Recently Sam Roggeveen flagged an op-ed by veteran China watcher Paul Monk on the Chinese Communist Party's meddling in Australia's Chinese-language media.
The op-ed is a great read. But Monk presents only one part of a wider story. The Chinese Government, through its propaganda bureau, has been buying up Chinese language media everywhere, not just in Australia, in an effort to influence the roughly 35 million 'overseas Chinese' who are citizens of other countries.
In the US, China's program dates back to the mid-1980s, when a wave of mainland Chinese migration changed the profile of the Chinese-American community. In the 1990s, the Chinese Government came to control either directly or indirectly three of the four major Chinese-language newspapers in the country, and this control has continued. The exception, World Journal, has been accused by the Epoch Times, a pro-Falun Gong paper, of towing the Party line, though World Journal's website is blocked on the mainland.
Writing for the Jamestown Foundation's China Brief in November 2001, Mei Duzhe outlined four main tactics the Chinese Government deployed to influence Chinese-language media in America:
First is the attempt to directly control newspapers, television stations, and radio stations through complete ownership or owning major shares. Second is the government's use of economic ties to influence independent media who have business relations with China. This leverage has had major effects on the contents of broadcasting and publishing, effectively removing all material deemed 'unfavorable' by the Chinese government. Third is the purchasing of broadcast time and advertising space (or more) from existing independent media. Closely related to this is the government's providing free, ready-to-go programming and contents. Fourth is the deployment of government personnel to work in independent media, achieving influence from within their ranks.
2001 is a long time ago, but these tactics have changed little. What has changed is the scope of Beijing's 'media outreach.' A geographic sampling of overseas Chinese media outlets to have been either acquired in full or financially supported by mainland media over the past decade includes the UK's Propeller TV, Thailand's Singsian Daily, Arab Asia Business TV, Italy's Europe Times and France's own Europe Times, content from which is circulated in Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Greece and Portugal.
In other words, Beijing's intrusion into Australian Chinese-language community media is part of a broader strategy.
It may be unfair to look at acquisitions or financial support arrangements and assume Chinese government influence. But the evidence is there. In March, People's Daily ran a long piece on the Chinese media's efforts abroad. Alongside presenting the rationale for purchasing overseas Chinese-language media, the author had this to say:
The core task of going abroad is ... to improve our ability to set the agenda. In setting the agenda at a high level and choosing our angle, we should insert Chinese values into objective reporting to quietly ease the way for the transmission of Chinese values.
Beijing also actively courts overseas Chinese media that it doesn't control. In an effort to make itself the centre of Chinese-language reporting worldwide, the Government inaugurated the Forum on the Global Chinese Language Media in 2001.
Last year the forum invited 450 representatives of Chinese language media from 58 countries. Predictably enough, the main talking point for the event was President Xi Jinping's 'China Dream.' Attendees were also given government-friendly tours of mainland trouble spots, including the restive Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and Tibetan areas of Sichuan and Gansu provinces, which have been the epicentre of Tibetan self-immolations in recent years.
Australia had one of the strongest national contingents at the forum, with 43 media professionals representing a broad swathe of the nation's Chinese language radio, television and print media, including the ABC and the SBS.
Subsequent mainland coverage of the forum quoted Australian representatives' impressions of their state-sponsored tour through Tibetan areas. 'Our Tibetan compatriots were very friendly, Their lives are peaceful. I'll go home and spread news of the real situation (in Tibet),' said Su Zhongchao of Australian Chinese Daily Online News.
Photo by Flickr user whatleydude.