation as ‘spreading disinformation?’

“Maybe it’s rather a convenient tool because the US does not need to check the facts … everyone knows [what] US global engagement means, namely chaos, lies, and misfortune,” Zhang wrote.

Or, you could believe Reporters Without Borders. It stated that “the People’s Republic of China is the world’s largest prison for journalists, and its regime conducts a campaign of repression and the right to information worldwide.”

Chinese electric vehicles roll off for the export market. Photo: File

EU moves to put the handbrake on Chinese EVs 

Beijing is trying to avoid another car crash. This time it involved the European Union after it officially announced an investigation into state-subsidized Chinese electric vehicles flooding into the EU.

Data released by the European Commission showed that Chinese-made EVs “benefit from subsidies to the detriment of EU industry,” according to the Reuters news agency earlier this week. Cue the Commission:

[We have] gathered sufficient evidence that the recent surge in low-priced and subsidized imports of electric vehicles from China into the EU posed an economic threat to the EU’s electrical car industry.

State-run Global Times clicked into overdrive to deny the accusations. “The EU’s anti-subsidy probe lacks sufficient evidence and goes against WTO rules, China’s Ministry of Commerce said,” Global Times, which is owned by the voice piece of the Communist Party, the People’s Daily, reported on Wednesday.

With the economy in a mess, the last thing Beijing needs is for the EU to put the handbrake on Chinese EV exports into Europe’s massive trading bloc.

China’s Tiangong space station. Image: China Manned Space Agency

Celestial Palace gets a makeover in space

China plans to expand the Tiangong, or Celestial Palace, space station and extend its footprint across the final frontier. On Wednesday, a blueprint was unveiled to add three more modules without Beijing revealing a timeline.

It is part of President Xi Jinping’s policy to turn the country into “a major space power” by 2030 amid intense rivalry with the United States. Reuters news agency reported the background behind the headlines:

Tiangong became fully operational [last year and] ‘several countries’ had asked to send astronauts to the station.

“But in a blow to China’s aspirations for space diplomacy, the European Space Agency said this year it did not have the budgetary or ‘political’ green light to participate in Tiangong, shelving a plan for a visit by European astronauts,” Reuters said.

Perceived as a snub to the thin-skinned Mandarins in the Great Hall of the People, Chinese state media fired one or two verbal phasers.

“Giving up cooperation with China in the manned space domain is clearly short-sighted, which reveals that US-led confrontation has led to a new space race,” Global Times stated back in February.

Watch this space.

And finally …

China’s military has released an animation about mystical elves, depicting the journey to reunite two halves of a torn scroll across the Taiwan Strait. It is a “thinly veiled reference to the country’s longstanding goal of “reunification” with the democratic island. By force if necessary. Check it out here on CNN.