EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Beijing vs The BBC
DATE: 3pm, 11 April 2021
SPEAKERS: Dr Jacob Wallis, Laura Harth, Gray Sergeant
EVENT MODERATOR: Gray Sergeant
Gray Sergeant 00:01
Well, good morning, everybody. And good afternoon, maybe even Good evening. To those of you that are joining us further afield. My name is Gray Sergeant, I’m the Asia Study Center Research fellow here at the Henry Jackson society. And I’m very excited to be putting on this event today on Beijing versus the BBC. That is the British Broadcasting Corporation, which many of us here in the UK are very fond of. But we’ve gone further afield to Italy and to Australia to get some expert opinion on the subject. The idea first came came to me when we had the news that Jonathan Sudworth, a BBC journalist based in China for many years, who had done some groundbreaking stuff exposing human rights abuses, and shinjang announced that he was leaving to live in Taiwan, because of threats and intimidation. And before this, we heard the news that China had banned the BBC World News from broadcast and inside the country, supposedly in direct retaliation for Ofcom, the British regulators decision on cgtn, which I think we’re discussing in greater detail later. But the problem for the BBC isn’t really just one of the restrictions and an intimidation but thanks to a report by ASPI, which is author, co author and he’s got here today, we’re going to discuss in great in great detail shows it’s actually a real concerted campaign of disinformation against the BBC undermining its claims to impartiality. And, and we often see Chinese diplomats and CCP news outlets, claiming that the BBC has a bias. And I was speaking to their both our speakers before the event today about the claim of bias. And one of the things that the the ASPI report makes that makes great, shows that China makes great traction out of is the idea that, you know, Western commentators here in Britain claiming bias from, you know, the BBC being to left wing or right wing and how they, how they use that to to attack the integrity of the BBC, and, and kind of aid its message that BBC is anti China. So, there’s a lot of issues there to discuss. And I’m very pleased that we have Dr. Jacob Wallis from ASPI, where as I said, co authored this report on the Chinese Communist Party’s actions against the BBC. As the he also delves into much broader issues related to to cyber security and disinformation campaigns. We’re also joined by Laura Harth from safeguard defenders, and she is a human rights expert with a focus on on China and rule of law. And safeguard defenders have been one of the key forces behind holding cgtn feet to the fire and getting Western governments free and open societies to take more seriously the threat posed by Chinese state broadcasters, and in particular, the broadcasting of false confessions, which in many respects violates the standards expected of news outlets in in free and open societies. So I’ve asked the speakers to open up with some remarks or 10-15 minutes. I know that Dr. Wallis will cover more of the broader disinformation stuff before going on to talk more specifically about the BBC and Laura will address the West response to Chinese state broadcasters. And if you have any questions, there is a q&a box below. So I appreciate if you could start putting in the questions and me and the comms team here at Henry Jackson society will start to filter them out and and after our main speakers have given their opening remarks, we will invite you to ask your questions. So without further ado, if I could ask Dr. Jake Wallis to kick us off.
Dr Jacob Wallis 04:23
Good morning, good afternoon. Good evening, everyone, depending on where you are in the world. It’s a gloomy, dark and dingy Canberra evening here in Australia. But I’m delighted to be able to join the discussion with you today. I’m going to Ailee the program of work at ospi that focuses in on information operations and disinformation campaigns by significant state and non state actors. So I’m going to open up by by framing what we saw in our research around coordinated response across various assets of the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda system designed to discredit the BBC, I’m going to put that effort within a broader context that we’ve seen emerge over the last 18 months that I think is significant in relation to this discussion. So let me outline a trajectory that we see in our work at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, in terms of the Chinese Communist Party’s risk calculus when it comes to disinformation campaigns. Through 2019, we noticed really significant spikes in the creation of social media accounts by Chinese diplomats, embassies and state media. Now, what we saw emerging from these accounts was, in many ways, some very rudimentary efforts, digital diplomacy, lots of soft power efforts, based around Belton road and other infrastructure projects. But amongst that flurry of activity, other more assertive, more abrasive voices emerged. The wolf warriors, perhaps most prolific was jolly Jan, who was down at the consulate in Pakistan. But no, I promoted, in part due to his his willingness to adapt to the colloquial nature of Western social media environments. So he became, he’s become increasingly adept at exploiting the affordances that Western US based social media platforms offer. And he’s now back at Beijing as one of the key MFA Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokespeople. So what we’ve identified in our research over the past 18 months, is the extent to which political crisis shifts Beijing’s risk calculus in terms of its willingness to deploy information operations, and disinformation campaigns. Because we discovered that running in parallel to China’s emergent digital diplomacy, where at scale information operations, exploiting the reach of us social media platforms into international audiences, to to denigrate the Hong Kong post protest movement as cockroaches to discredit dissidents, to discredit domestic political protests in China, such as plla veterans who were prostat protesting against the meager protests, sort of pension income that they were receiving efforts to discredit Taiwanese president signed when through the the Taiwanese presidential campaign of January, January, February 2020. And, interestingly, a really significant focus on thorns in the side of the CCP late, like exiled billionaire, Guo Wengui, based in New York friends with Steve Bannon and actively kind of on the fringe of the right wing of the Republican Party in the US. Now the content farms that were disseminating these, at scale propaganda efforts have also been attempting to drive the perception of moral equivalence between the US government’s handling of domestic protests, for example, around the Black Lives Matter movement, and the protests that emerged following the death of George Floyd. And a really significant thrust here was to drive the perception of moral equivalence in terms of the US government’s response to domestic protest and the suppression of protests in Hong Kong. Now another really sensitive issue for the Chinese Communist Party is international criticism of its repressive regime in shinjang. In early February, the BBC released an investigation into allegations of systematic sexual assault in the internment camps in Beijing. This was followed two days later as gray mentioned with off comms decision to withdraw the UK broadcast license of China global television network CGTN. And this produced a coordinated response from Beijing, which leveraged all of the assets of China’s state media. China’s diplomatic and embassy reach into social media environments, as well as other assets linked to the Chinese Communist Party proach Pro CCP and increasingly exploited by the CCP, on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, all platforms unavailable to citizen citizens in mainland China. And the broad thrust of this effort was to discredit the BBC is reporting. So accusations of bias ripple rippled across the social media accounts of Chinese diplomats, embassies and state media, as well as across pro CCP influencers. satirical videos marking the BBC emerged from Chinese social media platforms, and were shared across western social media environments. Pro CCP Western influencers based in China chimed in to accuse the BBC of persistent bias and even of being manipulated by British and American intelligence agencies. Now the wrench that Chinese officials and state media have and to Western social media environments allows the CCP to reach directly into international political discourse in an attempt to suppress criticism and the CCP is increasingly demonstrating that it will do so by cost raising by targeting individual states, individual corporations, even individual researchers, mobilizing mass consumer boycotts, and online harassment to discredit critics and opponents. In this part of the world, Australia knows this experience well, China, our largest trading partner, has imposed tariffs on our exports into the lucrative Chinese market, because the Australian Government suggested that it might be a good idea, if we had an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19. The Chinese consular has issued a list of 14 grievances through the Australian media, essentially demanding that the Australian government and civil society sees all criticism of the CCP as domestic and foreign policy. And it’s perhaps a badge, a badge of honor, that as we came in number 10, on the list of 14 grievances, speech research, we’ve because we happen to do a lot of work on one Xinjiang and on supply chains related to Xinjiang and forced labor. Now, there’s an arc of countries from the Philippines, dying through Southeast Asia across into India. These are rapidly emerging economies, but they’re fragile democracies, many with the historical shadow of an authoritarian pass. Beijing knows that they are watching and is setting his standard for compliance. I’ll leave it there.
Gray Sergeant 13:51
Thank you, Jacob, an interesting overview that puts put it puts the threats in the BBC in some, some broader context. And I’ve got a couple of questions that I’ll follow up with perhaps before we kick off the q&a about exactly the effectiveness of this work and and who the target is. But first, perhaps, if we hand over to Laura, who I think would deal with some of the complexities revolving around our reaction to Chinese state media, and I think there’s a I think there’s probably a fairly legitimate argument that would want that people would want to make that we are more open and inclusive than China. Therefore, we will tolerate more than China. But obviously, that there is a there is a limit to this tolerance, and there’s only so much so far that we can we can go in order to accommodate Chinese media and some of their worst practices. So, Laura, if you could please discuss that tension. That’d be great.
Laura Harth 14:52
Thank you very much Gray and thank you for this. I take very timely and fundamental initiatives because when we talk about information in free and open societies, I believe it is one of the most fundamental tenets for any democracy for any open society. At times, I would even say it’s supersedes in a democracy, the right to vote in the sense that between the time we go to vote every four or five years or whenever it happens, depending on what state you live in, it is that constant debate, opinion making, and the information that feeds into that that actually makes us democracies. And that makes it possible to weigh and decide on what is happening in any country between elections. So I think it is one of the most important issues we need to discuss. And I fear, depending I’ve seen it in English speaking countries Australia has caught up over the past years. In the US, even in the UK, there has been a debate on this going on for a while. But when we look at, for example, European Union, and while the member state I’m living in in Italy, this debate is not being had so far. But we’ve seen a massive intrusion actually into not only our social media environment, which is important, but I think the other part which is intrusion in the traditional media sector, which goes much more unnoticed, because we’re not seeing trolls so much there. Yeah, I’m not even talking only about the Chinese state media to which I will come CGTN or other English outlets, but really the way they have secret memorandums of understandings agreements with traditional media within the countries, which are undisclosed. So a viewer will not know what they’re looking at. They don’t know they’re being fed, straight, you know, Chinese propaganda. And so I think that’s very worrying. And that needs urgent debate. I like Jake, talked about the the use of moral equivalence, actually, when we talk about this conundrum now of media, I think, for years we’ve struggled with, and it’s something that we often still encounter the criticism like, how can you try to limit Chinese media as participation in democratic societies? How can you try and limit participation on social media channels, you can use the example of reciprocity, but still you say, you know, we’re not a dictatorship, they are so in free and open societies, we should not be engaging in this kind of activities. And I think we need to start from reminding everybody and also ourselves, sometimes that wild freedom of speech and freedom of press, press to whom we’ve given additional guarantees, so they can really cover that role in a democratic society. So it’s not only that they have additional guarantees, and it’s a free for all, they can just do whatever they need, they are serving that right to know of the audience. So they need to stick to some principles, for example, pluralism, in debates, especially in political debates, respecting human dignity. I don’t think if CNN tomorrow would go to, you know, Guantanamo, and start shooting live videos of false confessions of those prisoners. I don’t think that would go down very well, in the US. I mean, at least I would, I would hope. So. There’s requirements for fact checking. And of course, we all know, as you already said, for example, the BBC, all our traditional media, right are under scrutiny and everybody, whatever side you’re leaning on politically, you always criticize the BBC or whatever outlet, we’re never happy. We never think they’re pluralistic enough, you always have the feeling that there’s a bias. But there are standards, there are rules. And there are obviously regulators that can receive complaints, and that can judge on this through. And also this needs to be stressed through due process. We are living under the rule of law through a substantive investigation. It’s not enough to send me complaints. And like, well, like in China, they’ll just act on it, then the next day, you’re banned. There is a new process. We’re living under the rule of law. And so I think this entire question that we’re we’re seeing is really a classic clash. And again, I want to stress in one of the most important sectors for our societies, between systems under the rule of law. And since this Chinese system is ECP system of the rule by law where, well, by law, the CCP, obviously is above that law, and so are its state media or its party controlled media. So I think that’s a bit the, the framework in which I want to discuss this question, also, to avoid the narrow discussion of reciprocity. I think this goes way beyond the question of reciprocity. I think we have a huge issue of reciprocity when we look at journalistic access, and I think we need to act on that as well. It’s not acceptable that Chinese journalists can come here and do their job. I mean, for me, that’s fine, but it’s not acceptable if the same cannot be done on the other side. So I think towards journalists, we definitely need more attention. But I think when it comes to outlets, for example, also the BBC, and let’s be very clear, the BBC was never broadcasting all over China, it was limited to some, you know, high up high end hotel rooms, and would occasionally blackout even if you were, if they were touching a sensitive topic, which, which are many. So there was never reciprocity. And I think we should also go beyond talking about that, especially when we talk about due diligence for our companies. So for me, for example, as an activist, it’s not enough to say, Oh, you know, from tomorrow on, you can do whatever you want in China as a company, because I think from the west, from democracies, we also have to hold those companies to account. And again, it shouldn’t be a free for all. But so coming to the big difference between the BBC and CGTN, and I already touched upon that issue of due process investigations, a rule of law system. Whereas for the BBC, obviously, none of this happened as as the same case for journalists obviously being asked it in one way or another, from China recently. So we know that CGTN is one of those, I would say, not too effective. But one of those secret weapons, Xi Jinping has talked quite extensively about the three secret weapons, the CCP has to influence, opinion, worldwide to expand to to export them in some way. It system, it’s big system of government, superior system of governments as they as they talk about. So CGTN definitely plays a role, I would argue it’s not too effective, because it’s, it’s honestly, I’ve been watching too much of it lately, obviously, because of the job. But I don’t think it works very well in convincing anyone but we also know I think that, for example, on Chinese diaspora, communities abroad, and then especially for CCTV for so the Chinese speaking channel, they do actually have an impact. And I think we need to look at that. So obviously, anyone watching CGTN, it’s the opposite of freedom of speech. It’s the opposite of pluralism. It’s the opposite of human dignity. Obviously, we’ve been campaigning a lot on its broadcasting and not just broadcasting of its active participation in the production of forced confessions of prisoners very often before trial. So these are people that have not been convicted, they’ve not been to trial, often, they haven’t even consulted with a lawyer, they were not informed that these confessions were going to be broadcasted worldwide. Often, most more often than not subjected to physical and mental torture, threats to family, or loved ones. So again, everything that goes against all the prints, I mean, it’s the exact opposite of freedom of speech. It’s the exact opposite of respect for human dignity. What is our issue? Obviously, this is not okay, that taking place in China, but the fact that this has been broadcasted and continues to be broadcasted within our societies without any checks and balances, is obviously unacceptable. And I think what we’ve been seeing is this kind of Chinese exception, this extraterritorial, we can say application of its rules of its rule by law in which they are above the law also in the West. And so this is what safeguard defenders has been campaigning against, not for a ban on CGTN. Like that, but to say you want to operate here you need to abide by the same rules and standards that everybody else has to. And so after a long investigations Ofcom agreed on this the UK regulator, they convicted cgtn for a number of violations. Most of them directly linked to false confessions. All the documentation very in depth is available on Ofcoms website. There always was the writer apply also for GCTN. Again, this has to be stressed because it’s a biggest difference with the BBC case. Because of biased reporting, so not respecting pluralism, those insults that Jake was talking about, as well, regarding five broadcasts on Hong Kong, and finally, and this is particular under the UK law framework, because the editorial control is completely enhanced of the Chinese Communist Party, which in the UK is not permitted. But which for example, is not a problem in France, where CGTN currently holds its its license. So we’ve been continuing on this, we’ve been filing more complaints, because notwithstanding the fact that right after they transferred, let’s say the license to France, and I feel a bit sorry, actually for the regulator in France, because they’ve been very responsive, but this kind of kind of got dumped on their head. And so they have to deal with it. But they want cgtn right away that, you know, these are the rules. This is a legal framework in France, and so you will have to abide by them. Notwithstanding that. We already had to file two complaints, we could have probably if we had to time file 100 a month, because they are clearly not respecting. So we have cases of defamation, we had a case of a false statement of income and compassion before statements by a miner, a 10 year old girl to denounce her parents, Uyghurs, obviously, so she’s been forcibly separated from parents. And now she also had to, you know, talk against them. And so these two complaints are pending in France, we’ve been sending out open letters by victims of false confessions, also to all providers in Europe, but also in Canada, in the US, in Australia, SPS, after receiving such a complaint within 24 hours, they took it off. Because we also think there’s due diligence, that corporate social responsibility, this is not just regulators job. This is also a provider’s job to make sure many of them we found out have signed on to the UN Global Compact, which states in very first two principles that, you know, you should promote human rights, and you should not be complicit to human rights abuses. But continuing to add a provider that openly violates these rules, and really with with very grave violations of human rights, obviously, according to us does not correspond to such principles. So I think that’s on one hand a bit what we’ve been doing, I think, overall, in the West, end, specifically in Europe, we really need an urgent coming to terms with this, we need to study this morning that looking into the traditional media sector. And I’m very worried when I look at the infamous already, even if it’s it doesn’t even have it’s not even six months old European investment agreement, comprehensive agreement or investment with China, which I invite everybody to read, just look in the annex for the parts relating to media. It speaks very clearly China is disagreement was supposed to bring more reciprocity, right between the two markets. So China on everything that is information sharing information gathering, also polling studies, research is just closed down completely while Europe. I mean, I think there’s one small reservation from France regarding the number of you know, French to have to speak inside and shows whether the French speaking channel but everything else is just open. And I think this is a massive problem. And I wish to recall, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs is above so just a couple of weeks ago, plainly stated, well, we’re not capable, we have Russia to deal with, but versus even China, we’re not capable of dealing with the disinformation campaigns from China. But then on the other hand, you know, you have this kind of agreement that you’re just saying, China is a free for all just come in. And so I think we have a lot of work to do. And I hope we can join forces and all of this in the near future. Thanks.
Gray Sergeant 28:07
Thank you, Laura. for that. I see, we’ve already got some questions in the q&a box. But if, if anyone else in the audience would like to ask a couple of questions, we will start selecting them now. In the meantime, I think I just go back to Jacob see if there’s anything that you’d like to respond to, from Laura, but also my question was rolling around, who are the primary target audience for this sort of disinformation? Is it the public is that you know, elite level? Is it really Western societies that are targeted? Or is it as you said, these developing young democracies or minor Chinese media has been pretty, pretty active in places like Africa as well, and trying to win hearts and minds there? So, you know, who’s, who’s this really targeted to that?
Dr Jacob Wallis 28:56
Well, I’d say all of the above Gray, it’s, it depends on the specific campaign and what we see different assets within the Chinese state targeting particular audiences. So in some of the really large scale, disinformation campaigns, we’ve seen their linguistic data, which suggests that it’s the Chinese diaspora who’s being targeted. But I think on an issue like shinjang, the Chinese Communist Party is acutely aware of the international focus on that issue, and is increasingly working to shape international public opinion. So it is willing to really contest narratives around this issue of moral equivalence that Laura picked up on is, is really significant. I think because the Chinese Communist Party wants To present its system of governance as a potential model for others, a model that can compete with Western liberal democracy. And so on an issue like shinjang, the idea of moral equivalence is, is particularly important. So, in these kinds of debates, we’ve noticed that CCP, MFA officials will push issues of moral equivalence. We had an inquiry guide, Department of Defense ran an inquiry into alleged war crimes by Australian troops serving in Afghanistan, it was the garrison inquiry, and at a particular low point in the Australia, China bilateral relationship. Around the time at which we out the Australian Government suggested that we might have an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19. Zhao Lijian, the MFA spokesman, distributed an image that emerged from Chinese language, social media, it was an image, it wasn’t a doctored, fake image, it was what I describe as kind of nationalistic art that depicted an Australian soldier slitting the throat of an Afghan child. And this has emerged from from Weibo and have been circulating on Weibo. And Zhao Lijian posted this to Twitter, I did particularly acutely sensitive point in the dynamics between the Australian and Chinese governments. So China knows that it can walk this very confined ways of walking this very fine line of through the content moderation policies of the social media platforms, it can leverage, disinformation campaigns that will target particular audiences, so diaspora communities, but also increasingly finding bridges into Western origin audiences. And I think this switch to the use of Western influencers who are based in China, that is that is one way of developing a bridge that will provide a vehicle into the into those audiences. We’re also seeing Chinese diplomats increasingly, drawing on Western fringe media outlets, like the grey zone, as a vehicle for seeding disinformation, into into Western audiences. So I think that risk calculus is shifting, and the type the targeting shifts as the strategic objectives, shift. But we’ve also noted from the work that we’ve done that looks at the messaging, particularly from Chinese diplomats and state media, that there is targeting focused on specific global regions like Southeast Asia, South America, and Africa, regions that are really important in terms of Chinese state owned enterprises and an investment. So there’s a multiplicity of audiences that are being targeted, targeted, it depends on the issue, and it depends on the Chinese Communist Party’s interests.
Gray Sergeant 33:28
Thank you. Thank you for that, Jacob. And that kind of leads me on to the question I had for Laura, which was about kind of global examples of attacking Chinese media. And you mentioned off comms decision. And I don’t know if the UK here has particularly strong and robust measures. I know, people are frustrated about it being slow. But in the end, it concluded that CGTN was insufficiently separate from the government in Beijing to qualify for the license to broadcast but France that doesn’t seem to be a problem in terms of, say, the West liberal democracies, you know, where are perhaps the weak weak spots? And and also, do you have any sort of idea about cgtn sort of reach beyond into, say, for example, Southeast Asia, and and Is there much that can be done in terms of regulating the content that?
Laura Harth 34:29
I’m not sure I get out of the question. But on the first one, so obviously, the legal frameworks in different countries are all different, although there are some common common traits. While you said like outcomes decision was quite slow, I mean, it might be frustrating. Again, on the other hand, I think it is important because it does show that we have to process we have a rule of law. We have an independent investor. And so I think in the end that is important also for the victims itself in the sense that these are not arbitrary decisions. This is also a recognition of what has happened to them. And so I think that is good. It’s not always easy, but it’s definitely necessary. I think we’re seeing the same in France. So we know that the audiovisual is investigating the matter, obviously, there will need to take time. But again, they have been responsive. And we know that they are doing this, we also know that some other regulators in Europe have already reached out to the CSIS the competent regulator to see what they are doing and what is going on. Again, it’s also a bit to get the classical conundrum, because what we see in Europe is that we’ve created these media directives, eu wide media directives, or even under the Council of Europe, which includes also Russia, Turkey, and the UK, because now we have this tension between UK and France, actually, because cgtn theoretically, is allowed to broadcast in the UK, again, under the French license. So it’s creating a series of of issues, which obviously, all these instruments have been set up to guarantee the widest possible freedom of expression, right. But again, respecting those basic rules, and that is what cgtn is not doing. So what I think and what we will try, and we’ll continue trying is one, as I said, talk to the providers directly point to their responsibilities, but also try and have this discussion at a European level, and it goes way beyond. And I think CGTN is just like the starting point is like the clear example that tells you something is going on here. And we need to intervene. I actually have to say that with regard to I mean, Australia, SBS has been very timely, we’ve also written to Foxtel and fetch TV. I think the only one, I think it’s Foxtel. That did not come back to us yet. But I might be mixing those two up. So we’ve seen some response there. In Canada, the regulator has been extremely slow. So when they gave a license to to the two CGTN, much like what the French regulator, now they clearly want them, they said, Look, you have problematic content in the past, this is not acceptable. If you do so this might be a reason to strip you from your license. But they have just, you know, in broadcasting false confessions, nonetheless, and CRTC has not really been responsive. But we’ve seen on the other hand that within parliament has been active. And so they’re proposing a reform of those rules, which are more in line with what we see in the UK, which make it harder, the same thing in the US and US response has been very slow on this particular topic, I presume we know now through press comm confirmations that they are investigating the complaints we made. But we have no further information. So that makes it difficult. But again, I think the end of your question to which I would not really be able to respond. But which highlights an issue Jake also refer to to African too, because obviously, we have a system where even though it’s frustrating, it’s slow. It takes a lot of time and effort. But it is possible, actually to act and to file complaints. I think in many countries. Also, for example, in in Africa, where we know that the infrastructure basically has been set up by China. We also know that there were some clear prerequisites, should I say I think a lot of Western channels use channels, for example, are not being broadcast because they’re only hosting Chinese channels. So there’s a clear marketing operation, a clear operation to influence global opinion everywhere. And I think our systems are struggling with it. But we can handle it over time, I think others are going to be much more more difficult to tackle. And on that. Just one last note. Because in all this, obviously, I mean, Peter Humphrey is here is one of the victims of false confessions. I think his was the very first complaint made to Ofcom in the UK, and he’s just been been basically shut out from LinkedIn from for exposing, you know, the issues that cgtn poses the propaganda campaigns that it does the grave human rights violations it’s involved in and yet LinkedIn chose, you know, to shut out Peter Humphrey, rather than look into what the issue is with CGTN. And what is and I mean, that goes back to what Jake was saying, you know, they’re walking this fine line, but it’s really a David versus Goliath battle. And while we have no choice but to continue, but I think these kinds of debates are very important, exactly for that reason.
Gray Sergeant 39:52
That’s great. Thank you, Laura. And we might we might be able to get Peter on in a second to share his observations with us. We’ve got a pile of questions in the box. And I’ve noticed only only one of them is just an out and out attack on the BBC, which is good. There’s some nice constructive questions. So perhaps if we could go to no had you, Michael, if you could ask your question, please.
Noel Hadjimichael 40:19
Thank you very much. My question is very much what category of PRC or CCP asset is the most effective, or the most dangerous? And I’m thinking of, for example, journalists versus social media, commentators versus actual politicians. Thank you.
Gray Sergeant 40:41
Thanks. That’s great. I think we’ll take maybe three at a time and then you can pick which ones you’d like to, to address.Are you able to unmute yourself? If not, we can move on. Phil is in is on the screen? And are you able to ask your question? Not to worry, I shall read it out. In which case, the question is, do Sky News Australia or any other Australian media face similar attacks, December attack slash disinformation campaigns by the CCP, I suppose that might even be broadened out to to other public broadcasters around or maybe even sort of independent, international media outlets. And then the last question for Ming Yao, if you could take it from me now.
Ming Yao Yap 41:58
Thank you. My question was, do you think the increasingly incendiary rhetoric from the PRC is will for years which you seen on social media, for example, we ever dealt with recent posts, but slightly confused posts? You know, about China being a land but also a strong land, etc. Has Do you think it has had much effect on English speaking audiences given that oftentimes there is still sort of language barrier, at least from my observations, you know, things like colloquialisms and natural speech, which, as as the panel mentioned, just now may indicate that they’re not really targeting English speaking audiences. Perhaps this is about Chinese diaspora. Yeah, that’s generally the my question. What do you think their aims are? Do you think has had much effect on English speaking audiences? Perhaps those domestically in Europe, the UK, Australia? Thank you?
Gray Sergeant 42:45
That’s great. Good question. We’d like to start off with Jacob, any of them questions you’d like to address?
Dr Jacob Wallis 42:54
Sure, I’ll try and very quickly have a stab each of them. Because I think a lot of it in many ways, there’s questions link up with what Laura was noting at the outset, which is that the work that I do, for example, focuses on online information operations. But that’s just one strand of propaganda activity that is deployed by the Chinese state. There is there there are a whole range of assets that the Chinese state can leverage to ship global opinion. There’s China’s the massive investment under President Xi that the Chinese state has made in state media and targeting audiences across multilingual content, and developing content sharing agreements with media outlets all over the globe. So in our own region, the part of the world that I live in Chinese state media has content sharing agreements with iOS and most of the countries through Southeast Asia, along the Mekong Delta where there are significant Belt and Road initiative and investment projects, infrastructure investment projects. So what I think is most significant, I couldn’t in response to your question no, like, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t say that there’s, there’s one asset that is the most effective, what is effective is the suite of tradecraft in in its entirety. And the fact that the Chinese state can, can deploy disinformation, but align that disinformation with other levers of state power, like economic coercion. So it’s that combination of statecraft that the Chinese state can leverage that makes it a really powerful actor, especially in terms of online information operations in a way that Russia simply can’t, Russia has to be disruptive because it just doesn’t have the range of assets that the Chinese state can can bring to bear. In terms of the targeting of other other media outlets like Sky News in Australia, which Sky News for the audience here who may not be familiar Sky News in Australia is fairly associated with kind of Murdoch, right wing fringe of the Australian Liberal Party, the Conservative Party here can be quite times incendiary. And its rhetoric, depending on, you know, the nature of the commentators that they bring on, on the show. But I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t suggest that we’ve, we’ve seen targeting of Sky News Australia, or our own Australian Broadcasting Corporation in the way that we’ve seen it the BBC. And I think that’s because the BBC has significant international reputation. It has international client, that gives us investigations, real wet in terms of capacity to inform international political discourse, and perhaps ultimately policy implementation. And through a period during which a number of countries are having their own internal debates about the nature of the CCPs, repressive regime and shinjang. around whether or not these policies constitute a genocide. Particular critics will be singled out. And I think in this instance, the combination of the BBCs report into sexual allegations of sexual assault in the camps, the off conversation, that was enough to trigger a really significant response from from the Chinese state, which in fact, does have a long history of animosity with the BBC is reporting. But we, whilst we haven’t seen the targeting of particular broadcast outlets here in Australia, we there are national at this point, there are next to no Australian journalists from significant media outlets based in China at this point. Most have have left or be located in order to oversee safety concerns. And we have one Australian journalist who works for one of the state media, Chinese state media outlets who’s actually under in detention in China at the moment. So I think this, this targeting this cost raising does have a fact. And we were talking about, you know, whether or not online information operations have effect, I think, again, it’s like, the full gamut of these tactics can produce effects, because I think, states corporations will respond to more power, they just will respond to more power. Now there are ways that we can counteract that. And I think the broad thrust, there has to be international cooperation, international partners, partnerships, and a collective consensus on how we respond to really sharp statecraft from the Chinese state. The final point I’m going on, Laura, I’m eating up your airtime. The final problem is around whether English language commentary from wolf warrior diplomats is effective. I think that I wouldn’t say driving employee, you know, if you looked at social media metrics, I wouldn’t suggest that there’s it’s driving influence at scale. But I think it is an assertive positioning that suggests that the Chinese Communist Party system of governance is not up for debate. And it will assert itself as a model of governance that has that can potentially potentially be exported to other parts of the world.
Laura Harth 49:22
Starting off on that last comment on wool for your speech. I have to say from an activist point of view, sometimes it’s rather helpful for us in the sense that you know, it kind of ridiculous is in some way also their their stance, but it’s very clearly they’re very allergic to anything that is that puts into question, the one unique party, so I’m not so sure I often have the impression it’s more directed at their audiences already. Maybe abroad than not, you know, the regular public. But as you rightly said, Does You know, there’s many tools in the box and have for shaping global opinion. Especially under Xi Jinping. Again, I want to stress the issue of the traditional media, where they’re also been massive investments. And I think it’s where we kind of saw this perfect storm coming together because they started these massive investments. And I sometimes have the impression they do know. Whereas the wolf warrior speech and their English tweets, maybe make it seem as they do not understand the language very well, because it doesn’t make sense a lot of the time, or it’s just hilarious. I think someone referenced the wolf, but it’s it’s an angry Wolf, or it’s stronger. Nobody ever understood that really, but but I do have the impression they know really what our weaknesses are. They use it in what we were talking about before in the moral equivalence. But also, I think, after the financial crisis in 2008, we’ve seen a massive disinvestment, also from public funding in a lot of the traditional media. And so this, this went to the heart of, you know, funding journalism, independent journalism, pluralism, and media, we’ve seen massive cuts in that and I think China has been very the Chinese Communist Party has been very effective in you know, kind of coming in at the right moments and signing those quantum sharing agreements, where I think a lot of the time we really don’t know what’s in it, we only see the product. And I think the tone there is very different. I think what we see there is really the tell China story, well, party time, so they’re not aggressive is just, you know, we want you to tell the stories that we want to be out there and so maybe not cover other issues. And for me, this really, I think, as an activist, again, is the most worrying because this is actually shaping public public opinion. One less point regarding the well on finance question. There’s been some attacks on also on CNN. And I think Jake Spano is very right, what we’ve seen is every time that someone does maybe a particularly profound piece on anything that is contentious, be it especially shinjang, but also the COVID-19 episodes. Anyway, any Hong Kong, I think every time there we see that there’s a targeted attack against US media. And I feel the question against the issue with BBC, I have the feeling based also on what we saw with the individual sanctions against lawmakers in Europe, Canada, US UK lawmakers, researchers, is that more than, like they use any pretext like the Ofcom decision was a pretext. The Magnitsky sanctions imposed, were a pretext to silence those outlets are those people that have been very vocal exactly on the issues that they don’t want out there? So they’re actually again, their moral equivalent, they’re trying to use this story of reciprocity against us. And I think we need to be very clear in recognizing that that is not what’s going on is just about silencing anyone who is not telling China’s story well according to them,
Gray Sergeant 53:05
Thank you, you’re very conscious of the time. But we have got a couple of questions. And if we could maybe squeeze them in some quickfire questions if, Peter, if we could go to you?
Peter Humphrey 53:25
Thank you very much. I raised this LinkedIn issue with you. And I know that the whole webinar here has gone wider than then it’s title in some in some senses and the BBC. And I’ve widened it further with the LinkedIn. I just think I’d like to give a small idea, a comment. And that is that I think that anybody who is researching the issues of Chinese interference and the media battles and so forth, should start taking a close look at what’s going on in LinkedIn. My case that I mentioned this morning, is a tip of the iceberg. China has a very broad ranging presence on on LinkedIn. And it has partial control over LinkedIn, because LinkedIn did a deal with China in order to make it service available in China several years ago, which effectively gives China censorship control over the content of LinkedIn within China. And what I’ve seen is that those tentacles of censorship actually stretch outside of China’s borders to tackle some of the content about China that’s appearing globally on LinkedIn. And I’m one of the victims of that. I believe there are many, many very serious professional people on LinkedIn from many professions who follow China with great interest. There are many critical voices out there and I see a lot of attacks on those people, not just on myself. So I really think it’s a subject worthy of research to add to the compendium of research that you’ve been doing on various media battles between China and the outside world.
Gray Sergeant 55:00
Thank you, Peter. And I actually think we’re probably going to have to wrap it up there given the time constraints. But what I say to the couple of people that ask questions that we can email the events team and pass them on to me and I can get in touch with the speakers if you have any particular points that you’d like to raise with them, but I think Peters point is a good one to end on. Because here at HJS we’re, we’re very aware of much of Chinese censorship, but and the way that China tries to influence you know, free and open institutions here in the UK and across the the liberal democratic world, but also Chinese disinformation. And we hope that very much this event is that the first in many that we’re going to do on disinformation. And we thought the BBC was a good topic to start off with, because of its attention in the news, but also often because of the work that and asked me did highlight and a specific attack on the BBC. So if I could just lastly, thank both Dr. Jacob Wallis and Laura Harth for, for being with us and for their insights and contribution to today’s talk. And I very much hope that the audience that you will join us for future events on China, and its disinformation campaigns. Thank you very much.