China's Gray Zone Social Media War Comes To America

(MENAFN- Asia Times) China employs various“gray zone” tactics – moderately aggressive actions that are not egregious enough to provoke conventional military retaliation­ – against multiple adversaries.
One such tactic is deployed within the United States: undeclared influence operations through social media.

Chinese government-linked activity has recently become more worrisome. Previously the principal danger was People's Republic of China (PRC) propaganda lulling the US into uncritical acceptance of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) foreign policy agenda. Now, the Chinese government is adding its weight to the forces tearing at America's national fabric from the inside.

Until recently, the main thrust of PRC-sponsored messaging aimed at Americans through social media was to cultivate a positive image of China and its current government and to promote Beijing's point of view on China-related controversies such as Taiwan's political relationship with China, Chinese treatment of Uighurs and Tibetans, and the restriction of civil liberties in Hong Kong.

The content of social media posts was similar to what Chinese diplomats based in the US were saying when they gave public speeches and TV interviews or wrote editorials for newspapers.

This contrasted with the messaging promoted by the Russian government, which generally disparaged the US government and amplified highly divisive US domestic social and political issues, suggesting the Russian goal was to foment political instability in America.

This seemed consistent with the respective Russian and Chinese relationships with the US.
Vladimir Putin wanted to hurt the United States.
He held deep grudges over

  • the loss of Russia's great power status in the 1990s;
  • humiliating US treatment of Russia through the expansion of NATO and disregard for Russian sensibilities as America waged conflicts in Iraq, Libya and Syria;
  • the publication in 2016 of the so-called Panama Papers, which Putin
    was an attempt by the US government to embarrass him; and
  • US sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Putin likely would welcome an American fall into anarchy and economic collapse.

China, on the other hand, needed Americans to continue buying Chinese goods, educating Chinese students and transferring cutting-edge technology to China.
Hence the goal of Chinese strategic messaging was to defeat any threats to business as usual with the United States.

The attempt to foster positive US attitudes toward China has continued.
During the 2022 election campaign in the United States, PRC-linked entities
promulgated messaging
supportive of China-friendly candidates in a few electoral races. TikTok has
short videos to millions of its users that support the PRC propaganda lines about Xinjiang and other controversial political issues.

But now there is an even darker aspect of PRC messaging.

The US director of national intelligence
“growing [PRC] efforts to actively exploit perceived US societal divisions,” through which“the PRC aims to sow doubts about US leadership [and] undermine democracy.”

According to
Clint Watts, general manager of Microsoft's Threat Analysis Center,“More recently, [PRC government] efforts have shifted to exploiting existing partisan divides in the US,” including“the Chinese actually going into US audience spaces, masquerading as Americans and posting inflammatory content around current events or social issues or political issues.”

A report by Microsoft published in April 2024 found efforts by the PRC to“spread conspiratorial narratives on multiple social media platforms.” Accounts that appear to be CCP-affiliated“post about divisive US domestic issues such as global warming, US border policies, drug use, immigration and racial tensions.”

As an example, these posts said the deadly August 2023 wildfires in Maui, Hawaii resulted from the US military testing a“weather weapon .”
Chinese-linked accounts also published speculation that the US government
the derailment of a train in Kentucky in November 2023 and was“hiding something” in the aftermath.


Asia Times

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