Manipulation, fake news, Covid: how China is waging a global war of influence

the essential A report from the Strategic Research Institute of the Military School (Irsem), published this Monday 20 September, deciphers and lists the influence operations carried out by China in the world.

The report published this Monday 19 September in France by the Strategic Research Institute of the Military School (Irsem) on Chinese influence operations will be a milestone. By its magnitude, 646 pages, and by the facts it reveals and of which we had only a presentiment until now.

China was inspired by Russian methods

“Fruit of two years of work, of interviews in twenty countries, Analysis of Chinese sources, combined with scientific work and open source research (OSINT), this report provides a relatively comprehensive overview of Chinese influence in the world. It shows that since 2017 approximately, the Party-State has entered a Machiavellian moment in the sense that it now seems to consider that, as Machiavelli wrote in “The Prince “, It is safer to be feared than to be loved”, explain the two authors of the report, the director of Irsem, Jean-Baptiste Jeangène-Vilmer and his director of the “Intelligence, anticipation and hybrid threats” area. , Paul Charon.

“The main symptom of this Machiavellian moment is the Russianization of Chinese influence operations”, believe the two researchers, stressing that “Beijing is inspired by Moscow in several registers, it remains obviously there are differences between the two, and there is also a certain degree of cooperation. ”

The report shows that China intends to“ win without fighting, by shaping an environment favorable ”to its interests .

Many actors in the operation

The main actors implementing Chinese influence operations are offshoots of the Chinese Communist Party (Propaganda Department, Bureau 610, which has agents around the world, Youth League), the State, of the Army (in particular the cybersoldiers of the base 311) but also of public and private companies. Xi Jinping has also in recent months regained control of the Chinese digital giants.

This vast galaxy at the service of Chinese influence is able to carry out multiple actions around two objectives: “to seduce and subjugate foreign audiences, by making a positive narration of China” and above all “to infiltrate and coerce” via aggressive and coercive diplomacy. We think of the Chinese ambassadors in Western countries, described as “warrior wolves”.

An army of trolls to influence public opinion

In addition to diplomacy, influence operations target Chinese diasporas, the media, the economy, politics to penetrate civil societies, education and in particular universities, culture and think tanks, “Beijing seeking to establish branches of Chinese think tanks abroad, and to use local relays which can themselves be think tanks ”, such as the Fondation Prospective et Innovation (FPI) chaired by Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

The actions carried out by the China and listed in the report are as sophisticated as they are varied, especially when it comes to the manipulation of information. Beijing thus creates “false identities to disseminate Party propaganda in the media, using fake social media accounts, trolls and astrosurfing (to simulate a spontaneous popular movement), using a large number of internet commentators (wrongly labeled army of 50 cents), paid to guide public opinion, ”explains the report. “Since 2019, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube no longer hesitate to identify coordinated campaigns as originating from China. Tens of thousands of fake accounts have been suspended, some long dormant, others bought or stolen, amplifying Chinese propaganda and attacking the United States. ”

New Caledonia targeted

But other countries are targeted such as Taiwan, Singapore, Sweden, Canada or France via New Caledonia where China encourages the separatists. These influence operations reached their climax with the Covid crisis – . To make people believe that the virus originated in the United States and not in China, Beijing mounted a vast operation called Infektion 2.0 and consisting in flooding the internet with counter-narratives and fake news …

Still, this huge manipulation machinery may not be that effective in the long run. ” Yes implies certain tactical successes, it constitutes a strategic failure, China being its best enemy in terms of influence ”, the researchers conclude.

Back to top button