Heavily made-up Beijing beauties are stepping up to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) propaganda front.
From veiled threats of arrest for Westerners who criticise China to race-based insults aimed at India, they’re all about reinforcing the Party line. And they’re taking to Twitter and YouTube – an act that would see their fellow citizens arrested.
Wolf-warrior diplomats, Communist Party members unleashed to attack Western values on Western social media, no longer cut it. Instead, a video posted last weekend by the CCP-controlled Xinhua News agency reveals Beijing’s evolving propaganda tactics.
A fresh, young face smiles out from behind a pristine desk; bold nationalist banner in the background. The English subtitles declare her to be a local government cadre, or political officer, in Xinjiang province. She’s so happy with life she can’t hold back from singing and dancing as she checks in on her smiling provincial subjects.
The reality, however, is starkly different.
Xinjiang’s ethnic minority Uighur women are being forcibly sterilised. And about one million Uighur Muslims are estimated to have been locked up in dozens of new detention centres to undergo ‘re-education’. But that’s something even Beijing’s ambassador to the UK refuses to address.
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“Why limit yourself to a small pack of Wolf Warriors when there’s a whole knot of toadies waiting in the wings?” writes the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Fergus Ryan.
That is why we’re seeing much more pushback from Beijing on Western social media. And why it often looks so weird.
It’s also part of official policy.
“In order to win the right to speak, we must take the initiative and actively shape it,” Hua Chunying wrote in a CCP publication in July 2019. She’s now the head of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s information department.
“And take the initiative she has, along with her fellow ‘Wolf Warrior’ colleagues who have been deploying scorn, sarcasm and conspiracy theories in their attempt to shape the global discourse,” Mr Ryan says.
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Earlier this year, a Chinese man was arrested for posting news of the birth of his child on Twitter. His crime? Breaching the “Great Firewall” against uncensored international news and contact.
Hua and her cohort of trusted wolf warriors and Beijing beauties, however, can do so without fear. So long as they’re on message.
Last month, Twitter closed thousands of profiles it says were part of a CCP co-ordinated influence campaign. But Beijing’s ambitious Party members, eager to carve out a reputation for themselves, are eager for more. They want Twitter “blue ticks” – like Hua.
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“Plenty of others, including Chinese think tankers, media professionals, nationalist trolls, and even the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are pushing for their own opportunity to be part of the experimentation,” Mr Ryan says. “Each group is jostling for the chance to demonstrate its fealty to the Party and its willingness to take the fight to Western imperialists.”
Western social media has its advantages. Even for Beijing.
More traditional methods – such as face-to-face interviews with reporters – haven’t been going so well. At the weekend, China’s ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming was visibly flummoxed when presented with video footage of hundreds of handcuffed and blindfolded Uighur detainees.
Social media, however, is more controlled. There is no compulsion to answer difficult questions. Scenes, such as the dancing Xinjiang cadre, can be carefully produced and stage managed. Which is why Liu’s Twitter account has since issued the carefully crafted response he should have given the BBC interviewer.
It’s also why Chinese state-controlled media organisations are experimenting with a variety of presentation techniques and styles across the likes of YouTube and Twitter.
Beautiful Beijing ‘honey traps’ are joining the ranks of ‘wolf warriors’. Radiant women in traditional dress fill YouTube clips. Earnest-faced experts extol the virtues of one-man, one-party rule.
“The Party-state appears to be allowing for experimentation across the apparatus of government in how to promote the CCP’s view of its place in the world,” an ASPI report released last month reads.
It says Beijing is now developing “overt manipulation” methods to feed its message to Western audiences.
“The Party-state’s online experiments will allow its propaganda apparatus to recalibrate efforts to influence audiences on Western platforms with growing precision. When combined with data acquisition, investments in artificial intelligence and alternative social media platforms, there is potential for the normalisation of a very different information environment from the open internet favoured by democratic societies.”
Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel