Chinese state media have been reporting on an innocuous-sounding meeting held on Tuesday in Beijing where China’s propaganda chief promoted the country’s message to the assembled media representatives. This meeting is being called an ‘international forum for media exchanges among Belt and Road countries.” Reportedly attending were over 120 guests from 54 unidentified mainstream media outlets in 33 countries and regions, organized by China Media Group, the media conglomerate founded in 2018 by fusing all state-holding media enterprises.
Li Shulei, a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and head of the Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee, said at the forum the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) had become a widely welcomed global public good over the past ten years. Li said China would stay firmly on the path of peaceful development, remain committed to a mutually beneficial strategy of opening up, boost high-quality development of the BRI, and promote the building of a community with a shared future for humanity.
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also known as the One Belt One Road (OBOR), is a massive infrastructure and development project launched by the Chinese government in 2013. The initiative aims to create a network of trade routes, both by land and sea, connecting Asia, Europe, and Africa and enhance economic cooperation and cultural exchange between China and other participating countries. The BRI comprises two main components: the Silk Road Economic Belt, which is a network of overland corridors linking China with Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia, and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which is a series of sea routes connecting China with Southeast Asia, Africa, and Europe.
The BRI has been described as the largest and most ambitious infrastructure project in history, with an estimated cost of up to $4–8 trillion. It involves building and upgrading ports, railways, highways, airports, pipelines, and other infrastructure across over 70 countries, encompassing over 60% of the world’s population and 30% of the global GDP. The countries of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) are spread across all continents:
38 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa
34 countries in Europe & Central Asia (including 18 countries of the EU)
25 countries in East Asia & pacific
17 countries in the Middle East & North Africa
18 countries in Latin America & Caribbean
6 countries in South East Asia
Li Shulei’s presence the forum is no surprise. A protégé of Chinese President Xi Jinping, he was appointed last year as the Communist Party’s propaganda chief. At 58, he was among the 13 new members of the latest Politburo, and his promotion to the top job at the central propaganda department had been expected. In his new capacity, Li will enforce Xi’s vision on ideology, films, the internet, and the media. He is expected to spearhead Beijing’s drive to shape the global narrative about China.
The CPC’s media strategy is integral to its global influence operations. In his speech, Li Shulei emphasized the importance of media outlets in promoting China’s message and advancing its interests. He called on media outlets to “actively spread the concepts of jointly seizing opportunities, meeting challenges, and realizing greater prosperity.” This aligns with China’s broader efforts to shape global public opinion and promote its image as a responsible global actor.
However, China’s media strategy has also been criticized for its lack of transparency and its tendency to suppress critical voices. The CPC exercises strict control over the media in China, and this extends to its media operations abroad. This has raised concerns among some analysts that China’s growing media influence could undermine press freedom and democracy in other countries