As stated ad nauseam here at ChinaFund.com, investors who are genuinely interested in gaining exposure to Chinese assets have a lot of legwork ahead of them (either that or, of course, working with consultants such as us) if they are serious about generating sustainable results. From understanding the multiple facets of the Chinese economy (something our articles are here to help you do) to even learning the language, the only question is how far you are willing to go.
For the sake of this discussion, let us assume you are willing to do whatever it takes to “get” China. You read all of the articles in our “New Here” section (a Herculean task due to the sheer volume of information) and dwell on the topics you consider interesting and/or problematic. You stay up to date on all things China-related by reading the news and, even more so, take things one step further by learning the language so as to eventually gather information from Chinese outlets as well.
As commendable as the entire endeavor may be, one key piece is still missing: knowing how to navigate through the oceans of information about China that exist. Here at ChinaFund.com, we do our best to provide as much in the way of data and facts as possible but you will inevitably end up gathering information from other platforms and/or media outlets as well. Knowing which information source to trust and how as well as when to read between the lines is paramount.
One word: propaganda.
Quite a few people ask themselves if there is indeed as much propaganda involved with respect to “all things China” as portrayed by Western media outlets. The answer is that yes, the propaganda component is definitely robust but unfortunately, and this is something Western media outlets tend to omit, propaganda can be found pretty much everywhere. The only difference is that, indeed, the “dosage” varies on a case-by-case basis.
The proverbial father of Public Relations, Edward Bernays (a brilliant marketer, the nephew of Sigmund Freud) himself made it clear on more than one occasion that “PR” and “propaganda” can be used interchangeably from an academic perspective. However, given the fact that the Germans were using the term during World War II, it became politically unacceptable to propagate it in the Western world and this paved the way for the “Public Relations” brand.
However, make no mistake: whether you refer to it as propaganda, PR, “influencer marketing” or any other buzzword, you as an investor need to understand that hidden agendas and propaganda are ubiquitous. You cannot escape them, the only option one has at the end of the day is reading between the lines.
Fortunately for those interested in gathering China-related information, the propaganda component is frequently less sophisticated in China than in the Western world. As such, “hidden” agendas are far easier to spot and the due diligence process with respect to the propaganda component becomes quite easy. In other words, fortunately for you as an observer, propaganda tends to be easier to spot in China at this point in time.
How does it all work?
First and foremost, we need to understand that in light of not being what one would call a liberal democracy, China has to be quite rigid in its quest to control thought currents, curb potential revolutionary movements (cultural or otherwise) and so on. This goal can be reached through a wide range of approaches, such as:
- Direct political control over media outlets… the most “in your face” approach, if you will
- “Soft” control over the message(s) the Chinese authorities want to propagate abroad through institutions such as the Confucius Institute, academic cooperation and so on
- The indirect financing of Western media outlets through more or less complex processes. The bottom line is that whenever a media outlet seems to be too “friendly” toward a certain country/entity, searching for financial links between that media outlet and the entity in question frequently reveals interesting “coincidences”
- Financial diplomacy or, in other words buying its way toward geopolitical influence through projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative or Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which paves away for other forms of propaganda
… the list could go on and on.
At the end of the day, there are two aspects we need to understand about China from a propaganda perspective.
First of all, unlike let’s say a Western diplomacy where elections and complete regime changes are not only possible but downright cyclical, China can afford to play the proverbial long game due to not having politicians in charge who have to make re-election calculations. As such, China tends to be more willing than other nations to plant seeds which will, in one way or another, lead to future benefits when it comes to anything from geopolitical influence to… you’ve guessed it, propaganda.
While the first aspect may seem worrisome, the second one can be considered less so because as mentioned previously, most propaganda-related enterprises are not as sophisticated in China as elsewhere. As such, a bit of experience along with a healthy dose of common sense can prove to be more than enough to navigate through it all. When it comes to the former as well as the latter, ChinaFund.com and its experts are here to be of assistance.