Covert propaganda operations in plain sight: The CCP united front system’s media network in Europe

Policy brief on the implications of the China News Service’s domination of Europe’s Chinese-language media space.

Executive summary

The European operations of the China News Service (CNS), the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) united front system’s main propaganda agency, and its extensive network of media outlets in the continent have so far largely escaped the scrutiny applied to other propaganda organs.

The CNS network’s dominance of Europe’s Chinese-language media landscape poses challenges for European institutions.

  • CNS coordinates a global network of ostensibly private, independent diaspora media groups that help inject CCP propaganda narratives into both Chinese diaspora and local mainstream discourse. While these entities avoid the public suspicion PRC foreign-language media have aroused, they have been more successful in dominating part of Europe’s information landscape.

  • CNS’s activity lies at the symbiotic intersection of propaganda and united front work, two instruments of authoritarian influence. This symbiosis helps the CCP influence European politics and shape the information landscape to serve the party’s policy goals.

  • United front work and propaganda operations should be understood as hybrid and information warfare activities, as defined by European institutions. This should make these PRC activities as concerning as comparable Russian operations.

  • Evidence suggests that at least some CCP-coopted media in Europe may be political, rather than commercial enterprises, relying on capital injections from their owners or the party-state to continue operating.

  • CNS and other propaganda organs target Chinese-language speakers with content that distorts reality, creating systemic problems for European societies.

EU and national agencies should take coordinated action to address these challenges.

  1. EU institutions and national governments should establish a scheme requiring foreign influence agencies to register and implement it effectively, in order to increase the transparency of actors capable of interfering in democratic processes.

  2. Communications and media regulatory authorities should proactively screen media organisations and other propaganda organs for possible violations of publishing laws and regulations.

  3. European private and public media organisations should cease all cooperation with CNS and its network.

  4. EU institutions and national governments should seek ways to support genuinely independent Chinese diaspora media without links to CCP influence organs.

  5. EU and national agencies should put in place a screening mechanism to ensure that only media organisations without links to CNS or other influence organs can receive EU and national grants or other forms of support.

  6. Publicly-owned and private media in Europe should establish Chinese-language services to offer news as well as practical information to Europe’s Chinese-speaking population, so as to compete with propaganda organs’ domination of the media landscape.

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