Recently, China has suffered unprecedented backlash from the international community. U.S. politicians have criticized its legitimate actions in safeguarding national security. The U.S. has sustained the banner of “democracy” and “human rights” to uphold double standards in regional and international affairs. Paradoxically, the iPanda website, which streams panda photos and videos on Twitter, has been tagged with the “China state-affiliated media” label. Simultaneously, the behavior of external actors interfering with China’s domestic political stability has affected China’s internal public opinion environment. Certain foreign-funded NGOs, foundations, and research institutions have subtly instigated dissension, using issues such as environmental protection, energy, population, and economy to discredit China. It is time to retaliate against “ideological pollution.”
The PaperClip Incident
For example, since July 2021, the science blog PaperClip has been suspended from the Chinese social media platforms WeChat and Weibo and the video-streaming site Bilibili after being accused of bias against China. Some among the English-language media have focused on China’s “crackdown” on internet content and have even referred to PaperClip as a victim of Chinese “nationalist backlash.”
It is no surprise that China’s suspension of PaperClip cannot be understood by members of the foreign media; however, PaperClip has been the subject of controversy frequently. PaperClip has expressed fundamental positions in opposite ways in on domestic and foreign video platforms. For example, within one of its YouTube videos aired in 2018, PaperClip failed to include the island of Taiwan on a map of China. However, the same video broadcast on Bilibili showed Taiwan as part of China.
Under the banner of pure science, the PaperClip creation team subtly outputs opinions which looks right but actually unreasonable to brainwash the Chinese audience. For example, because of the China–United States trade war, the United States increased taxes on imports from China significantly and China has chosen to import soybeans from Brazil. This has allowed China to significantly reduce its imports of soybeans from the U.S. Soon after, the PaperClip released the video “How to quickly wipe out the world's forests” in 2020 (the video has been removed from the official account), which clearly stated: “In the era of economic globalization, the butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil may not trigger a tornado in Texas, but our [Chinese] consumption of meat, eggs, and milk can actually affect the survival of Brazilian forests!” The video content is strongly misleading, asserting that because China is the major consumer of Brazilian soybeans, their production has led to deforestation in South America.
One PaperClip editor worked for a U.S. military agency at the same time and another posted many anti-China comments on overseas social media. Although Paperclip issued a statement on June 19 that these two employees have resigned, PaperClip is trying unsuccessfully to hide that the blog is funded by overseas NGOs. The blog hides behind a name that implies a populist and public-welfare-oriented intent in terms of science topics, but actually promotes hostile views of foreign NGOs. According to the latest “Global NGO Technology Report” published in 2019 by the nonprofit media Nonprofit Tech for Good, self-media platforms have become an important strategic area for overseas NGOs looking to communicate with target groups online and raise funds.
“Trojan Horses” Hidden in U.S. NGOs
Behind most international turmoil, you are likely to find pervasive American NGOs. The activities of these NGOs combine openness and concealment. In the name of human rights, freedom, environmental protection, LGBTQ rights equality, animal protection, and more, they use negative public opinion to take the moral high ground and to infiltrate and intervene in developing countries.
The influence of American NGOs within China encompasses politics, economy, education, culture, environmental protection, and rights protection. The National Endowment for Democracy announced on its official website that it spent more than $10 million in China in 2020, of which $5.85 million was for the mainland, $2.04 million for Hong Kong, $1.25 million for Xinjiang, and $1.08 million for Tibet. An article co-authored by Chinese scholar Shuhong Huo and British scholar Inderjeet Parmar pointed out that non-government elite groups in developing countries are the direct targets of the foreign aid offered by the American Enterprise Foundation. The American Enterprise Foundation has built an elite network in various disciplines to create an environment that is pro-American values, uses American research methods, and relies on American institutions. The emphasis on American values of the classic economists and the influence of the American Enterprise Foundation is trying to marginalize Marxist economists. The primary task of many American NGOs is to serve the interests of American foreign policy. Among their most important tasks are to obstruct countries threatening the United States and to weaken and defeat those countries by inciting internal conflicts.
After President Joseph R. Biden took office, he revived human rights issues and Western democratic values as strategic tools for the United States. The Biden administration is battling China by emphasizing Beijing’s violation of democratic rights and values. The U.S. Embassy and Consulates in China launched the Public Diplomacy Small Grants Program on its official website in 2021. The program is intended to fund individuals, NGOs, think tanks, academic institutions, and so on in China, organizing activities to promote American society, history, culture, art, and values. Some within the Chinese media have commented that this program is intended as propaganda and infiltration into China under the guise of public diplomacy.
Countermeasures against “ideological pollution”
First, the ability to recognize “ideological pollution” is conducive to China’s national security and development interests. The leaders in mass media should understand the influence of “ideological pollution,” improve their ability to discern Western discourse tools, and increase their vigilance of the “color revolution” on the internet. China can create a secure cyberspace by eliminating hostile internal and external responses, if it dares sharpen the sword and fight back.
Second, China should improve its management and identification of overseas NGOs and media in the country, and label overseas institutions, for example, online news magazine WHYNOT as “U.S. state-affiliated media,” to facilitate the identification of Chinese netizens.
Ultimately, Chinese NGOs themselves need to be good storytellers. China welcomes and recognizes the contribution of legitimate NGOs that promote the economic and social development of China and other developing countries. However, China firmly opposes organizations and personnel that are cloaked as NGOs in appearance but engage in activities that endanger the security of China and its neighboring countries. The development of non-government organizations in the West has been relatively mature, with good organizational systems and operating methods. China should learn from these organizations, cultivating more NGOs that are familiar with this international political and economic structure and possess high cross-cultural communication and negotiation capabilities.
Author: Yin Ruyu, an assistant professor from Research Center for the Economies and Politics of Transitional Countries, Liaoning University, firstname.lastname@example.org