The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) attempts to guide, buy, or coerce political influence abroad are extensive. China’s foreign influence operations are part of a global strategy with almost identical, longstanding approaches, adapted to fit current government policies. They are a core task of China’s United Front work; one of the CCP’s famed “magic weapons” that helped bring it to power [27].

To China, intelligence is about practical knowledge that facilitates decision-making and reduces the uncertainty intrinsic to policymaking and research. The key concept in Chinese foreign policy, which links party and state organizations, is the United Front. The United Front was originally a Leninist tactic of strategic alliances. Lenin wrote in “Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder,”

“The more powerful enemy can be vanquished only by exerting the utmost effort, and without fail, most thoroughly, carefully, attentively and skillfully using every, even the smallest, ‘rift’ among the enemies, of every antagonism of interest among the bourgeoisie of the various countries and among the various groups or types of bourgeoisie within the various countries, and also by taking advantage of every, even the smallest, opportunity of gaining a mass ally, even though this ally be temporary, vacillating, unstable, unreliable and conditional.”

Since the mid-1930s, CCP strategists adapted Lenin’s tactics to Chinese circumstances and culture. The CCP’s United Front applies to both domestic and foreign policy. United Front activities incorporate the work of groups and prominent individuals in society, as well as information management and propaganda, and it has also frequently facilitated espionage. United Front Work Department personnel often operate under diplomatic cover as members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The role is used to guide United Front activities outside China, working with politicians and other high-profile individuals, Chinese community associations, and student associations and sponsoring Chinese language, media, and cultural activities. The party has a long tradition of party and government personnel “double-hatting” or holding roles within multiple agencies. Chinese consulates and embassies relay instructions to Chinese community groups and the Chinese language media, and they host visits of high-level CCP delegations coming to meet with local overseas Chinese groups. The leaders of the various Chinese-connected overseas associations in each country are regularly invited to China to provide updates on current government policies [27].

In the 1960s and 1970s, Beijing’s interest centered on building ideological solidarity with other underdeveloped nations to advance Chinese-style communism and on repelling Western ‘imperialism.” Following the Cold War, Chinese interests evolved into more pragmatic pursuits such as trade, investment, and energy. Starting around 1980, the FBI detected hundreds of potential espionage-related cases involving China, and it has continued to detect Chinese agents attempting to steal from U.S. companies physically and digitally. Meanwhile, the Chinese intelligence services have attempted quietly to penetrate foreign governments by recruiting officials, using retirees to work against their former colleagues, and using Track II or scholarly exchanges to capture the policy atmosphere in foreign capitals. These operations are about persistence and volume, rather than creativity and skill [28].

Many are identified as potential recruitment targets after first being surveilled inside China. The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) is a national police force, mirroring the MSS structure. After the MSS was created in 1983, the MPS lost most of its counterintelligence and counterespionage functions to the MSS. This ministry’s expanding internal security budget, control over national databases, cyber capabilities, and management of most cities’ networked surveillance resources have brought the police force back into the national security arena. The New China News Agency, better known by its Chinese name “Xinhua,” and other major media outlets internally report to the Central Committee or to their respective policy systems on topics deemed too sensitive for publication. Foreign reports can deal with internal security targets, like Tibetans, Uighurs, Taiwanese, Falungong, and others, or more traditional intelligence targets. The original Xinhua charter explicitly noted this information-gathering role. Although most Chinese journalists are not intelligence officers and do not recruit clandestine sources, good journalists can provide information that is not publicly available, but also not classified.

The purpose of the party’s United Front Work Department is to build and wield political influence inside and outside China, or, as Mao Zedong wrote in a phrase still carried on the department’s website, “to rally our true friends to attack our true enemies.” For the collection of technology, a formal system under Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of China (ISTIC) exists for the collection and cataloguing of foreign scientific publications and other public information. Chinese researchers can request research materials and briefing packets on the state of the field as they move forward. ISTIC was instrumental in developing graduate programs with top universities for informatics, convening professional associations, and publishing professional literature – the hallmarks of a professional cadre. This is all above-board and legal, and some knowledgeable Chinese within the ISTIC system credit the acquisition of foreign technological information with reducing research costs by 40 to 50 percent and time by 60 to 70 percent.

Xi-era political influence activities can be summarized into four key categories. A strengthening of efforts to manage and guide overseas Chinese communities and utilize them as agents of Chinese foreign policy is followed by a re-emphasis on people-to-people, party-to-party, and PRC enterprise-to-foreign enterprise relations, with the aim of coopting foreigners to support and promote CCP’s foreign policy goals. Next, it focuses on a rollout of a global, multi-platform, strategic communication strategy. The Xi government’s go-global, multi-platform national and international strategic communication strategy aims to influence international perceptions about China, shape international debates about the Chinese government, and strengthen management over the Chinese-language public sphere in China, as well as globally. It relies on agencies such as Xinhua News Service, CGTV, CRI, State Council Information Office/Office for Foreign Propaganda, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and other relevant state organs. Its approach is multi- and multi-media. The Xi-era media strategy creates new platforms, which merge China’s traditional and new media such as WeChat, and takes it to new global audiences in the developing world, the former Eastern Bloc, and developed countries. Under the policy, known as to “borrow a boat to go out on the ocean,” China has set up strategic partnerships with foreign newspapers, TV, and radio stations to provide them with free content in the CCP-authorized line for China-related news. The formerly independent Chinese language media outside China is a key target for this activity. Under the policy to “buy a boat to go out on the ocean,” China’s party-state media companies are engaging in strategic mergers and acquisitions of foreign media and cultural enterprises. Under the “localizing” policy, China’s foreign media outlets, such as CGTV, are employing more foreigners to have foreign faces explaining CCP policies. A new focus on the importance of think tanks is shaping policy and public opinion. China is making a massive investment in setting up scores of Chinese and foreign-based think tanks and research centers to help shape global public opinion, increase China’s soft power, improve international visibility, and shape new global norms. It also aims to establish academic partnerships with foreign universities and academic publishers and impose China’s censorship rules as part of the deal. Many students are offered strings-attached academic funding through the Confucius Institutes and other Chinese-connected funding bodies and investment in foreign research centers.

Under the slogan “tell a good Chinese story,” the party aims to restore China’s cultural and public diplomacy to prominence. Central and local governments provide massive subsidies for cultural activities aimed at the outside world, from scholarly publishing to acrobatics to Chinese medicine. This policy builds on and extends efforts established in the Hu era. China promotes Chinese culture and language internationally through Confucius Institutes, cultural centers, and festivals. The revised strategy particularly focuses on youth and countries with a significant indigenous population, in an attempt to develop close relations with indigenous communities. Finally, the Xi era focuses on the formation of a Chinese-centered economic and strategic bloc. That is based on geopolitical and economic dependencies, as well as the imposition of CCP operatives within businesses operating in China [27].

The presence of party units has long been a fact of doing business in China, where party organizations exist in nearly 70 percent of some 1.86 million privately owned companies. Companies in China, including foreign firms, are required by law to establish a party organization, a rule that had long been regarded by many executives as more symbolic than anything to worry about [29]. Now, companies are under “political pressure” to revise the terms of their joint ventures with state-owned partners to allow the party final say over business operations and investment decisions.

CCP operatives have allegedly pushed to amend existing joint venture agreements to include language mandating that party personnel be “brought into the business management organization,” that “party organization overhead expenses shall be included in the company budget,” and that posts of board chairman and party secretary be held by the same person. Changing joint venture agreement terms is a main concern. Once the party is part of the governance, they have direct rights in the business. Officially, the Chinese State Council Information Office (SCIO) believes that “company party organizations generally carry out activities that revolve around operations management, can help companies promptly understand relevant national guiding principles and policies, coordinate all parties’ interests, resolve internal disputes, introduce and develop talent, guide the corporate culture, and build harmonious labor relations” [27].

The Three Warfares
Conventional warfare between global superpowers is problematic due to a complex network of geopolitical pressures, financial dependencies, and technological defenses. Instead, China relies on its influence operations to diminish Japan and South Korea’s perception of United States power, counter U.S. military actions and diplomatic pressures, raise doubts about the effectiveness of multilateral negotiations, breed doubts for the legitimacy of intervention by parties external to the region, and establish geographic disputes in China’s favor [30]. These asymmetric attacks require minimal resources in proportion to their impact. In 2003, China’s Central Military Commission and Communist Party enacted the “Three Warfares” multi-dimensional strategy for influence operations through psychological, media, and legal vectors [31][32]. The three vectors are combined and synergistically weaponized in non-kinetic multi-vector operations [32]. Additionally, China exercises its soft power, economic operations, and bilateral negotiations, as well as hard power and military demonstrations in its strategic operations.

Chinese political warfare and influence operations target foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals actively to shape their perceptions and behavior. Driven by its political goals, Chinese influence operations are a centerpiece of the PRC’s overall foreign policy and military strategy. While China’s foreign policy has traditionally relied on economic leverage and “soft power” diplomacy as its primary means of power projection, Beijing has also been actively exploiting concepts associated with strategic information operations as a means to influence the process and outcomes directly in areas of strategic competition. In 2003, the Central Military Commission (CMC) approved the guiding conceptual umbrella for information operations for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) – the “Three Warfares” (san zhong zhanfa). The concept is based on three mutually reinforcing strategies: (1) the coordinated use of strategic psychological operations; (2) overt and covert media manipulation; and (3) legal warfare designed to manipulate strategies, defense policies, and perceptions of target audiences abroad [33].

Legal vectors aim to bend or rewrite rules of international orders in favor of China and its interests. This
could include exertions of territorial ownership, disputes of border boundaries, restrictions of navigation through the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone as defined by the United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty, or attempts to guide United Nations Security Council decisions [32]. Legal vectors are executed on a global stage by government officials and the military. Legal warfare uses domestic and international law to claim the legal high ground to assert Chinese interests. China’s position paper is replete with selected references to international law to support China’s stance [33].

One example of Chinese legal warfare occurred in 2014, when Chinese Deputy Ambassador to the U.N., Wang Min, presented then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with a formal position paper on a maritime confrontation between China and Vietnam regarding the placement of oil rig HYSY 981 in disputed waters in the South China Sea, along with a request that he circulate it to all 193 U.N. members. China’s position paper was sent to the U.N. to out-maneuver Vietnam’s own propaganda effort and to isolate Vietnam. The vast majority of U.N. members have no direct interest in territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Southeast Asian states that hold concerns about China’s actions would not be willing to take a public stand on the issue [33].

Media warfare is a strategy designed to influence international public opinion to build support for China and to dissuade an adversary from pursuing actions contrary to China’s interests. China understands that in the age of the internet, the nation with the most sophisticated digital tools and the most compelling narrative, not the country with the best weapons, wins conflicts [32]. An effective influence operation can enable history to be written before a conflict has even occurred. Perpetual media activity can ensure the success of long-term campaigns that manipulate perceptions and attitudes and short-term attacks that distract or disrupt the public narrative. Consequently, China exerts strong control over its media to shape public opinion according to the Chinese Communist Party’s will [32]. For instance, China operates the Chinese Central Television Network to deliver propaganda and misinformation to at least 40 million Americans in the Washington, D.C., region. The network delivers content to millions more globally. On the network, China obfuscates its agenda with real news coverage. Minor details and perspective are presented selectively, or altered subtly or withheld in daily widespread micro-attacks that advance China’s Thirteenth Five-Year Plan. Within China, the “Great Firewall” and loyalty metrics control the population. The government signals acceptable behavior and beliefs to the people through the media. On its own, state control of the vast majority of messaging outlets is enough to quell resistance. The internet serves as an outlet for dissent but it is also as the primary monitoring tool. Each day, the government intercepts and analyzes hundreds of thousands of tweets, blogs, and posts. Collective action and serious opposition to the CCP are not tolerated. Criticism of politicians and minor deviances are permitted, because wholescale censorship invites rebellious behavior and because influential dissidents are often betrayed inadvertently by the actions of more vocal acolytes [31].

At the operational level, the “Three Warfares” became the responsibility for the PLA’s General Political Department’s Liaison Department (GPD/LD), which conducts diverse political, financial, military, and intelligence operations. According to the Project2049 Institute, GPD/LD consists of four bureaus: (1) a liaison bureau responsible for clandestine Taiwan-focused operations; (2) an investigation and research bureau responsible for international security analysis and friendly contact; (3) an external propaganda bureau responsible for disintegration operations, including psychological operations, development of propaganda themes, and legal analysis; and (4) a border defense bureau responsible for managing border negotiations and agreements. The Ministry of National Defense of the PRC provides more general terms, emphasizing “information weaponization and military social media strategy.” In practice, the GPD/LD is also linked with the PLA General Staff Department (GSD), the second department-led intelligence network. One of its core activities is identifying select foreign political, business, and military elites and organizations abroad relevant to China’s interests or potential “friendly contacts.” The GPD/LD investigation and research bureau then analyzes their position toward China, career trajectories, motivations, political orientations, factional affiliations, and competencies. The resulting “cognitive maps” guide the direction and character of tailored influence operations, including conversion, exploitation, or subversion. Meanwhile, the GPD’s Propaganda Department broadcasts sustained internal and external strategic perception management campaigns through mass media and cyberspace channels to promote specific themes favorable for China’s image abroad – political stability, peace, ethnic harmony, and economic prosperity supporting the narrative of the “China model” (zhongguo moshi) [33].

Traditionally, the primary target for China’s information and political warfare campaigns has been Taiwan, with the GPD/LD activities and operations attempting to exploit political, cultural, and social frictions inside Taiwan; undermining trust between varying political-military authorities; delegitimizing Taiwan’s international position; and gradually subverting Taiwan’s public perceptions to “reunite” Taiwan on Beijing’s terms. In the process, the GPD/LD has directed, managed, or guided a number of political, military, academic, media, and intelligence assets that have served either overtly or covertly as agents of influence. In particular, the primary base for Taiwan influence operations has been the Nanjing Military Region’s 311 Base (also known as the Public Opinion, Psychological Operations, and Legal Warfare Base) in Fuzhou City, Fujian Province. The 311 Base has been broadcasting propaganda at Taiwan through the “Voice of the Taiwan Strait” (VTS) radio since the 1950s. Over the past decade, the base expanded its operations from the radio station to a variety of social media, publishing, businesses, and other areas of contact with Taiwan. The 311 Base has served as a de facto military unit cover designator (MUCD) for a number of GPD/LD’s affiliated civilian and business platforms working to “promote Chinese culture” abroad. These include the China Association for Promotion of Chinese Culture (CAPCC); China Association for International Friendly Contact (CAIFC); China-U.S. Exchange Foundation (CUSEF), The Centre for Peace and Development Studies (CPDS), External Propaganda Bureau (EPB), and China Energy Fund Committee (CEFC) [33].

China’s strategic influence operations are also increasingly targeting the European Union, particularly countries of Central-Eastern Europe that are part of China’s “16+1” regional cooperation formula. Beijing views the region as an important bridgehead for its further economic expansion in Europe. According to the 2014 annual report of the BIS counterintelligence in the Czech Republic, China’s administration and its intelligence services emphasized gaining influence over Czech political and state structures and on gathering political intelligence, with active participation by select Czech elites, including politicians and state officials [27].

These reports refer to the activities of the China Energy Fund Committee (CEFC), a Hong Kong-registered nongovernmental organization, considered a political arm of its holding subsidiary, the China Huaxin Energy Co. Ltd. – a multibillion-dollar energy conglomerate with companies based in Hong Kong, Singapore, and mainland China. Over the past three years, CEFC has embarked on acquisitions in the Czech Republic, including the purchase of representative real estate near the presidential office. These “investments” have served as initial gateways to the highest political elites in the country. Indeed, CEFC’s chairman, Ye Jianming, was named an official adviser by the Czech president. The case of CEFC in the Czech Republic illustrates a complex constellation of relationships that link political, financial, military, and intelligence power centers through the GPD/LD. Ye Jianming was deputy secretary general of the GPD/LD-affiliated CAIFC from 2003 to 2005. Media reports debate whether Ye Jianming is a son of Lt. Gen. Ye Xuanning, director of the GPD/LD until 1998, and the grandson of the most revered PLA Marshall Ye Jianying, described as “the spiritual leader” of the princelings – the children of China’s original communist revolutionary heroes, who now dominate the top echelons of the party leadership. The exploitation of information operations represents Beijing’s hybrid or “non-kinetic” attempts to influence strategic areas of competition in Asia and Europe directly [33].

The ‘50 Cent Party’
China is a leader in altering and censoring the digital landscape through what it calls the Golden Shield, otherwise known as “the Great Firewall of China.” However, China’s initial operator for internal and external influence operations is the 50 Cent Party, whose prerogative is to praise China, its businesses, and its products, and to distract from any criticism or undesirable conversations. Contrary to popular belief, the Chinese do not create public debates or attempt to foster discord in foreign nations in the same manner as Russian operations. Instead, they focus on distraction and redirection, because they fear losing control of their own people far more than they fear foreign influence. Distraction is a clever and useful strategy in information control in that an argument in almost any human discussion is rarely an effective way to put an end to an opposing argument. Letting an argument die or changing the subject are more effective than instigating or engaging with a detracting viewpoint. Humans are hardwired to try to win arguments, as anyone who has fallen into the trap of social media debates can attest. Distraction-based strategies have the advantage of reducing aggression while diverting and thereby controlling the dialogue. Using sheer numbers, military precision targeting, and big data analytics, the Chinese government, through the 50 Cent Party, is able to change the subject consistently at any time [34].

Chinese internet commentators are personnel hired to manipulate public opinion on behalf of the CCP. The name derives from the unverified allegation that they received 50 cents per post. A 2016 Harvard University paper found that Chinese internet commentators are mostly paid government bureaucrats, responding to government directives in times of crisis and flooding Chinese social media with pro-government comments. They also rarely engage in direct arguments. Around 80 percent of the analyzed posts involve pro-China cheerleading with inspirational slogans, and 13 percent involve general praise and suggestions on governmental policies [34].

As of 2016, this practice seems to have largely ceased, and propagandist participation in internet discussions has become part of the Communist party officials’ normal work. Also, the nature of participation has become more nuanced and less aggressive. Research indicated a “massive, secretive operation” to fill China’s internet with propaganda has resulted in some 488 million posts carried out by fake social media accounts, out of the 80 billion posts generated on Chinese social media. To maximize their influence, their pro-government comments are made largely during times of intense online debate, and when online protests have a possibility of transforming into real-life actions [34].

The 50 Cent Party, also known as the 50 Cent Army, is not really an army; it’s just a platoon in a much larger propaganda apparatus. All those positive posts are planted in an environment that bans most Chinese from legally accessing social media like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, as well as critical news media like The New York Times and Bloomberg. Digitally redirecting public opinion has been the official policy of the PRC since 2008. 50 Centers are government operatives posing as ordinary, patriotic netizens. Estimates of their numbers range from 500,000 to 2 million [33]. The 50 Cent Party consists of government personnel (the original party) and student recruits (50 Cent 2.0). One student member of 50 Cent claimed that he was paid 800 yuan per month by the Chinese government and that refusing to participate could prevent students from being able to graduate from college. In addition, he claimed that extremely active student trolls even received extra credit points from their professors [34].

Rather than debating critics directly, the Chinese government tries to derail conversations on social media it views as dangerous. For instance, in April 2014, President Xi Jinping had his first visit to the Xinjiang province of China [34] [35]. The newly elected Xi’s platform included a promise to increase the government’s response to terrorism. Immediately following his visit, an explosion followed by a knife attack at the main railway station in Urumqi, a city in that northwest region, killed three people and injured dozens more.

Instead of addressing the incident publicly, the Chinese government’s online censorship apparatus initiated a campaign to control the perception and understanding of the attack. Searches for “Urumqi blast” were blocked on the country’s largest search engine, Baidu, and on the Twitter-like social network, Sina Weibo. In the meantime, more than 3,000 posts from paid government trolls flooded Sina Weibo and other Chinese social networks in a coordinated campaign. The posts did not address the attack or any public debates; instead, they distracted the public with broad praises of China’s good governance, economic opportunities for Chinese people, and the “mass line.” The posts were tailored to derail public dialogue concerning the incident. The strategy has a history of success. In July 2013, government-sponsored social media activity obfuscated riot activity in the Xinjiang province, and in February 2014, trolls drew attention away from a pair of important political meetings [36].

The PRC relies on the 50 Cent Party to coordinate and deploy massive influence operations on social media platforms. The name is a misnomer derived from the past rumor of how much members were paid per post. In contrast to popular belief, the 50 Cent trolls are not ordinary citizens that engage in online debates. Analysis of a large archive of leaked emails from a propaganda office in Ganzhou – a city located in China’s southeastern Jiangxi province – revealed that the main focus of the collective is to overwhelm platforms with massive volumes of “cheerleading” posts and reviews that praise Chinese products and organizations, rather than engage in debates or inflammatory dialogue. Emails leaked from the Zhanggong propaganda office included transcripts of over 43,757 messages exchanged between 50 Cent members and their superiors either proving that they had completed their assignments or delivering instructions, in addition to messages to the higher-level offices of the propaganda division. The majority of commenters were identified as government workers who worked in various offices and bureaus. By all appearances, they were not paid for the posts because the coordinated messages seemed to be an expected duty of their government job. There was no evidence that the 50 Cent army used bots to amplify their message. Emails from the propaganda office indicate that commenters were instructed to “promote unity and stability through positive publicity” and to “actively guide public opinion during emergency events” — where “emergency events” refer to events that might stoke collective action. For the most part, criticism of the PRC on social media is tolerated, in part because it makes the identifications of dissidents easier and because censorship breeds rebellion. The government monitors online activity actively, and it intervenes proactively before collectives can aggregate or movements can mobilize [37].

Harvard’s Gary King, Stanford’s Jennifer Pan, and Margaret Roberts at University of California at San Diego analyzed the tens of thousands of posts written by China’s official social media trolls and extrapolated the scale of the operation to the rest of China. Their analysis was the first large-scale empirical analysis of the activities of the Chinese troll army. 50 Cent members appear to use both their own accounts (59 percent) and exclusive accounts (41 percent). King and his colleagues spent several years analyzing the patterns of millions of posts on Chinese websites, cross-referencing comments, user IDs, and other factors. They discovered that 50 Cent posts appear in specifically directed bursts meant to short-circuit any discussions that could lead to protest or unrest. Based on the evidence, they estimate that the 50 Cent Party annually posts a total of 448 million messages on social media. According to one researcher, “If these estimates are correct, a large proportion of government website comments, and about one of every 178 social media posts on commercial sites, are fabricated by the government” [37]. Based on their analysis, they found that 57 percent of posts engaged in cheerleading, 22 percent engaged in non-argumentative praise and suggestions, 16 percent engaged in factual reporting, and approximately 4 percent engaged in taunting foreign countries. Zero accounts engaged in argumentative praise or criticism. Using the information from the leak, the researchers tested methods of identifying 50 Cent Party posts. They found that 57 percent of trolls whose identities they knew via the leaked emails admitted their 50 Cent affiliation when asked kindly and in Chinese, “I saw your comment, it’s really inspiring, I want to ask, do you have any public opinion guidance management or online commenting experience?” They found that 59 percent of commenters whose identities were not known but whose posts shared characteristics with the 50 Cent Party also admitted their affiliation when asked. The distraction tactics of China’s troll army can be deployed anywhere online and on many platforms and topics foreign to China. Rather than inflame debates or sow discord, as Russian trolls aim to do, Chinese operatives intend to derail conversations and dilute the intensity of collective criticisms [37] [38] [39].

The Chinese regime appears to follow two complementary principles, one passive and one active. The passive principle is that they do not engage on controversial issues. They do not insert 50 Cent posts supporting and do not censor posts criticizing the regime, its leaders, or their policies. The active principle is that they act to stop discussions that could result in collective action through distraction and active censorship. 50 Cent Party cheerleading influences the perceptions of the public, derails discussions of controversies, disrupts general negativity, and distracts from government-related meetings and events with protest potential. Unsubstantiated threats from individuals of protest and viral bursts of online-only activity are ignored by the government because their potential for collective action is minimal. The main threat perceived by the Chinese regime in the modern era is not military attacks from foreign enemies, but rather uprisings from their own people. Staying in power involves managing their government and party agents in China’s 32 provincial-level regions, 334 prefecture-level divisions, 2,862 county-level divisions, 41,034 township-level administrations, and 704,382 village-level subdivisions while mitigating collective action organized by those outside of government. The balance of supportive and critical commentary on social media about specific issues, in specific jurisdictions, is useful to the government in judging the performance of (as well as keeping or replacing) local leaders and ameliorating other information problems faced by central authorities [37] [38] [39].

While 50 Centers may distract viewers with pro-government posts, other branches of the Propaganda Department are busy censoring controversial articles and keywords. Younger Chinese citizens, who predominantly interact online in real time, are likely only minimally influenced by the 50 Cent trolls. In an attempt to modernize its digital propaganda machine in August 2016, the government released a plan to involve the Communist Youth League (CYL) in its goal to “purify” the internet. The CYL consists of around 89 million members aged 14 to 28. CYL members are categorized as more aggressive than “50 Centers,” and they are adept at bypassing the Great Firewall of China to troll subjects on foreign social media. They are described as “volunteer armies of mobilized angry youth.” Some even consider the CYL to be “The 50 Cent 2.0.” For instance, they left about 40,000 angry messages on the Facebook page of Australian swimmer Mack Horton, accusing him of being a “drug cheat,” after he bested his Chinese counterpart at the Rio Olympics. A similar barrage targeted Tsai Ing-wen when she was elected the first woman president of Taiwan. A campaign that began on a Baidu forum flooded Tsai’s Facebook page with 40,000 negative comments within 12 hours. The attack vilifying Tsai Ing-wen and democracy involved an estimated 10,000 50 Cent and CYL users. The PRC relies on the 50 Cent Party and the CYL to identify and divert from any discussion that could result in collective action or crowd formation because they believe that is the only thing that could cause instability sufficient to upset their government. Consequently, the 50 Cent and CYL trolls are often permitted to bypass the Great Firewall so that they can launch their attacks. Despite the rise of a more technologically advanced and memetically motivated generation, the original 50 Cent Party is not fading away; it is being modernized to focus on technology and skill, instead of just sheer numbers. Though it already had dedicated teams and infrastructure, it is becoming more sophisticated, refined, and nuanced. It is beginning to harness big data analytics and psychographic and demographic predictive algorithms in its operations [37] [38] [39] [36].

China’s Influence Abroad
Recently, Beijing has identified the African continent as an area of significant economic and strategic interest. Most of China’s stake in the region focuses on energy assets and development. China aims to increase its soft power in Africa by promoting the “China model” of authoritarian, state-driven development as a counter to Western efforts to spread liberal democratic capitalism. This is done through political training programs where members of ruling parties, labor unions, and ministries are taken to China to meet the members of the Chinese Communist Party [40]. Its best imitator is Ethiopia, where the ruling EPRDF party has copied much of what it has seen in China, tightly controlling business and investment and imitating China’s Central Party School and party cadre system. In South Africa, more than half of the members of the executive committee of the ruling African National Congress have attended such schools in China, a country the party calls its “guiding lodestar.” China also spreads its influence in less visible ways. For instance, China awards tens of thousands of scholarships to African students. Victoria Breeze and Nathan Moore at Michigan State University estimate that in 2014, the number of African students in China surpassed the number studying in either Britain or America, the traditional destinations for English speakers. These efforts burnish China’s image [40].

In the past decade, Chinese loans and contractors have reshaped Africa’s infrastructure by investing in new roads, ports, railways, mines, manufacturing plants, shopping centers, and corner stores. The influx of Chinese resources has prompted some to postulate that China is Africa’s most important economic partner and others to fret that it is the new colonial master. As many as 10,000 Chinese companies are operating in Africa, 90 percent of them privately owned. Despite appearances, the notion that China is refinancing the continent is inaccurate. According to the work of Deborah Brautigam, who leads the China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University, little more than half of the announced Chinese loans to Africa materialized. Nevertheless, the promise of funds and the offering of hope is enough to foster pro-China sentiments in portions of the population [41].

The PRC aids and abets oppressive and destitute African dictatorships by legitimizing their misguided policies and praising their development models as suited to individual national conditions. Beijing holds out China’s unique development model – significant economic growth overseen by a disciplined, one-party totalitarian state with full authority, if not control, over all aspects of commercial activity – as an example for others to emulate. China rewards its African friends with diplomatic attention and financial and military assistance, exacerbating existing forced dislocations of populations and abetting massive human rights abuses in troubled countries, such as Sudan and Zimbabwe. As a consequence, Chinese support for political and economic repression in Africa counters the liberalizing influences of Africa’s traditional European and American partners. China’s ideological support of African despots lends them international legitimacy and authority international arenas, such as the United Nations, that help to reduce Western democracies’ pressure to act to improve human rights, economic transparency, and political freedoms. When it serves Chinese interests, Beijing succors would-be junta leaders and illiberal rebels who want power and would roll back political reforms in young democracies. Rebels are led to believe that if they overthrow legitimate governments, China will work to bolster their legitimacy in the United Nations and other international communities [42].

The PRC is seeking trade, diplomatic, and military ties in Latin America and the Caribbean. The region contains immense natural resources and developing markets for manufactured goods and arms. China does not pose a kinetic military threat to Latin America and has embraced market concepts steadily, but its intangible influence represents serious competition that could dilute U.S. influence [43]. Latin America is a particularly promising prospect. It is relatively unindustrialized and has an abundance of raw materials. Moreover, authoritarian leaders and corrupt oligarchies control many governments. Signing purchase agreements with them is much more comfortable than dealing with the swath of private corporations found in more democratic countries. China has advanced to economic assistance, direct investment, a few joint ventures, and military ties by building on basic commercial agreements. China capitalized on Argentina’s financial collapse, increasing investment in Argentina and Brazil; meanwhile, U.S. investment in the region declined half. Joint ventures include partnerships with Great Dragon Telecom in Cuba and Colombia. China partnered with Brazil to improve railways and reduce resource transportation costs. The PRC may renovate the Antofagasta port in Chile. China has pursued investments in oil production in Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. President Chávez invited the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) to participate in the exploration of the Orinoco belt. Meanwhile, the CNPC invested $300 million in technology to use Venezuela’s Orimulsion fuel in Chinese power plants [41] [43].

According to a Wilson Center study, as part of the second half of its thirteenth Five-Year Plan under the direction of Supreme Leader Xi Jinping, China is increasing the propensity and pervasiveness of its influence operations. Emerging operations that are aimed at persuading foreign governments and firms to support Beijing’s anti-democratic goals involve multiple governments and Chinese Communist Party intelligence organizations through economic pressure and incentives, the guidance of insider threats, and outright coercion. The report’s author, professor Anne-Marie Brady, states, “Even more than his predecessors, Xi Jinping has led a massive expansion of efforts to shape foreign public opinion to influence the decision-making of foreign governments and societies.” China aims to undermine the sovereignty and integrity of targeted states and political systems using vectors ranging from social media propaganda to insider threats. New Zealand is part of Five Eyes and is a key intelligence ally to the United States. Brady notes, “New Zealand is valuable to China, as well to other states such as Russia, as a soft underbelly to access Five Eyes intelligence.” Like many other nations, including the United States, it is rapidly becoming saturated with Chinese operatives, the PRC’s attempts to influence political activities, and economic entanglements that China can leverage to exert control over foreign governments and businesses. Chinese foreign influence operations in New Zealand raise security concerns here about China accessing U.S. secrets. There, several ethnic Chinese politicians were elected to the parliament to increase China’s control over information exchanges and geopolitical relationships. For instance, New Zealand parliamentarian Jian Yang recently acknowledged that he concealed his past relationship with the People’s Liberation Army intelligence unit and membership in the CCP [27]. Over the past 20 years, China has focused on sowing division between the government in Wellington and the U.S. New Zealand has adopted increasingly anti-American policies, beginning in the 1980s when the nation refused to permit nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed warships from making port calls as part of an anti-nuclear policy. China has targeted New Zealand’s 200,000 ethnic Chinese, part of the country’s population of 4.5 million people [27].

The Chinese activities are based on the United Front — strategic influence operations developed by the communists of the 1940s. In September 2014, Xi highlighted the importance of United Front work in supporting influence activities around the world. He called them the Party’s “magic weapons” in pursuit of making China the dominant world power. Dissident Chinese businessman Guo Wengui revealed recently that Chinese companies are often used by the Ministry of State Security (MSS), the civilian spy service, to buy off American politicians and organizations to promote China’s foreign and economic policies. China increased the aggressiveness of its operations in 2012. Guo reported that China dispatched between 25,000 and 40,000 agents to the U.S. China engages in widespread influence operations by hiring former government officials to lobby on its behalf. Other methods involve coercing American companies operating in China into influencing the U.S. government in support of China’s policies. In 2014, a former Chinese spy revealed that the PLA Third Department utilized a network of some 200,000 agents around the world. The influence operations carried out by party units are the United Front Work Department, the Central Propaganda Department, the International Liaison Department, the All-China Federation of Overseas Chinese, and the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. The report said, “United Front activities incorporate working with groups and prominent individuals in society; information management and propaganda; and it has also frequently been a means of facilitating espionage…” United Front operatives frequently operate undercover as Chinese diplomats who target foreign politicians, business people, and journalists. Front groups include Chinese community associations and student groups, along with organizations funded by China engaged in Chinese language, media, and cultural activities. Another critical influence tool is the numerous Beijing-funded Confucius Institutes that are located on many U.S. and foreign college campuses [27].

Chinese military intelligence, known as the PLA Second Department, has also worked closely in the past with the International Liaison Department and United Front Work Department in backing revolutionaries in Southeast Asia and spying. The 2014 report also stated, “CCP United Front officials and their agents try to develop relationships with foreign and overseas Chinese personages (the more influential, the better) to influence, subvert, and if necessary, bypass the policies of their governments and promote the interests of the CCP globally,” the report says. “The Party operatives attempt to guide the activities of front groups, overseas agents, and supporters by appealing to nationalist sentiments, such as urging support for the Chinese motherland, the Chinese race, and the ethnic Chinese population within their countries … The goal of successful overseas Chinese work is to get the community to proactively and, even better, spontaneously engage in activities which enhance China’s foreign policy agenda.” China has been less successful in targeting groups opposed to the communist regime, pro-democracy dissidents, the Buddhist-oriented group Falun Gong, those promoting Taiwan independence, independent Chinese religious groups, and Tibetans and Uighurs seeking freedom. However, all those factions are significant infiltration targets by party and intelligence agents who attempt to divide or subvert the groups [27].

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