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China’s State Media Cooperation with Brazilian Media Yields Soft Power Gains
China’s State Media Cooperation with Brazilian Media Yields Soft Power Gains

China’s State Media Cooperation with Brazilian Media Yields Soft Power Gains

Efforts by the Chinese state and its state-affiliated actors to engage with global media can be seen as part of a broader drive to enhance China’s soft power and shape narratives in the state’s favor. CDT has documented numerous examples, particularly in the Global South, whereby Chinese engagement, often through media forums and people-to-people exchanges, has not only promoted collaboration but also disseminated more Chinese state-media content to local audiences in order to burnish China’s image. Several recent studies shine light on this dynamic in Brazil.

This week, Pablo Sebastian Morales and Paulo Menechelli published an article in the Chinese Journal of Communication titled, “Communicating the authentic China: partnership agreements and the use of Chinese sources and voices by Brazilian media.” The article explores China’s use of media partnership agreements in Brazil as a form of public diplomacy to shape China’s image in the region. As the authors conclude, “China’s shift in its approach from external actor to increasingly closer partner is helping it to gain agency to reshape the country’s image and counter hegemonic narratives”:

This study explores how Chinese sources and voices are used on BandNews TV to communicate China to Brazilian audiences and the correlation with the tone with which China is presented. The results showed that the partnership agreement has provided CCTV with a platform for Chinese sources and voices to play a protagonistic role in shaping the way China is portrayed on BandNews TV. While this is mainly articulated through MC [Mundo China, a short news segment with stories about China], Chinese sources and voices also feature on BandNews TV news bulletins at a higher rate than on other channels. The data from BandNews TV indicate that reports with Chinese sources and voices present China with an overwhelmingly positive tone, which responds to the ambitions of the Chinese government to “tell China’s story well” (Xi, 2014, as cited in Wang, Citation2014, p. 10), whereby “well” means “positively.”

The presence of correspondents in China constituted an innovative feature in the mediation of China’s image by BandNews TV. However, closer inspection showed that these were reporters working for CMG [China Media Group], who were introduced as either a “reporter in China” or “our correspondent in Beijing,” and while their names appeared on screen, no affiliation was mentioned. A simple online search revealed that they worked for CCTV or CRI’s Portuguese-language service. In fact, some appeared reporting on Yanzheng Road, near the headquarters of CRI [China Radio International] in Beijing’s Shijingshan district. On one occasion, a reporter was seen standing outside the People’s Procuratorate of the Beijing Municipality, located just opposite CRI’s main building. Regarding the only Brazilian correspondent, this was in fact a reporter from BandNews TV that was sent to Beijing to cover Bolsonaro’s visit to China in 2019. The non-disclosure of the affiliation of Chinese reporters might lead audiences to believe they work for BandNews TV. This issue echoes accounts from other parts of the world, where certain broadcasters with content sharing agreements do not always disclose Chinese sources (International Federation of Journalists, Citation2020). However, we cannot categorically confirm nor deny that this is the case with BandNews TV. [Source]

The article was based on a sample of content from September 2019 to December 2021, but recent content from BandNews TV’s YouTube page shows a dense amount of content continuing up through the present. Since March, the channel has uploaded six Mundo China videos, each about seven minutes long, which use audiovisual content from CCTV and Xinhua journalists. One recent Mundo China segment amplified foreign journalists attending the Two Sessions who described how China serves as an example for other countries. Many segments are hosted by Laura Olivera Sala, a journalist who, according to her LinkedIn page, has worked as a producer for CCTV+ since 2019, and previously worked for China Radio International. 

Brazilian journalist Igor Patrick has documented related examples of Chinese influence in the media ecosystems of Brazil and other Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries. Patrick discussed some of these cases last month in a Wilson Center event on “China’s Voice in Latin American Media,” based on his recent book on the subject: “Hearts & Minds, Votes & Contracts: China’s State Media in Latin America.” (Stay tuned for a CDT interview with Patrick about the book.) In his chapter examining Brazil, Patrick highlighted Chinese media partnerships with two Brazilian media titans, Globo Group and Band Group, and traced the evolution of the latter’s Mundo China strategy. Here is an excerpt summarizing the Chinese presence in Brazilian media:

In stark contrast to other nations, China has made substantial investments in both capital and effort to cultivate its media presence in Brazil. This dedication from China can be linked to the strong relations that exist between the two nations.

[…] Brazil played a pivotal role in aiding China’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001. Both nations are integral members of the BRICS, a coalition of paramount importance to China’s diplomatic initiatives. Xinhua has maintained a presence in Brazil since 1961229. China Radio International began its operations in 1999. Over the years, the Portuguese Department of China Radio International (CRIpor) entered broadcasting agreements with multiple Brazilian radio stations.

To name a few, Brasília Super Rádio FM, headquartered in the national capital, and Rádio Guaíba both aired daily five-minute news bulletins crafted by the Chinese, highlighting major events in China. Additionally, CRIpor established a collaboration with Rádio Manchete, a station broadcasting in both São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. 

The Portuguese Department of China Radio International (CRIpor) maintained retransmission contracts with several radio stations in Brazil, such as Brasília Super Rádio FM, based in the country’s capital, and Rádio Guaíba, from Porto Alegre235, both broadcasting daily five minutes news bulletins prepared by the Chinese with the main news from China. CRIpor also had an agreement with Rádio Manchete, which operates in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. [Source]

Outside of Brazil, Chinese state media has also worked to promote a positive image of China for Brazilian audiences, as recent articles demonstrate. One CGTN article from February is titled, “Carnival artists celebrate China-Brazil friendship.” A Global Times article from March is titled, “China brings opportunities rather than ‘dumping’ goods in Brazil.” A China Daily article from last week is titled, “Outdoor concert celebrates long friendship between China, Brazil.” The latter is authored by Paulo Cabral, a Brazilian journalist for CGTN with nine years of experience at the BBC, suggesting that certain state-media outlets have attracted local talent to better tailor their content to Brazilian audiences.

These media strategies have been accompanied by coordinated diplomatic initiatives. Describing China’s “education diplomacy” in a blog post for the Wilson Center last month, Margaret Myers noted that China has launched thousands of educational partnerships in Latin America, some of which cultivate local talent and ensure the adoption of Chinese standards. As Adam Ratzlaff wrote this week in The Diplomat, China’s multi-pronged approach to engaging regional organizations in LAC has allowed Beijing to expand its presence in the region:

The complex network of regional organizations has provided space for China to engage in the region in important ways. In the early years of Chinese engagement in regional organizations, engaging with regional bodies was an important way in which the country could interact with the region despite not having diplomatic recognition. It also allowed China to engage in multiple forums where the United States does not engage — or at least does not have a formal role — so as to increase its influence in regional affairs without upsetting the United States and framing itself as a counterweight to U.S. imperialism in the region. At the same time, China has engaged through organizations that include the United States to showcase its commitment to the region. These actions have allowed China to deepen its ties to the region and to gain additional economic advantage in key spaces, particularly vis-à-vis the United States, which is often accused of ignoring the region. 

[…] When the China-CELAC [Community of Latin American and Caribbean States] Forum first met in January 2015, China created a primary mechanism through which it could engage and established clear rules and objectives surrounding this engagement. One key element of this was pulling together different subforums of engagement in different areas that allowed China to engage with different government, private sector, and civil society actors from across the region. These also include areas for topical cooperation in science and technology, agriculture, and infrastructure. While the forum itself serves as a platform for leaders from across the Americas to engage with their Chinese counterparts, one of the most important elements of the forum is that it has streamlined Chinese multilateral engagement in the region into a single identifiable channel. [Source]

Tangible results for China have followed. Highlighting a few examples, the China Signal noted that Chinese companies recently won contracts to build railways and an EV manufacturing plant in Brazil. In the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor, Tara Hariharan and Jorge Heine both noted that the Brazilian government has supported Huawei’s inroads into the country’s telecom infrastructure despite pushback from the U.S. government. As David O. Shullman observed in a paper for the Atlantic Council, China’s material success in Latin America is intertwined with its expanding international communication strategies:

China’s growing sway in Latin America is neither simply a result of these economic ties, nor is Beijing’s interest in the region’s considerable resources the sole driver of its expanded engagement in the region. China has effectively paired investment and trade with strategic diplomacy and public messaging, amplifying its regional influence in the process just as it has for decades in Africa and other developing regions.

[…] China’s messaging approach is remarkably monolithic, with identical narratives simultaneously issued by news outlets in different countries and by diplomats and company representative throughout the region. This suggests a highly centralized, coordinated decision-making process involving elements of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Propaganda Department—as well as limited capacity to tailor China’s messages to particular contexts in the region. The PRC propaganda and information operations approach in LAC countries has become more systematic and diverse over the past decade, including opinion pieces, media content-sharing agreements, coproductions, press trips for Latin American journalists, and diplomatic accounts on social media platforms. Paid insertions and supplements in local outlets celebrating CCP achievements and legitimizing the Chinese government and leadership are also becoming more frequent and reflect a determination to present counternarratives to those of China’s critics. These interventions highlight the Chinese understanding or redefinition of such concepts as “freedom,” “democracy,” “harmony,” and “human rights.” [Source]