By Thomas Grove
MOSCOW -- Russian state-controlled broadcaster RT aired a
contentious documentary in English last month that accused the U.S.
of directing and funding Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests, which
have posed a stiff challenge to Chinese control of the
That show is just one of a number of recent programs on RT, a
network American authorities regard as a propaganda tool for the
Kremlin, that have pushed pro-Beijing views on a number of topics,
from China's treatment of its ethnic-minority Uighur Muslims to the
trade war with the U.S.
With the RT broadcasts, the Kremlin has stepped into the fray
between the U.S. and Beijing and provided access to a tool of a
sort that China's Communist Party is still working to perfect: a
sleek, 24-hour news channel aimed abroad that blurs the lines
between news and state propaganda.
Beijing-friendly content on RT and other Russian
foreign-language news outlets underscores efforts by the
governments and state media of China and Russia to foster
cooperation in what Moscow sees as an information war against the
U.S. Relations between Moscow and Beijing have blossomed as both
countries' ties with Washington have wilted.
"Russia and China's interests align on a number of fronts and
most often against the U.S.," said Alexander Gabuev, senior fellow
at the Carnegie Moscow Center. "It's only natural that they would
fight back-to-back in what they see as a hostile media landscape
populated by Western media outlets."
Twitter and Facebook last year removed pages they said were
spreading Chinese disinformation about the Hong Kong protests, but
Moscow is increasingly helping Beijing get its voice heard beyond
its stodgy media steeped in loyalty to the Chinese Communist
Russia's state-controlled news agency Sputnik, which has been
accused by Western governments of deliberately spreading
disinformation, has several agreements with Chinese outlets such as
the Global Times and the Xinhua News Agency to regularly exchange
personnel as well as content. Officials from the two countries held
a forum in Russia's Pacific port city of Vladivostok to discuss
their state-run media in September.
As a result of those deepening contacts, Chinese media have
increasingly echoed Russian state media. Last year, Xinhua
repeatedly quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria
Zakharova on the need to investigate the alleged role of the U.S.
in the worst protests in years against Russian President Vladimir
In parallel, Russia has shifted from a relatively neutral tone
to one backing China's stance on Hong Kong. Moscow has likewise
echoed Beijing's line on detention camps for China's ethnic Uighurs
and the country's continuing trade war with the U.S.
The documentary on RT, "Hong Kong Unmasked," hit a chord on
Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, where Chinese users praised
it for airing allegations that the protesters are tied to the
Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. nongovernmental organizations
such as Freedom House and the National Endowment for Democracy.
"Thanks for your hard work! There are not many media that can
help China, " wrote one account in Weibo, China's answer to
Twitter, in response to a post from RT with a link to the video.
Others said RT did a better job than Chinese state media.
RT says it has more than 350 million viewers world-wide,
eclipsing China's equivalent, the China Global Television Network
or CGTN, which reaches 85 million, according to TV.Chinese.net, a
website that researches Chinese media. China has funneled billions
of dollars into CGTN, the foreign arm of China Central Television,
or CCTV, to change perceptions of a channel that is criticized
outside of China for its wooden presentations and bland
While still in its infancy, CGTN is airing increasingly
provocative reports modeled in part on the offerings of Russian
media like RT, say longtime watchers of Russia-China relations.
Last month, for example, the station presented a piece mocking
President Trump and echoing ironic claims on Russian media that he
is an agent of Moscow.
"Russian and Chinese state-run media surely cooperate and
exchange delegations and have cooperation agreements," said Vasily
Kashin, an expert on Russia-China relations at the Moscow Higher
School of Economy. "And China's English-language media is
increasingly following the Russian model."
Chinese officials have met with the press office of the Russian
Foreign Ministry, run by Ms. Zakharova, who has actively used
Western social-media platforms such as Twitter to convey the
Kremlin's view, Mr. Gabuev said.
China's Foreign Ministry confirmed that its officials often hold
talks with their Russian counterparts and that cooperation on
information and media has deepened.
"Unlike some countries' 'information wars' against other
countries, China-Russia cooperation in the media field does not
target any third party, but [exists] to better clarify the truth,
refute rumors and safeguard the common interests," the ministry
said in a statement.
State-run news from China and Russia has limited appeal in the
West, RT's traditional target. But both countries are increasingly
looking to affect popular opinion -- and in some cases to sow
disinformation about the West -- in places like the Middle East and
"The main battle is not about the opinions of the audience in
the West, but the opinions of the people in the Middle East, Africa
or South America," said Artyom Lukin, a professor at Far Eastern
Federal University in Vladivostok and an expert in Russian-Chinese
ties. "These TV stations believe it's possible to shift public
opinion there, especially as a lot of people there are quite
receptive to kinds of anti-American messaging."
In the U.S., CGTN registered as a foreign agent in February 2019
at the request of the Justice Department. RT was asked to register
as a foreign agent in 2017 after a declassified U.S. intelligence
assessment said the broadcaster contributed to Russia's attempts to
influence the 2016 presidential election.
The Justice Department said it made the request of RT because
the broadcaster consistently mirrored the views of the Kremlin. It
didn't give a justification for its requirement that CGTN
Write to Thomas Grove at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 14, 2020 07:14 ET (12:14 GMT)
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