Revelations that the Chinese government secretly controls a network of overseas radio stations are a further indicator that Beijing is actively taking its propaganda to a global audience, analysts said on Tuesday.
At least 33 radio stations in 14 countries are now majority-owned by the ruling Chinese Communist Party's international state broadcaster, China Radio International (CRI), Reuters reported this week.
The stations are part of a global radio web that is structured so as to hide its true ownership, and which broadcast Beijing's take on global events to listeners in their own countries, the agency said following a lengthy investigation.
They broadcast content that has either been created or supplied by CRI at its headquarters, or that originates from media companies that it controls, the report said.
The network is run by three expatriate Chinese businessmen who are CRI's partners and executives, Reuters said, adding: "The network reaches from Finland to Nepal to Australia, and from Philadelphia to San Francisco."
One of the stations identified in the report broadcasts across the U.S. capital, and Reuters quoted officials as saying they knew nothing of the paper trail leading back to CRI in Beijing.
The report, which has sparked calls for a federal investigation, emerges as President Xi Jinping's administration expands its deployment of "soft power," a form of influence that goes well beyond the business of government, analysts said.
Stifling free speech
"The Chinese government is now expanding its repressive policies of stifling freedom of speech and expression to other countries," said Maya Wang, spokeswoman for the New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW).
"Xinhua news agency, China Central Television (CCTV), and the People's Daily all pay other countries to place their content in influential overseas newspapers," Wang said.
"The Chinese government has had a plan for several years now to extend censored content that supports their point of view through various channels," she said.
"They want their take on the news to appear online and in broadcast programming seen by people in other countries."
Wang said the same approach is now also being extended via diplomatic channels.
"In the past few years, the Chinese government has been putting increasing pressure on some countries to crack down on peaceful demonstrations by Tibetans," she said.
"When Xi Jinping visited the United States and the United Kingdom, [this resulted in] a toning down of the dissenting voices that he was able to hear," Wang said.
Melbourne-based democracy activist Ruan Jie, who edits the Tiananmen Times newspaper, said China had already poured capital into extending vehicles for its propaganda during the past decade, but that the process has intensified under Xi's administration.
"I have had direct experience of this here in Australia, where they have been buying up newspapers. One of the editors of those newspapers is a friend of mine," Ruan said.
"In the past two years, 90 percent of the their pages have been laid out in Beijing, and just sent here for printing," he said. "My friend just edits some local news items."
'No one will believe'
He said one of Beijing's radio stations in Melbourne currently broadcasts chat shows on trivial topics, while another in Sydney is more closely controlled.
"I don't think it'll be much use, though, because of the development of the Internet, and because a lot of people can find stuff out via the free press, and much of the news that appears in Communist Party media is fake, so people will be able to compare it," Ruan said.
"Nobody will believe anything reported by the pro-Communist Party media, or by the party itself, for that matter," he said.
President Xi has made the "united front" a key part of his plan to extend the Communist Party's global influence via overseas intellectuals and rich businesspeople, especially in the media.
Dissidents in exile have pointed to a growing tendency for Beijing-backed student bodies to "unify" the thinking of thousands of Chinese students in overseas schools, colleges, and university campuses.
Beijing also seeks to expand its ideology via its controversial Confucius Institutes, learning centers now in place on major university campuses around the world, staffed by Beijing-approved teachers of Chinese language and culture.
At the heart of the soft power approach lies Beijing's concern with "hostile foreign forces," often portrayed as the Western media and its emphasis on press freedom, human rights, and constitutional and democratic politics.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.