COVID-19 and China’s changing propaganda tactics in Slovakia

Back to the future: The Embassy joins social media

After years of a notable absence on social media, China started using both Facebook and Twitter accounts in February 2020. This activity fits within the broader trend of Chinese diplomats getting on “Western” social media in order to fulfill Xi Jinping’s directive to “tell the China story well”.

#RumorBreaking

As various actors of the Slovak security community (both state actors and NGOs) started to engage in strategic communication about the pandemic and China’s role in the breakout, the Chinese Embassy launched a campaign aimed at breaking purported rumors about China and the pandemic. So far, 13 infographics were published on Facebook and Twitter which “debunk” the purported myths about the origin of the virus, expediency, and transparency of China’s response to the outbreak, Taiwan’s response to the virus, and its influence over the WHO. Overall, these “infographics” can be characterized as a mix of truth-bending, misinformation and creative semantics. This was a part of a larger coordinated campaign targeting more countries, as similar infographics and articles were posted by Chinese embassies in Berlin, Warsaw and Athens. An article on 24 myths was published by the Chinese news agency, Xinhua.

Slovak media: finding internal resilience?

Besides engaging on social media, the Chinese Embassy has relied on more traditional approaches to spread propaganda and disinformation on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Local proxies prove their worth

Still, the most effective way for the Chinese embassy to get its message on the pandemic across, included neither the abuse of Slovak media nor the Embassy’s social media presence. The biggest reach of the propaganda came by getting local political proxies to spread Chinese talking points. This has been recognised in the past as one of China’s key tools to influence foreign perception of China.

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