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NATO Report Assesses China’s Information Operations in Latvia and Sweden

May 17th, 2022 14:26

NATO’s Strate­gic Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Cen­tre of Excel­lence recent­ly pub­lished a detailed report exam­in­ing China’s influ­ence and infor­ma­tion oper­a­tions in Latvia and Swe­den. Accord­ing to a NATO Strat­Com press release:

March 25, 2022 The report is aimed at under­stand­ing China’s influ­ence in the region, by under­tak­ing analy­sis of China’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion tac­tics and tools, its strate­gic nar­ra­tives and their preva­lence in pub­lic dis­course in the Nordic– Baltic region, illus­trat­ed by two case stud­ies: Latvia and Swe­den. From the Nordic coun­tries, Swe­den was cho­sen for analy­sis due to its tense bilat­er­al rela­tions with Chi­na over the last few years, and encoun­ter­ing China’s con­fronta­tion­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion efforts, labelled as ‘wolf war­rior’ diplo­ma­cy. From the Baltic States, Latvia was select­ed giv­en the role of its cap­i­tal, Riga, hav­ing been cho­sen as head­quar­ters of the over­seas rep­re­sen­ta­tions of var­i­ous Chi­nese insti­tu­tions and pub­lic diplo­ma­cy activ­i­ties in the Baltics. The report looks at China’s influ­ence in two dimen­sions. First, it analy­ses avenues of China’s influ­ence in the coun­tries of analy­sis. Sec­ond, it analy­ses how China’s activ­i­ties are reflect­ed in the media space of the tar­get coun­tries. Thus, the report seeks to under­stand to what extent China’s offi­cial ‘frames’ are con­verg­ing with the views expressed in local media, and poten­tial­ly influ­enc­ing pub­lic attitudes.

Read the full report here.

The NATO report iden­ti­fies the fol­low­ing eight avenues Chi­na uses to influ­ence  the infor­ma­tion  environment:

  • Unit­ed Front networks
  • Par­lia­men­tar­i­an relationships
  • Aca­d­e­m­ic relations
  • Eco­nom­ic investments(exposure to the Chi­nese market
  • Infra­struc­ture development
  • Espi­onage
  • Diplo­mat­ic measures
  • Pub­lic communication

The report says that while media dis­cours­es of both Latvia and Swe­den have not sup­port­ed Chi­nese fram­ing, there  are numer­ous  areas/topics where Chi­na exerts poten­tial influ­ence,  espe­cial­ly when those frames s con­verge with exist­ing atti­tudes and per­cep­tions of local pop­u­la­tions. Accord­ing to the report’s conclusion:

China’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion efforts towards Latvia thus far can be char­ac­terised as non-con­fronta­tion­al, focus­ing on prospec­tive coop­er­a­tion between the two coun­tries. In instances   of  crit­i­cism  lev­elled  against  Chi­na, it is not con­front­ed pub­licly. By con­trast, Swe­den has expe­ri­enced  a  more  con­fronta­tion­al  side of China’s  pub­lic  com­mu­ni­ca­tion, with  Chi­nese  diplo­mats pub­licly react­ing to Swedish crit­i­cism regard­ing human rights abus­es and aggres­sive for­eign pol­i­cy. China’s  frames iden­ti­fied  in both  coun­tries can be  seen  as part of   China’s glob­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion efforts. How­ev­er, in con­trast  to  the  Swedish  sit­u­a­tion,  China’s frames in Lat­vian media  are not derived  from  local­ly adapt­ed con­tent (for   exam­ple, by   China’s   prox­ies,  diplo­mat­ic  mis­sion,  etc.), but rather appear in local media through trans­la­tions of China’s glob­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels, such as Chi­na Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion (CCTV) or Xin­hua News Agency. The media dis­cours­es of both coun­tries have not been sup­port­ive of Chi­nese offi­cial frames, rather con­fronting them with oppos­ing views. Fur­ther­more, Swedish  pub­lic  opin­ion regard­ing Chi­na has  become increas­ing­ly  neg­a­tive over the past years. Despite  these  devel­op­ments,  research showed  that in both  cas­es  there  are  numer­ous  areas/topics  where Chi­na  exerts  a  poten­tial  for  influ­ence,  espe­cial­ly when China’s frames con­verge with already exist­ing atti­tudes  and per­cep­tions  of  local  pop­u­la­tions. For  exam­ple,  media  in both coun­tries  have been more sup­port­ive of Chi­nese frames when report­ing  on the eco­nom­ic ben­e­fits and oppor­tu­ni­ties from coop­er­a­tion with Chi­na, as well warn­ing about the cost­ly reper­cus­sions  from oppos­ing Chi­na (in the Swedish case in par­tic­u­lar). The fact that some  views in Lat­vian and  Swedish media con­verge  with China’s offi­cial com­mu­ni­ca­tion is not nec­es­sar­i­ly a  direct result     of China’s influ­ence activ­i­ties in the coun­tries of analy­sis. How­ev­er, the poten­tial of China’s  influ­ence may not lie in China’s active com­mu­ni­ca­tion efforts, but rather in exag­ger­a­tions of  ideas regard­ing China’s impor­tance in bilat­er­al rela­tions and the con­se­quences of oppos­ing  the coun­try. This can fos­ter self-cen­sor­ship and absten­tion by deci­sion-mak­ers  when   con­sid­er­ing pol­i­cy deci­sions regard­ing rela­tions with China.

In May 2021, the Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report report­ed on a study assess­ing China’s soft pow­er in Europe, which said that per­cep­tions of Chi­na in Latvia are “becom­ing less favourable” and that China’s soft pow­er in Swe­den is “clear­ly in a state of free fall.”