The United States is finally getting serious about the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda outlets operating on U.S. soil. Even so, the United States remains a step behind, as the CCP is using social media to try to defeat President Donald Trump.
The first step in countering the Chinese media outlets is to be honest about them.
On June 22, the State Department designated the U.S. operations of China Central Television, China News Service, the People’s Daily, and the Global Times as foreign missions. This announcement follows the Feb. 18 designation of Xinhua News Agency, China Global Television Network, China Radio International, China Daily Distribution Corporation, and Hai Tian Development USA as foreign missions.
These designations provide clarity about China’s state-owned media operating in the United States. They’re not independent media outlets. They’re propaganda outlets seeking to influence opinion on behalf of the CCP. The State Department is showing the CCP that the United States is serious about protecting our country.
What the State Department didn’t say, but is well known to the U.S. government, is that these CCP-owned media also act as spy networks. So, too, do many mainland Chinese business companies operating this country, which are part of the CCP’s “united front.”
While the State Department’s actions are welcome, they don’t touch the new focus of CCP propaganda in the United States: social media.
The CCP’s social media army, sometimes called the “50 Cent Army” (because they are said to be paid 50 cents for each post they make), is very well trained. Hundreds of thousands of operatives follow directions and are grouped into layers. When there’s an important issue—for example, a protest in Hong Kong, or the U.S.–China trade war—they will split into two opposite groups, debate, create controversial topics, make the topics heated, and then gradually guide most of the conversation into the direction the CCP wants.
It’s a well-planned, well-thought-out strategy. The group that speaks for the opposite side has strict guidelines—what they can say in taking the opposing view, and the red lines never to cross. Some lower level groups only repost.
Their work can create big influencers within days. And they can also buy big influencers, give them money, let them keep talking as before, but speak for the CCP at critical times, on critical issues.
The CCP’s social media army interfered with an election in Taiwan. The Tainan mayor—who became the head of one of Taiwan’s two major parties—was elected under the influence of the CCP’s social media army.
Now, this same army has marched into the United States. The CCP has a strategy: It’s easier to beat Trump than to beat America as a country. This is the same strategy the CCP uses to target the leaders of organizations, or the elites of countries, going after these individuals rather than tackling the organizations or countries as whole.
We know TikTok served as a platform to create confusion around Trump’s Tulsa rally. It encouraged people to register for the event but not show up. This was not an act of individuals, but a well organized attack. And that was just a small test.
This social media army can also pretend to talk like Democrats, attack Trump, and, using a large, well-organized team, appear to dominate opinion. The CCP takes advantage of this country’s open system, and the United States doesn’t have enough understanding of its tactics.
Today, the Indian government announced that it has banned 59 apps from China, including TikTok, WeChat, Baidu map, and so on.
In the United States, every action takes a long process. On the one hand, this is how a democratic system works. But on the other hand, the slow pace is also the result of a long peaceful life that makes most Americans unaware of the enemy next to them.
Beijing has passed the national security law custom-made for Hong Kong. Pompeo announced that “as Beijing moves forward with passing the national security law, the United States will today end exports of U.S.-origin defense equipment and will take steps toward imposing the same restrictions on U.S. defense and dual-use technologies to Hong Kong as it does for China.”
Hong Kong has acted as a white glove for Beijing to access the Western financial markets and sensitive technology, including military and space technology. One might wonder why Beijing doesn’t mind losing this glove and how Beijing can now get these highly desirable technologies. Beijing is one step ahead again: it has set up many intermediary landing places in other free-port countries that function like Hong Kong’s white glove, to ship sensitive technology to China.
The CCP may seem to be clever, but as the popular Chinese saying goes, “Heaven is eliminating the CCP.” Though the CCP continues its insidious tactics, it now faces crises from every direction. No matter how sly, stealthy, and ruthless the CCP is, the wind is now against it.