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Geopolitics Watch: The CCP is Hijacking the ‘New Cold War’ Narrative

◎ In hijacking the new Cold War narrative, the CCP has resorted to old tropes and mixed in new disinformation


In July, a top CIA official observed at a security forum that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has long been fundamentally waging a “cold war by definition” against the United States. This new Cold War, however, is not like the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the official said.

Since the official’s remarks, we have observed an attempt by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to hijack the meaning of a new Cold War between the U.S. and the PRC. The purpose of this hijacking, as per past CCP propaganda efforts, is to advance and spread a narrative that contains a false binary. The CCP is presenting false choices to convince target audiences that they have no option but to side with Beijing over Washington as the Sino-U.S. competition heats up.

Based on our study of messaging in the PRC, Taiwan, and Western media, the CCP is pushing the narrative that “the new Cold War which the U.S. is waging on China is just like the old Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.” In other words, the CCP is implying that the U.S. is preparing a “containment” strategy against China; is trying to engage China in an arms race; and is willing to take confrontation to the ideological level. The CCP then suggests that the potential outcome of the new Cold War is hot conflict and instability; racial discrimination of Chinese in the U.S. akin to the Japanese experience during the Second World War; and a rupturing of the stable and prosperous post-WWII world order.

In hijacking the new Cold War narrative, the CCP has resorted to old tropes and mixed in new disinformation:

  • Recent messaging from the mainland and elsewhere directly or indirectly accuse America of seeking to “contain” China’s rise and development with a new Cold War. This is a slight modification of the standard CCP propaganda motif of accusing the U.S. of “containing” China. The CCP has often conflated its charge of “containment” with racism and nationalism by invoking China’s “Century of Humiliation.”
  • There is messaging in the U.S. public discourse that seeks to downplay or misrepresent the PRC espionage threat, stoke up old Cold War fears, and insinuate that the Trump administration’s hardening attitude towards the PRC’s long-time trade abuses and other rule breaking is due to “anti-China” racism.
  • There is messaging which suggests that the PRC is falling behind in a Cold War arms race with the U.S. The purpose of such messaging appears to be twofold 1) fix the definition of the new Cold War in public discourse by superimposing the traits of the old Cold War onto it, and 2) “white-wash” the CCP’s military expansionism and overseas infrastructure building projects.
  • The CCP is backpedaling its propaganda on invading Taiwan and its “Made in China 2025” state-backed industrial policy.

The CCP’s propaganda messaging appears to be designed to counter policies, statements or reports issued by the U.S. as Washington seeks to raise awareness about the PRC threat and restore a level playing field to the global trading system:

  • The Trump administration is planning to tariff over $500 billion worth of Chinese exports to resolve America’s massive trade deficit with the PRC. Also, the administration wants the PRC to acknowledge and end intellectual property theft, forced technology transfers, and unfair government subsidies, as well as make the structural changes to its economy that it agreed to carry out after joining the World Trade Organization.
  • Senior officials in the U.S. intelligence community have said that PRC intelligence collecting efforts in America represent an “existential,” “long-term,” and “whole-of-society threat” to the country.
  • The Pentagon released a China military power report which noted that the PRC is “likely training for strikes against U.S. and allied targets.” The report also mentioned that the PRC is “willing to employ coercive measures–both military and non-military–to advance its interests and mitigate opposition from other countries.”
  • The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission published a report on the CCP’s United Front Work activities. In its conclusion, the report warns against equating the CCP with China or the Chinese people in discussions of CCP influence operations to avoid charges of racism and detract from the positive influence of the Chinese culture and people.

The implicit intent behind the CCP’s attempt to hijack the “new Cold War” narrative is to influence businesses and countries to lobby the Trump administration to stop “destabilizing” the current global order and return things to the “stable” status quo, i.e., cease competition and confrontation with the PRC on all fronts. Domestically, the CCP can use the narrative to blame China’s worsening economic and social woes on the Trump administration and America.

Our take:
1. The U.S. policy towards the PRC has been one of engagement since the 1970s. Attitudes toward the PRC have only started to shift in the previous five-plus years with greater awareness being raised about the CCP’s pernicious behavior in trade, espionage, cyber, military reform, overseas infrastructure development, cross-strait relations, and other areas. In December 2017, the Trump administration changed the Sino-U.S. relation from engagement to competition with a new National Security Strategy. And the notion that the CCP has been fundamentally waging a new Cold War against the U.S. for a long time was only raised this July.

Keeping perspective of the gradual evolution in the U.S. thinking towards the PRC is paramount in exposing the false binary in the “new Cold War” narrative that the CCP is presently pushing.

2. It has only been a few weeks since the U.S. raised the notion of a Sino-U.S. cold war, and the CCP is already trying to hijack the narrative and reshape how it is viewed and interpreted in the public discourse. Aside from revealing the pace and flexibility at which the CCP propaganda apparatus can operate, this phenomenon also offers insight into the extent of CCP penetration into U.S. society, including key shapers of public opinion like the media, academic institutions, and think-tanks.

Get smart:
1. Decoding CCP influence operations, including propaganda and disinformation, requires a deep understanding of CCP political culture and elite Party politics. And our experts have long studied and analyzed CCP elite politics and political culture.

Results are a good benchmark of expertise. SinoInsider has accurately forecasted the 19th Party Congress and Two Sessions personnel movements with a very high degree of accuracy. Our knowledge of the CCP and China also allows us to anticipate China-related geopolitics correctly.

2. Expert analysis about China is usually pretty generic and generally “politically correct.” SinoInsider’s analysis, however, is unique and devoid of group-think. In-depth knowledge aside, being completely independent and free from PRC influence is a big factor in why we don’t seem to stick to the script in assessing China and other key geopolitical issues of the day.

3. We offer custom research and consulting services on CCP influence operations and elite politics. To learn more, get in touch.

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