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China Expands “Big External Propaganda” with Local International Communication Centers

Since 2023, China’s “big external propaganda” (大外宣) activities (a series of propaganda campaigns aiming to project China’s voice and image overseas) have been rapidly shifting from the purview of the central government to a responsibility of China’s local governments. As of now, China has established 23 provincial-level international communication centers, in Shenzhen, Jiangsu, Shanghai, Hebei, etc… The latest additions include the “Zhejiang International Communication Center” established on May 31 and the “Tianjin International Communication Center” established in early June this year. According to the official newspaper Tianjin Daily, the Tianjin center “will send more than ten filming teams to multiple countries and regions, using cameras and writing to showcase Tianjin’s core role in building a community with a shared future for humanity, co-constructing the ‘Belt and Road,’ and to serve the main diplomatic strategy of the country.”

An article titled “Efforts to Strengthen the Development of International Communication Capabilities and Systems” on Qiushi Journal in November 2023 pointed out that these international communication centers, “by displaying local characteristics,” has become a “new force” in China’s international communication. The ” Jiangsu International Communication Center” has set up channels in seven languages on overseas mainstream social platforms such as X Platform, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, which are blocked in China. The director of the Hubei Communication Center stated that the Hubei center has formulated a “one place, one strategy” approach: “For example, we focus on football-related content to Brazil and Argentina and food and emotional programs to Southeast Asia and Italy.” The “South Asia and Southeast Asia Regional International Communication Center” in Yunan Province is “the only media institution in (China) targeting South Asia and Southeast Asia.” The center publishes journals in Burmese, Thai, Khmer, and Lao, maintains websites in seven languages: Burmese, Lao, Thai, Khmer, English, Vietnamese, and Chinese, and writes on social media platforms with regional languages.

A public diplomacy scholar in the UK told VOA that China’s central government-level communication institute like China Global Television Network (CGTN) now seem to increasingly focus on political news, leaving non-sensitive and non-conflictual topics to the local international communication centers, letting them focus more on culture, tourism, history, and other areas. Joshua Kurlantzick, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told VOA that China’s provincial international communication centers are just one of many attempts in Beijing’s “big external propaganda” efforts. “If one doesn’t work, China has many other options.”

Source: VOA, June 19, 2024