January 25: A Book Talk with Joshua Kurlantzick on “Beijing’s Global Media Offensive: China’s Uneven Campaign to Influence Asia and the World”

January 25: A Book Talk with Joshua Kurlantzick on “Beijing’s Global Media Offensive: China’s Uneven Campaign to Influence Asia and the World”

Wednesday, January 25, 2023 from 2:00PM – 2:45PM (ET)

Online Only

Event Description:

The Global Taiwan Institute (GTI) is pleased to invite you to a conversation with Joshua Kurlantzick on his new book, Beijing’s Global Media Offensive: China’s Uneven Campaign to Influence Asia and the World. For over two decades, global observers have sought to analyze and understand the economic and security dynamics of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) rapid rise as an international power. While these efforts were undoubtedly significant, they have consistently failed to account for the rising role of media and soft power in Beijing’s strategy. As the PRC has emerged as a powerful and dynamic force on the world stage, it has increasingly used media and information and communications technology to advance its interests. Deploying a vast array of domestic and international tools, China has engaged in a concerted effort to push its narratives and influence public opinion on a global scale. In Beijing’s Global Media Offensive, Kurlantzick works to shed light on this increasingly crucial element of Chinese power, tracing the PRC’s growing web of influence and examining its tactics, objectives, and ideology. What tools does China utilize in its campaign to project its influence? What are the primary narratives that it seeks to push, and how successful has it been in doing so? Which countries are targeted by these operations, and how are they responding? This conversation will cover these questions and many more.

This event will be moderated by GTI Executive Director Russell Hsiao.

The event will be broadcast live on our website and YouTube beginning at 2:00 PM. Please RSVP here if you are interested in participating. Questions from registered viewers will be prioritized by the moderator.Please direct questions or concerns to Program Manager Marshall Reid at mreid@globaltaiwan.org.

The Author:

Joshua Kurlantzick is senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). He was previously a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he studied Southeast Asian politics and economics and China’s relations with Southeast Asia, including Chinese investment, aid, and diplomacy. Additionally, he served as a fellow at the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy and a fellow at the Pacific Council on International Policy. He is currently focused on China’s relations with Southeast Asia, and China’s approach to soft and sharp power, including state-backed media and information efforts and other components of soft and sharp power. He is also working on issues related to the rise of global populism, populism in Asia, and the impact of COVID-19 on illiberal populism and political freedom overall.

The Moderator:

Russell Hsiao is the executive director of GTI, senior fellow at The Jamestown Foundation, and adjunct fellow at Pacific Forum. He is a former Penn Kemble fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy and visiting scholar at the University of Tokyo’s Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia. He previously served as a senior research fellow at The Project 2049 Institute and National Security fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Prior to those positions he was the editor of China Brief at The Jamestown Foundation from October 2007 to July 2011 and a special associate in the International Cooperation Department at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. While in law school, he clerked within the Office of the Chairman at the Federal Communications Commission and the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center at the Office of the US Trade Representative. Hsiao received his JD and certificate from the Law and Technology Institute at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law where he served as the editor-in-chief of the Catholic University’s Journal of Law and Technology. He received a BA in international studies from the American University’s School of International Service and the University Honors Program.

Event Summary:

On January 25, 2023, the Global Taiwan Institute (GTI) hosted a discussion with Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia Joshua Kurlantzick on his recent book, Beijing’s Global Media Offensive: China’s Uneven Campaign to Influence Asia and the World. The event was moderated by GTI Executive Director Russell Hsiao. 

Kurlantzick opened the discussion by citing his 2007 book, Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power is Transforming the World, as the inspiration for his newest title. He pointed to major shifts in China’s global role and growing assertiveness, which warranted a new look into its information and media control. Kurlantzick described “discourse power” as a key concept for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP, 中國共產黨) and its information control strategy. From the CCP’s perspective, global narratives about or relating to China are controlled by foreign outlets such as the BBC, Nikkei Asia, and CNN, limiting its ability to speak for itself or push back. 

To counter this, Beijing has expended significant resources in developing its own, state-led narrative at home and abroad. However, Kurlantzick explained that these initiatives to reclaim “discourse power” have only seen moderate success. Beijing has made little progress via China Global Television Network (CGTN, 頻道呼號 ) and China Radio International (CRI, 中國國際廣播電台), but has found greater progress with Xinhua (新華通訊社). For CGTN and CRI, China was unable to provide its reporters with the freedom required for credible, informative publications. For Xinhua, however, successful content-sharing agreements with other outlets abroad have allowed it to share in its host outlet’s pre-established reporting legitimacy. 

Next, Kurtlantzick differentiated between “soft power” and “sharp power” in influence operations. He defined soft power as a transparent and sometimes government-led directive–as with the US-owned Voice of America (VOA)–to promote a country’s ideas and culture, which could potentially appeal to others abroad. He noted that non-governmental related topics, like Hollywood films, attract interest in American affairs. In contrast, sharp power is primarily a government or government related operation that is intentionally opaque and aims to undermine government functions and civil liberties abroad. Kurlantzick offered Australia as an example, as there have been reports of the United Front Work Department (UFWD, 中共中央統一戰線工作部) trying to encourage self-censorship on university campuses. 

Kurlantzick lamented the general recession of the global media industry, stating that by and large, journalists “have lost their jobs at a higher rate than coal miners” between the early to mid-2000s. Amid this recession, he explained,China has become more sophisticated and better at targeting organic divides in society. For instance, in the United States, China could exploit gun control and racial topics to turn Americans against each other and sow greater division. He also flagged the decline in social media moderation (especially on Twitter) as concerning and potentially threatening to democracy. Later, he commended Taiwan for its digital literacy initiatives and called for greater total efforts to develop informed consumers. He cited meddling in other countries’ political campaigns as another concerning development, and advised that foreign intervention protection laws and media purchases should be treated with the same weight and scrutiny as missile purchases. 

Mr. Kurlantzick closed his remarks on a positive note, explaining that China’s own behavior and policies may have stacked the odds against itself in terms of its global reputation and future information command. Kurlantzick identified three weaknesses: China’s loss of positive image with former friends in Central and Eastern Europe over its tacit support of Russia in the Ukraine war; strict COVID-19 policies; and increased pressure on Taiwan. He cited China’s strengths as Xinhua’s expansion, power over Chinese language media, and covert information operations. However, he argued that liberal democracies are becoming more wary of China’s influence abilities and their consequences. Further, he stated there is good reason to believe these nations will take more stringent measures to protect themselves in the future. Kurlantzick concluded his remarks by stating his hope that efforts to increase awareness and take precautions against China’s growing media influence abroad will temper its influence abilities by the 2030s.

This summary was written by GTI Spring 2023 Intern Melynn Oliver.

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