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Clash of narratives: The US-China Propaganda war amid the global pandemic

The study has been authored by Preksha Shree Chhetri.
Under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP0)’s United Front Work Department (UFWD) has been tasked with using the political propaganda activities to further Chinese strategic, economic, and political interests.(AP)
Published on Sep 02, 2021 03:26 PM IST
ByInstitute of Chinese Studies

Propaganda has been the primary vehicle in China for the indoctrination and mass mobilisation of citizens, ever since the Mao era. While the propaganda regime continues to attempt to guide and shape public opinion even today, the conventional propaganda apparatus is not as effective as it used to be. Therefore, new mechanisms such as internet commentators that direct cyber discussions and create favourable online opinions about the party-state is on the rise. Propaganda has been an important instrument of both Chinese and the US foreign policy. As Watkins (1951) describes it, the United States (US) government has four instruments for the implementation of its foreign policy – Diplomacy, Economic measures, War and Propaganda. The US government propaganda is one of many factors contributing to the formation of American public opinion. Similarly, Under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP0)’s United Front Work Department (UFWD) has been tasked with using the political propaganda activities to further Chinese strategic, economic, and political interests.

In the US, propaganda became a common term during World War I when posters and films were leveraged against enemies to rally troop enlistment and garner the public opinion. During the World War, propaganda was institutionalised for the first time in the US with the creation of Committee on Public Information (CPI). A similar body called the Office of War Information (OWI) was formed during World War II. In 1945, for the first time President Harry S Truman used propaganda activities during peacetime to combat communism. As for China, being an autocratic one party-state, its strategy of using information to achieve political goals is rooted in traditional CCP approaches. Contemporary Chinese military literature has extensively explored the idea of ‘information dominance’ as a favourable pre-combat strategy for victory in modern warfare. This concept encapsulates CCP’s propaganda strategies, ranging from China’s ongoing global media expansion, cyber warfare, to social media disinformation campaigns.

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This analysis attempts to take a close look at the narratives presented by the US and China during the pandemic, consider the impact of disinformation on the day to day lives of people around the world and discuss the criticism against China and the US during the pandemic. Disinformation represents a significant threat to the countries involved and there may have numerous consequences on bilateral relations between countries in the long run. In the digital age propaganda posters have been replaced by digital visuals, such as memes, that are easily produced and mass-disseminated. Today, propaganda is known by several other terms such as spin, alternative facts and fake news. During the global pandemic, social media was used by both the US and China to further their narratives on Covid-19.

The obsession of the US and China to defame one another through animated videos and contemptuous tweets may seem trivial but in actuality this war of words has a much more significant impact. Propaganda is one of the most efficient tools ever used to influence global public opinion. The US and China are relentlessly seeking to take control of the global narrative on Covid-19. Flooding the internet with numerous under proven theories have had negative repercussions of extreme nature on the daily lives of people. In addition to traditional spheres of competition such as military and economic rivalry, the US-China rivalry is shifting into new areas. The outbreak of Covid-19 seems to have provided yet another domain for competition to both the US and China. Aside from news related to Covid-19, propaganda around Covid-19 has dominated global discussions in the last few months.

Propaganda, in the most neutral sense, means to disseminate or promote particular ideas. During the ongoing pandemic, China and the US have been involved in very intense war of words in order to influence the global narrative on Covid-19. Considering the number of narratives presented by two of the world’s strongest actors, the period since the outbreak of the pandemic can be truly regarded as the age of clashing narratives. This analysis attempts to take a close look at the narratives presented by the US and China during the pandemic, consider the impact of disinformation on the day to day lives of people around the world and discuss the criticism against China and the US during the pandemic.

The study has been accessed by clicking here.

(The study has been authored by Preksha Shree Chhetri)

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