China is waging political warfare to subvert the United States and western nations through extensive propaganda and disinformation operations, a panel of experts told Congress on Thursday.
John Garnaut, a senior fellow at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and expert on Chinese political warfare, told a House select committee that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) shifted from defense to attack under Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“Ideological struggle with the West is not new for the CCP, but a key development under Xi is that this struggle, which impacts the international image, reputation, and overall security of other countries, is being intensified outside of China,” Mr. Garnaut said in a hearing of the House Select Committee on the CCP.
Miles Yu, a former State Department policymaker on China, told the hearing that CCP disinformation aimed at undermining western systems is “massive.”
The Chinese propaganda effort has been aided by supporters and sympathizers in elite sectors of the United States, said Mr. Yu, now director of the China Center at the Hudson Institute.
“Former senior government officials, including Cabinet-level figures, routinely defend the CCP’s murderous acts, including the Tiananmen massacre and other egregious human rights violations,” Mr. Yu said.
“Some of these former officials have even become registered agents for the Beijing regime and its CCP-controlled business interests in the U.S.” he added.
A third panelist, Yaqiu Wang, research director for China at Freedom House, said the CCP, in addition to its large-scale propaganda and disinformation operations, is leveraging social media and internet tools to target American society.
The tools include the use of the Chinese-owned TikTok video app, X and China-based WeChat social media outlets.
“Beijing is not only spreading its disinformation across many more platforms, languages, and geographic audiences, it is also experimenting with tactics that are more sophisticated and harder to detect,” Ms. Wang said.
“All Chinese social media companies, private or public, are subjected to the control of the CCP, which creates an opportunity for Chinese government censorship, surveillance, and propaganda that affect not only their China-based users, but those around the world.”
To counter Chinese propaganda, Congress should enact regulations that mandate transparency from all social media platforms that will identify content that has been censored, suppressed, or promoted at the request of governments, she said.
Mr. Garnaut, the Australian expert, said CCP propaganda is driven by fear of western values and a drive for total control of words and ideas.
The CCP “invests enormous resources in shutting down discordant voices and shaping and elevating more favorable ones,” Mr. Garnaut said.
“This defensive war has always had a global, offensive, remit,” he added.
The tools used by Beijing include propaganda, censorship, political thought work, and international public opinion struggle, Mr. Garnaut said.
Rep. Mike Gallagher, Wisconsin Republican and committee chairman, said many China experts say the Taiwan Strait will be a key battlefield, but China is already waging “cognitive warfare.”
“In [Chinese President] Xi Jinping’s view, the war has already started on the most important battlefield: your mind,” Mr. Gallagher said.
Mr. Xi was quoted in a handbook on military political work that “the crumbling of a regime always starts in the realm of ideas … changing the way people think is a long-term process.”
“Once the front lines of human thought have been broken through, other defensive lines also become hard to defend,” Mr. Xi stated, noting that the realm of ideas is a “smokeless battlefield” for waging ideological warfare.
Mr. Gallagher said the United States doesn’t really “do propaganda here.”
“After all, there’s nowhere you can find a more scathing critique of the United States and its government than in the New York Times or Fox News on any given Wednesday,” he said.
The chairman said the United States needs to fight back against Chinese propaganda and information warfare on the smokeless battlefield of people’s minds.
“On Xi’s ‘smokeless battlefield,’ TikTok is a perfect weapon, camouflaged in plain sight,” he said.
“Make no mistake: the battle of our minds is already joined, and Congress must act with urgency to prevent the CCP from seizing the high ground.”
Mr. Yu, the former State Department official, said Chinese efforts against the West are tantamount to brainwashing – the most severe form of Beijing propaganda.
The effects of the brainwashing can be seen in the adoption of CCP key concepts and nomenclature by American social movements, including the Black Panther radicals of the 1970s and the Revolutionary Communist Party.
“Today’s common use of the word ‘progressive’ by a significant portion of American body politic traces its intellectual origin straight to the Marxist-Leninist ‘dialectical’ categorization of people into reactionaries and progressives,” Mr. Yu said.
“It is not from the modern legacy of the American Progressive Movement represented by William Jennings Bryan, Theodore Roosevelt, Robert M. La Follette, and Henry A. Wallace,” he cautioned.