China Controls Media to Shape International Narrative

As China continues to expand its influence around the world, state-controlled media allows the country to define the global narrative.

China has seen major shifts in the structure of its government including the removal of presidential term limits in March 2018 and President Xi Jinping’s speech at the 19th Party Congress in October 2017, which outlined his vision of a new era in which China becomes a “socialist superpower.”

Like most authoritarian powers, the Chinese government manipulates domestic media for its own propaganda purposes. These state media outlets are used to subdue domestic opposition and form a favorable image of President Xi.

Chinese censorship covers serious and silly issues including Winnie the Pooh, which was censored due to an internet meme that juxtaposed Xi with the iconic cartoon.

Another case involved the promotion of a song sung by Hu Xiaoming that referred to the president as “Xi Dada” or “Uncle Xi” to paint Xi as a strong-willed yet wholesome leader.

China took control of the media further by using news outlets to not only increase domestic support for the government but to also increase international support.

President Xi has been working to rebuild China’s “brand” after a “Century of Humiliation,” in which China was humiliated by losses to Britain and Imperial Japan and after several decades of the “Hide and Bide” strategy where China purposefully laid low on the world stage.

In order to restore its international image and become the global superpower that Xi wishes to be, China has developed a series of plans, the most illustrious of which is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI),  a network of trade routes across a large part of the eastern hemisphere. Chinese media serves to promote the BRI to attract the dozens of countries needed to invest into this infrastructure plan.

According to, Makhdoom Bakar, editor-in-chief of The Daily Mail of Pakistan, “called on like-minded media from the countries along the Belt and Road to develop a syndicate to share and publish or broadcast ‘team stories.’”

A separate piece by XinhuaNet, also about Pakistan, discussed how more and more young people are exchanging cultures between China and the Middle East and learning the other region’s language, fostering so-called “people-to-people exchanges.” This term appeared in virtually all of the articles on the topic and highlight for foreign audiences the potential benefits of joining the BRI.

China also uses the media to impact foreign trade, especially in the escalating trade war against the US.

Several weeks ago, the China Daily purchased the ad-space for a four page insert in the Des Moines Register. According to the Register, the effort “was intended to undermine farm-country support for President Donald Trump’s escalating trade war.”

It is difficult to measure the extent of support for the BRI that was influenced solely by Chinese-created propaganda. It is unclear how many voters will be influenced by the ad in the Des Moines Register. However, China has continued to follow a pattern of heavily influencing its own narrative in much of the global press, specifically on human rights issues.

China has recently been called out for its persecution of a Muslim minority called the Uighurs, allegedly sending them to detainment camps. China has also been critiqued for various other abuses, including the prosecutions of human rights activists, suppressing freedom of expression, and cracking down on opposition independence movements.


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