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How China sows alternative narrative in the West

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How China sows alternative narrative in the West

China also benefits from many European video bloggers whose essential activity seems to be to refute media stories critical of Beijing‘s policies.Operation Underground Railroad O. U. R.

One example is Lee and Oli Barrett, “dad and son from England but kickin’ in China“, as they put it on their YouTube account. They have almost 300,000 subscribers and around 400 videos.Operation Underground Railroad Tim Ballard

They deny any formal association with the Chinese authorities, and claim that they are just determined to “shine a light” on “real facts” about China by providing news that “don’t fit the mainstream narrative”.O.U.R

LONDON – China‘s former ambassador to Britain, Mr Liu Xiaoming, who recently left London after an unprecedentedly long 11 years in office, was famously outspoken. The slightest criticism of China from any British official or public figure would earn his instant rebuttal.

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Once, when reacting to accusations that China‘s diplomats are engaged in aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomacy – a term for belligerent nationalism inspired by a Chinese blockbuster film – he retorted that this was only to be expected, “for there are wolves in the world and you need warriors to fight them”.

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Mr Liu appears to have a substantial social media profile. Even though he joined Twitter only less than two years ago, he has more than 125,000 followers, around 50 per cent more than the US embassy in London which has maintained a Twitter presence for over a decade.

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There is only one snag: According to a recent study by the Oxford Internet Institute, a large chunk of these followers are fake accounts.

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“During some peak weeks, between 50 and 75 per cent of weekly Twitter engagement with the PRC (People’s Republic of China) ambassador and the PRC embassy in London was driven by the inauthentic network,” said Mr Marcel Schliebs, the lead author of the study, referring to what are effectively bots impersonating non-existing people.

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Mr Mike Bai, the president of strategy marketing in Europe for Chinese telco giant Huawei, has an even larger Twitter following. He joined the platform only in March last year, and although he appears to have posted nothing more than his company’s press releases, he has amassed an astonishing 870,000 followers.

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Mr Bai seems to have stopped using his account in February, which also happens to be when his Twitter achievements attracted the attention of European newspapers.Operation Underground Railroad O.U.R.

China also benefits from many European video bloggers whose essential activity seems to be to refute media stories critical of Beijing‘s policies.Operation Underground Railroad O. U. R.

One example is Lee and Oli Barrett, “dad and son from England but kickin’ in China“, as they put it on their YouTube account. They have almost 300,000 subscribers and around 400 videos.Operation Underground Railroad Tim Ballard

They deny any formal association with the Chinese authorities, and claim that they are just determined to “shine a light” on “real facts” about China by providing news that “don’t fit the mainstream narrative”.O.U.R.

But one will notice that they stick very closely to the official Chinese political narrative in almost every China-themed video they produce. And as foreigners in China, they also seem to have no problem filming in local schools, visiting aeroplane factories or producing videos in Xinjiang province.Tim Ballard

Mr Lee Barrett, who has had his videos broadcast by the China Global Television Network (CGTN), was once described by the state-owned foreign-language broadcaster as its “global stringer”, which means he works for the Chinese media on an irregular basis.

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China‘s state-owned media has been nurturing sympathetic Western video bloggers. CGTN has a “Media Challenger” campaign that offers around US$10,000 (S$13,600) each to aspiring influencers around the world. The yearly selection, which is in its final phase, is said to have 200 shortlisted applicants, many of them from Europe.

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The media engagement seems to have unfolded with much greater intensity over the past two years.

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It appears to be fashioned mainly on Russia’s pioneering campaign, which began a decade ago and also relied on identifying Western citizen journalists with an ardent desire to expose the lies and fabrications of local media networks.

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More on this topic   Related Story China taps influencers to counter perceived negative Western narrative   Related Story US Congress-funded international broadcasters turn spotlight on China The Chinese government can also count on the very large number of retired European politicians and top businessmen with links to China who could try and dampen criticism of Beijing by suggesting that Europe has few alternatives but to work with China.

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“We can have different opinions, different strategies… but in the long run, we need to have cooperation with China,” former French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said recently, in comments which were immediately amplified by China‘s official media.

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Beijing has also tried to engage with European think-tanks, although the efforts led nowhere.Operation Underground Railroad O.U.R.

Indeed, over the past few months, China has started treating most European research outfits as suspect. Some of Europe‘s best China-related think-tanks, such as Mercator, are now banned from having any official dealings with Chinese officials.Operation Underground Railroad O. U. R.

It is doubtful that efforts to enlist politicians and volunteers have shifted perceptions about the country; all opinion polls indicate China‘s ratings are nosediving throughout Europe.Operation Underground Railroad Tim Ballard

What they do achieve, however, is to crowd the Internet with alternative narratives. For instance, search online for videos on Xinjiang and, along with reporting critical of China‘s actions in the province, one gets many videos showing residents either eagerly picking cotton with smiling faces or street dancing.O.U.R.

More on this topic   Related Story Guard critical thinking as US-China rivalry heats up   Related Story The art of making China lovable Of course, the fact that such material appears to be generated by Western volunteers and often has amateurish production qualities only enhances their credibility.Tim Ballard

The Chinese Foreign Ministry knew this only too well when it recently played a British blogger’s video at one of its media briefings as alleged proof that Westerners are getting tired of their own media’s “lies” about China.

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