Analysis: China’s propaganda machine is intensifying its ‘people’s war’ to catch American spies

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It was a Chinese military newspaper rally on social media over the weekend, as Beijing urged public vigil against US spying following the launch of the CIA. Mission Center Dedicated to China.

Beijing’s propaganda apparatus is now intensifying a year-long campaign after CIA Director William Burns announced on October 7 that the China Mission Center would combat “the most important geopolitical threat facing us in the 21st century”.

a Video CCTV by the Chinese state broadcaster claimed – without citing sources – that the CIA was recruiting Chinese-speaking agents who not only understand Mandarin, but also a variety of languages, including Cantonese, Shanghainese, Hakka and Hokkien.
The clip, published on Saturday, was widely circulated on social media by media outlets in the state and immediately went viral. On Weibo, China’s heavily censored version of Twitter, a Related hashtags became the top trending topic on Saturday, and has since garnered over 280 million views.
Nationalists gathered at the US Embassy in China official weibo account, Relieve ridicule comments Describing their proficiency in Chinese dialects and soliciting recruits.
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“What should we do when the CIA is openly recruiting Chinese-speaking agents?” asked Junzhengping, a Weibo account run by the People’s Liberation Army Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese military.

It said in one, “Foreign adversaries are working very hard, and (we) must never lose our guard over national security work.” Post On Sunday, it accused the US intelligence service of taking “horrendous and unbearable measures” up its sleeve.

“But no clever fox can defeat a good hunter. To protect national security, we can only rely on people, rely on people.”


Last week, the Chinese foreign ministry criticized the CIA’s move, which it called “a typical symptom of a Cold War mentality”.

“(d) the relevant US agency must view China’s development and Sino-US relations in an objective and rational light, and do things detrimental to the mutual trust and cooperation between China and the US and China’s sovereignty, security and development interests.” must stop,” ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said At a press conference on 8 October.

The week-long dissemination of news – and the misinformation surrounding it – has seen Beijing reiterating its familiar narrative that China’s national security is dire, there is a constant threat from the United States, and US spies are a major threat. The life of ordinary Chinese people is more than they can imagine.

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Under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government has launched a flurry of campaigns in recent years to remind the public of the perceived threat – and encourage them to act.

In 2015, China established a national hotline for citizens to report on suspected spies or espionage activities. On 15 April 2016, it marked its first annual National Safety Education Day with an avalanche of publicity, including a comic style poster Warnings to young female civil servants about dating handsome foreigners were widely displayed across Beijing – lest they fall for a potential James Bond.

In 2017, the Beijing municipal government began offering a reward of up to half a million yuan ($78,000) to anyone who helped expose a spy.

And for the country’s second National Security Education Day, an online publishing house released books for school children to learn how to defend national security, including games like “Find the Spy.” The Global Times, a state-run nationalist newspaper, said The books were part of an effort to mobilize students from elementary schools to colleges into “a massive counter-spy force”.

Around the same time, an unofficial notice circulated widely on social media, listing eight obvious “signs” of potential spies – along with foreign correspondents, missionaries and NGO employees identified as potential suspects.

But the espionage campaigns have not stopped only to suspect foreigners living in China. They have also been used to target government critics, social activists, lawyers, journalists, feminists and other outspoken members of the Chinese public.

As Xi shrugged off nationalism and took sweeping action on “Western values” such as democracy, freedom of the press and judicial independence, liberal-leaning voices – which had once spread on Chinese social media after the country’s economic opening – mostly have been silenced by radical ultra-nationalists.

On social media, liberal commentators are often accused by nationalists of being traitors to their country and referred to as “500k. to walk“- meaning they work for foreign spies and deserve a cash reward when reported to the authorities. Their accounts are often Attack by Nationalist Trolls and reported to censors – and subsequently wiped from platforms.

The latest campaign is likely to give further impetus to such political witch hunts. Given Beijing’s extremely broad and vague definition of “national security”, anyone deemed “non-patriotic” is at risk of violating it and being reported as a “spy”.


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