The propaganda out of China of late has been…notable. Beijing has accused the French of using their nursing homes as death camps, has blamed Italy for being the source of the coronavirus (at the very peak of Italian deaths), has charged the US Army with bringing the virus to China in the first place, has thrown a “fact sheet” of truly disbelievable disinformation at the fact-oriented Germans, and turned the country’s ambassadorial core into cut-rate tabloid distributors – all while leaning on anyone and everyone from the United Nations to the World Health Organization to the European Union to regional legislative bodies to alternatively suppress and delete any information or analysis that does anything but laud China, as well as push them to take public stances that slobberingly praise China.
In doing so the Chinese have seemingly deliberately wrecked their relations with the Americans, French, Italians, Germans, Czechs, South Africans, Kazakhs and Nigerians, just to name a few. (The Swedes had all but ended their diplomatic relationship with China – having come to the public conclusion that the Chinese government was a pack of genocidal, power-mad, information-suppressing, exploitive, ultranationalists – before COVID.)
Nor are these disturbing shifts limited to the realm of foreign disinformation. Propaganda at home is boiling in a new direction as well. Overt, blatant racism is the core of the new program, with the government expressly blaming foreigners of all stripes for coronavirus in specific and China’s ills in general. Everything from restaurants to buses to gyms are banning foreigners. As a rule the government edicts are color-blind, but there are plenty of stories out there of this or that municipality or establishment singling out this or that nationality or skin color for…special consideration.
And the invective will get more offensive and self-destructive and seemingly stupid. China’s propaganda offensive April was done by the professionals – the folks at the head of the Ministry of Truth-, er, Foreign Affairs. All the lies and everything that demeaned and insulted countries in the grips of the coronavirus was expressly deliberate and sanctioned from the top, with the ambassadorial core directed to follow suit. (For those of you who like names, watch spokesman Zhao Lijian, a man who enjoys Chairman Xi’s personal sponsorship).
But we aren’t in April any longer, and China’s propaganda effort has become more diffuse, adopting more of a mob mentality. Now the entire governing apparatus has been unleashed, including agencies and bureaus down to the local level who normally have nothing to do with public relations, much less official propaganda. There is no longer a cohesive storytelling effort a la the Soviet style of propaganda. It is as if the Chinese equivalent of the MAGA crowd and the Bernie Bros are suddenly part of the propaganda effort, working alongside – or at least in parallel to – the Voice of America and the State Department.
The April propaganda was sophomoric and moronic, particularly at influencing foreign audiences or achieving some sort of strategic goal. In May it has already degraded into the realm of the infantile. My personal favorite was when an apparatchik made a lovely post stating “We condemn the fatso to death” with the “fatso” in question being US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Considering the ultrafine mesh the Chinese internal censorship dragnet has been using of late, that particular post’s ongoing longevity is a testament to just how holistic the CCP’s effort has become.
In the past few weeks the Chinese have deliberately destroyed three decades of efforts to build up soft power. I have never seen this sort of influence collapse, much less on a global scale. Even the Soviet fall saw Moscow retain influence throughout Latin America, Africa and the Middle East…and then the Soviet Union collapsed. The Trump administration just lost their Olympic gold in Gravitas Destruction to the Xi administration, and not by a small margin.
So…what the hell?