Vloggers Knock Down Western Media Anti-China Propaganda – OpEd


A picture paints a thousand words. Out in YouTube and other social media are hundreds of videos put out by foreign travellers in China who ask for an upvote and to buy them a coffee to subscribe. 

In the first two months of 2024, China recorded 2.95 million inbound and outbound trips by foreigners, an increase of 2.3 times compared with 2023. Should this trend continue, we may see a new phase in the war waged against China by western media supported by its Asian allies.

This new phase pits the Davids of ordinary travellers with modest resources against the mighty Goliaths of western media augmented by the enormous financial resources and cloak and dagger activities of China’s enemies. 

According to a recent Reuters report, two years into his presidential office, Trump authorised the Central Intelligence Agency to launch a clandestine campaign on Chinese social media aimed at turning public opinion in China against its government, according to former U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the highly classified operation.

Three former officials told Reuters that the CIA created a small team of operatives who used bogus internet identities to spread negative narratives about Xi Jinping’s government while leaking disparaging intelligence to overseas news outlets. The effort, which began in 2019, had not been previously reported.

It has been expanded by Biden and Sunak judging by the constant stream of anti China reporting by CNN, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Nikkei Asia, Sydney Morning Herald, some of India’s mainstream media, and other non-western media drawing their news from the western agencies that dominate the international media market.  

This hitherto one sided battle is now more evenly fought out. In the daily contestation in the media, travellers from around the world are covering every part of China – the mega cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and others; second to fifth tier cities; out of the way and allegedly repressed, exploited and unsafe provinces such as Xinjiang, Tibet and other areas with large non-Han and indigenous populations; rural and urban poor and less developed areas, side lanes and alleys.

Armed with audio and photographic equipment, and with an increasing number flying drones to capture the beauty of the countryside as well as probe into forbidden or the ugliest and least developed parts of China, these mainly budget and backpacker travellers provide evidence of a society, government and nation different from that provided by the sedentary highly paid journalists, operating from Washington, London, Tokyo, Taipei, New Delhi, and others ensconced in five star hotels to concoct and spin their anti China news reporting

Unlike their professional counterparts who have to scavenge for anti China stories to justify their job and career advancement, the vloggers have absolute freedom to go anywhere and video and comment on everything that they come across.  

There is no China mission for them to justify. No editorial panel to oversee their work. No concern that they may be at risk for writing a story or report news that may be construed as favourable to China. No claim that they are living up to trumpeted journalistic values of integrity, honesty, fairness, balance, independence and credibility. No need to give priority to any political or commercial interest, except their own.

Many of these vloggers come from developed, more ‘democratic’ countries with pronounced anti China sentiments amongst some of their fellow citizens – US, Canada, UK, Japan, Australia and some EU countries. An increasing number come from Africa, Middle East, South America and elsewhere in Asia and the Pacific. They all, with a few exceptions of Trump’s and now Biden’s paid cyber troopers, marvel at the China they are discovering. 

Fed with an incessant stream of news and stories that go beyond just being simply partisan into the toxic realm of misinformation, manipulation and propaganda by the guardians of the old world order determined to bring China down, these Davids were expecting an authoritarian police state; the absence of freedom of speech, expression, religions; human rights abuse and slave labour; repression of Uyghurs, Muslims and minorities. Some expected zombie-like citizens cowed and silenced by the apparently ubiquitous surveillance cameras training down and snooping into every nook and corner of China. Others relate how they have been fed stereotypes of China as unsafe; the Chinese as inscrutable and anti-foreign; the government as xenophobic and power crazy  

The great majority have gone home with a new and favourable awareness. More than a few are enchanted by their experience and better knowledge of China’s history, culture, economy and food! 

When they post their videos they receive hundreds, sometimes thousands of comments from viewers sharing feedback on what they have viewed or experienced themselves; and very often favourably comparing China’s government and political system with their own country, and stating how they have been deceived and lied to by their home media about China. 

The responses from commentators are totally spontaneous and unscripted. Some commentators provide alternative, less positive and greater concerns of China’s government and society and they often begin an extended debate. But all of this is carried out in a freewheeling and participatory fashion unlike what is available from the mainstream media where the comment page on China politics is disabled or manipulated

In 2021, the BBC, the self proclaimed paragon of “impartial, high-quality and distinctive output” ran a lead story on “The Foreigners in China’s Disinformation Quest”.  The article had several objectives. The first was to demonise British expatriates posting stories counter to that which the BBC was running on Xinjiang, Hong Kong and other anti China fodder; and to play up fears and anxieties about China’s development.  The second was to incite western governments to crack down on YouTube where the British vloggers alleged China state sponsored videos were streaming.

TikTok is being targeted for cancellation. Now that foreign travellers are rediscovering China, if western media and governments have their way, YouTube may become the next victim of their anti China campaign.

Lim Teck Ghee

Lim Teck Ghee PhD is a Malaysian economic historian, policy analyst and public intellectual whose career has straddled academia, civil society organisations and international development agencies. He has a regular column, Another Take, in The Sun, a Malaysian daily; and is author of Challenging the Status Quo in Malaysia.

One thought on “Vloggers Knock Down Western Media Anti-China Propaganda – OpEd

  • April 5, 2024 at 8:52 am

    The clandestine war against China will continue not just by the US but also by all of its allies of whatever political persuasion — Japan, South Korea, Australia, Britain, Canada, whimpering, kowtowing India, whoever else there is — even small fly in the ointment, New Zealand. The stakes are huge for “the West” — its hegemony, it’s “rules based international order.” The “rule” is a simple one, a simple Simon one :@ we tge west make the rules and you Chiba (especially) dance to the beat of our rules. Our way of the highway.” China’s not buying — the boys and girls of the west are irritated. The clandestine war against Chine will go on.
    Professor Lim Teck Ghee is, again, on point and on target.


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