יום שלישי, 30 ביולי 2019

Inside China's audacious global propaganda campaign

Beijing is buying up media outlets and training scores of foreign journalists to ‘tell China’s story well’ – as part of a worldwide propaganda campaign of astonishing scope and ambition.

As they sifted through resumes, the team recruiting for the new London hub of China’s state-run broadcaster had an enviable problem: far, far too many candidates. Almost 6,000 people were applying for just 90 jobs “reporting the news from a Chinese perspective”. Even the simple task of reading through the heap of applications would take almost two months.

For western journalists, demoralised by endless budget cuts, China Global Television Network presents an enticing prospect, offering competitive salaries to work in state-of-the-art purpose-built studios in Chiswick, west London. CGTN – as the international arm of China Central Television (CCTV) was rebranded in 2016 – is the most high-profile component of China’s rapid media expansion across the world, whose goal, in the words of President Xi Jinping, is to “tell China’s story well”. In practice, telling China’s story well looks a lot like serving the ideological aims of the state.

For decades, Beijing’s approach to shaping its image has been defensive, reactive and largely aimed at a domestic audience. The most visible manifestation of these efforts was the literal disappearance of content inside China: foreign magazines with pages ripped out, or the BBC news flickering to black when it aired stories on sensitive issues such as Tibet, Taiwan or the Tiananmen killings of 1989. Beijing’s crude tools were domestic censorship, official complaints to news organisations’ headquarters and expelling correspondents from China.

But over the past decade or so, China has rolled out a more sophisticated and assertive strategy, which is increasingly aimed at international audiences. China is trying to reshape the global information environment with massive infusions of money – funding paid-for advertorials, sponsored journalistic coverage and heavily massaged positive messages from boosters. While within China the press is increasingly tightly controlled, abroad Beijing has sought to exploit the vulnerabilities of the free press to its advantage.

In its simplest form, this involves paying for Chinese propaganda supplements to appear in dozens of respected international publications such as the Washington Post. The strategy can also take more insidious forms, such as planting content from the state-run radio station, China Radio International (CRI), on to the airwaves of ostensibly independent broadcasters across the world, from Australia to Turkey.

Meanwhile, in the US, lobbyists paid by Chinese-backed institutions are cultivating vocal supporters known as “third-party spokespeople” to deliver Beijing’s message, and working to sway popular perceptions of Chinese rule in Tibet. China is also wooing journalists from around the world with all-expenses-paid tours and, perhaps most ambitiously of all, free graduate degrees in communication, training scores of foreign reporters each year to “tell China’s story well”.

Since 2003, when revisions were made to an official document outlining the political goals of the People’s Liberation Army, so-called “media warfare” has been an explicit part of Beijing’s military strategy. The aim is to influence public opinion overseas in order to nudge foreign governments into making policies favourable towards China’s Communist party. “Their view of national security involves pre-emption in the world of ideas,” says former CIA analyst Peter Mattis, who is now a fellow in the China programme at the Jamestown Foundation, a security-focused Washington thinktank. “The whole point of pushing that kind of propaganda out is to preclude or preempt decisions that would go against the People’s Republic of China.”.

Sometimes this involves traditional censorship: intimidating those with dissenting opinions, cracking down on platforms that might carry them, or simply acquiring those outlets. Beijing has also been patiently increasing its control over the global digital infrastructure through private Chinese companies, which are dominating the switchover from analogue to digital television in parts of Africa, launching television satellites and building networks of fibre-optic cables and data centres – a “digital silk road” – to carry information around the world. In this way, Beijing is increasing its grip, not only over news producers and the means of production of the news, but also over the means of transmission.

Though Beijing’s propaganda offensive is often shrugged off as clumsy and downright dull, our five-month investigation underlines the granular nature and ambitious scale of its aggressive drive to redraw the global information order. This is not just a battle for clicks. It is above all an ideological and political struggle, with China determined to increase its “discourse power” to combat what it sees as decades of unchallenged western media imperialism.

At the same time, Beijing is also seeking to shift the global centre of gravity eastwards, propagating the idea of a new world order with a resurgent China at its centre. Of course, influence campaigns are nothing new; the US and the UK, among others, have aggressively courted journalists, offering enticements such as freebie trips and privileged access to senior officials. But unlike those countries, China’s Communist party does not accept a plurality of views. Instead, for China’s leaders, who regard the press as the “eyes, ears, tongue and throat” of the Communist party, the idea of journalism depends upon a narrative discipline that precludes all but the party-approved version of events. For China, the media has become both the battlefield on which this “global information war” is being waged, and the weapon of attack.

Nigerian investigative journalist Dayo Aiyetan still remembers the phone call he received a few years after CCTV opened its African hub in Kenya in 2012. Aiyetan had set up Nigeria’s premier investigative journalism centre, and he had exposed Chinese businessmen for illegally logging forests in Nigeria. The caller had a tempting offer: take a job working for the Chinese state-run broadcaster’s new office, he was told, and you’ll earn at least twice your current salary. Aiyetan was tempted by the money and the job security, but ultimately decided against, having only just launched his centre.

As the location of the Chinese media’s first big international expansion, Africa has been a testbed. These efforts intensified after the 2008 Olympics, when Chinese leaders were frustrated with a tide of critical reporting, in particular the international coverage of the human rights and pro-Tibet protests that accompanied the torch relay around the world. The following year China announced it would spend $6.6bn strengthening its global media presence. Its first major international foray was CCTV Africa, which immediately tried to recruit highly-respected figures such as Aiyetan.

For local journalists, CCTV promised good money and the chance to “tell the story of Africa” to a global audience, without having to hew to western narratives. “The thing I like is we are telling the story from our perspective,” Kenyan journalist Beatrice Marshall said, after being poached from KTN, one of Kenya’s leading television stations. Her presence strengthened the station’s credibility, and she has continued to stress the editorial independence of the journalists themselves. China Central Television’s headquarters (right) in Beijing. Photograph: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

Vivien Marsh, a visiting scholar at the University of Westminster, who has studied CCTV Africa’s coverage, is sceptical about such claims. Analysing CCTV’s coverage of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in west Africa, Marsh found that 17% of stories on Ebola mentioned China, generally emphasising its role in providing doctors and medical aid. “They were trying to do positive reporting,” says Marsh. “But they lost journalistic credibility to me in the portrayal of China as a benevolent parent.” Far from telling Africa’s story, the overriding aim appeared to be emphasising Chinese power, generosity and centrality to global affairs. (As well as its English-language channel, CGTN now runs Spanish, French, Arabic and Russian channels.)

Over the past six years, CGTN has steadily increased its reach across Africa. It is displayed on televisions in the corridors of power at the African Union, in Addis Ababa, and beamed for free to thousands of rural villages in a number of African countries, including Rwanda and Ghana, courtesy of StarTimes, a Chinese media company with strong ties to the state. StarTimes’ cheapest packages bundle together Chinese and African channels, whereas access to the BBC or al-Jazeera costs more, putting it beyond the means of most viewers. In this way, their impact is to expand access to Chinese propaganda to their audience, which they claim accounts for 10m of Africa’s 24m pay-TV subscribers. Though industry analysts believe that these numbers are likely to be inflated, broadcasters are already concerned that StarTimes is edging local companies out of some African media markets. In September, the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association warned that “If StarTimes is allowed to control Ghana’s digital transmission infrastructure and the satellite space … Ghana would have virtually submitted its broadcast space to Chinese control and content.”

For non-Chinese journalists, in Africa and elsewhere, working for Chinese state-run media offers generous remuneration and new opportunities. When CCTV launched its Washington headquarters in 2012, no fewer than five former or current BBC correspondents based in Latin America joined the broadcaster. One of them, Daniel Schweimler, who is now at al-Jazeera, said his experience there was fun and relatively trouble-free, though he didn’t think many people actually saw his stories.

But foreign journalists working at Xinhua, the state-run news agency, see their stories reaching much larger audiences. Government subsidies cover around 40% of Xinhua’s costs, and it generates income – like other news agencies, such as the Associated Press – by selling stories to newspapers around the world. “My stories were not seen by 1 million people. They were seen by 100 million people,” boasted one former Xinhua employee. (Like most of the dozens of people we interviewed, he requested anonymity to speak freely, citing fear of retribution.) Xinhua was set up in 1931, well before the Communists took power in China, and as the party mouthpiece, its jargon-laden articles are used to propagate new directives and explain shifts in party policy. Many column inches are also spent on the ponderous speeches and daily movements of Xi Jinping, whether he is meeting the Togolese president, examining oversized vegetables or casually chatting to workers at a toy-mouse factory.

Describing his work at Xinhua, the former employee said: “You’ve got to think it’s like creative writing. You’re combining journalism with a kind of creative writing.” Another former employee, Christian Claye Edwards, who worked for Xinhua news agency in Sydney between 2010 and 2014, says: “Their objectives were loud and clear, to push a distinctly Chinese agenda.” He continued: “There’s no clear goal other than to identify cracks in a system and exploit them.” One example would be highlighting the chaotic and unpredictable nature of Australian politics – which has seen six prime ministers in eight years – as a way of undermining faith in liberal democracy. “Part of my brief was to find ways to exert that influence. It was never written down, I was never given orders,” he said.

Edwards, like other former employees of China’s state-media companies, felt that the vast majority of his work was about domestic signalling, or telegraphing messages that demonstrated loyalty to the party line in order to curry favour with senior officials. Any thoughts of how his work was furthering China’s international soft power goals came a distant second. But since Edwards left in 2014, Xinhua has begun looking outwards; one sign of this is the existence of its Twitter account – followed by 11.7 million people – even though Twitter is banned in China.

Outright censorship is generally unnecessary at China’s state-run media organisations, since most journalists quickly gain a sense of which stories are deemed appropriate and what kind of spin is needed. “I recognised that we were soft propaganda tools – but not to any greater extent than for the BBC or al-Jazeera, and certainly nothing like RT,” said Daniel Schweimler, who worked for CCTV in South America for two years. “We always joked that we’d have no interference from Beijing or DC so long as the Dalai Lama never came to visit.”

When the Dalai Lama did come to visit Canada in 2012, one journalist in Xinhua’s Ottawa bureau, Mark Bourrie, was placed in a compromising position. On the day of the visit, Bourrie was told to use his parliamentary press credentials to attend the Tibetan spiritual leader’s press conference, and to find out what had happened in a closed-door meeting with the then prime minister, Stephen Harper. When Bourrie asked whether the information would be used in a piece, his boss replied that it would not. “That day I felt that we were spies,” he later wrote. “It was time to draw the line.” He returned to his office and resigned. Now a lawyer, Bourrie declined to comment for this story.

His experience is not unusual. Three separate sources who used to work at Chinese state media said that they sometimes wrote confidential reports, knowing that they would not be published on the newswire and were solely for the eyes of senior officials. Edwards – who wrote one such report on Adelaide’s urban planning – saw it as “the lowest level of research reporting for Chinese officials”, essentially providing very low-level intelligence for a government client.

That vanishingly thin line between China’s journalism, propaganda work, influence projection and intelligence-gathering is a concern to Washington. In mid-September this year, the US ordered CGTN and Xinhua to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (Fara), which compels agents representing the interests of foreign powers in a political or quasi-political capacity to log their relationship, as well as their activities and payments. Recently Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was charged for violating this act by failing to register as a foreign lobbyist in relation to his work in Ukraine. “Chinese intelligence gathering and information warfare efforts are known to involve staff of Chinese state-run media organisations,” a congressional commission noted last year.

“Making the Foreign Serve China” was one of Chairman Mao’s favoured strategies, as epitomised by his decision to grant access in the 1930s to the American journalist Edgar Snow. The resulting book, Red Star Over China, was instrumental in winning western sympathy for the Communists, whom it depicted as progressive and anti-fascist.

Eight decades on, “making the foreign serve China” is not just a case of offering insider access in return for favourable coverage, but also of using media companies staffed with foreign employees to serve the party’s interests. In 2012, during a series of press conferences in Beijing at the annual legislature, the National People’s Congress, government officials repeatedly invited questions from a young Australian woman unfamiliar to the local foreign correspondents. She was notable for her fluent Chinese and her assiduously softball questions.

It turned out that the young woman, whose name was Andrea Yu, was working for a media outlet called Global CAMG Media Group, which is headquartered in Melbourne. Set up by a local businessman, Tommy Jiang, Global CAMG’s ownership structure obscures the company’s connection to the Chinese state: it is 60% owned by a Beijing-based group called Guoguang Century Media Consultancy, which in turn is owned by the state broadcaster, China Radio International (CRI). Global CAMG, and another of Jiang’s companies, Ostar, run at least 11 radio stations in Australia, carrying CRI content and producing their own Beijing-friendly shows to sell to other community radio stations aimed at Australia’s large population of Mandarin-speakers.

After the Beijing press pack accused Yu of being a “fake foreign reporter”, who was effectively working for the Chinese government, she told an interviewer: “When I first entered my company, there’s only a certain amount of understanding I have about its connections to the government. I didn’t know it had any, for example.” She left CAMG shortly after, but the same performance was repeated at the National People’s Congress two years later with a different Chinese-speaking Australian working for CAMG, Louise Kenney, who publicly pushed back against accusations of being a shill.

The use of foreign radio stations to deliver government-approved content is a strategy the CRI president has called jie chuan chu hai, “borrowing a boat to go out to the ocean”. In 2015, Reuters reported that Global CAMG was one of three companies running a covert network of 33 radio stations broadcasting CRI content in 14 countries. Three years on, those networks – including Ostar – now operate 58 stations in 35 countries, according to information from their websites. In the US alone, CRI content is broadcast by more than 30 outlets, according to a combative recent speech by the US vice president, Mike Pence, though it’s difficult to know who is listening or how much influence this content really has.

Beijing has also taken a similar “borrowed boats” approach to print publications. The state-run English-language newspaper China Daily has struck deals with at least 30 foreign newspapers – including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the UK Telegraph – to carry four- or eight-page inserts called China Watch, which can appear as often as monthly. The supplements take a didactic, old-school approach to propaganda; recent headlines include “Tibet has seen 40 years of shining success”, “Xi unveils opening-up measures” and – least surprisingly of all – “Xi praises Communist party of China members.”

Figures are hard to come by, but according to one report, the Daily Telegraph is paid £750,000 annually to carry the China Watch insert once a month. Even the Daily Mail has an agreement with the government’s Chinese-language mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, which provides China-themed clickbait such as tales of bridesmaids on fatal drinking sprees and a young mother who sold her toddler to human traffickers to buy cosmetics. Such content-sharing deals are one factor behind China Daily’s astonishing expenditures in the US; it has spent $20.8m on US influence since 2017, making it the highest registered spender that is not a foreign government.

The purpose of this “borrowed boats” strategy may also be to lend credibility to the content, since it’s not clear how many readers actually bother to open these turgid, propaganda-heavy supplements. “Part of it really is about legitimation,” argues Peter Mattis. “If it’s appearing in the Washington Post, if it’s appearing in a number of other papers worldwide, then in a sense it’s giving credibility to those views.”

In September, Donald Trump criticised this practice, claiming China was pushing “false messages” intended to damage his prospects in the midterm elections. His wrath was directed at a China Watch supplement in the Iowa-based Des Moines Register, designed to undermine farm-country support for a trade war. He tweeted: “China is actually placing propaganda ads in the Des Moines Register and other papers, made to look like news. That’s because we are beating them on Trade, opening markets, and the farmers will make a fortune when this is over!”

In the Xi Jinping era, propaganda has become a business. In a 2014 speech, propaganda tsar Liu Qibao endorsed this approach, stating that other countries have successfully used market forces to export their cultural products. The push to monetise propaganda provides canny businesspeople with opportunities to curry favour at high levels, either through partnering with state-run media companies or bankrolling Chinese proxies overseas. The favoured strategy now is not just “borrowing foreign boats” but buying them outright, as the University of Canterbury’s Anne-Marie Brady has written.

The most visible example of this came in 2015, when China’s richest man acquired the South China Morning Post (SCMP), a 115-year-old Hong Kong paper once known for its editorial independence and tough reporting. Jack Ma, whose Alibaba e-commerce empire is valued at $420bn, has not denied suggestions that he was asked by mainland authorities to make the purchase. “If I had to bother about what other people speculated about, how would I get anything done?” he said in December 2015. Around the same time, Alibaba’s executive vice-chairman Joseph Tsai made clear that under new ownership, the SCMP would provide an alternative view of China to the one found in western media: “A lot of journalists working with these western media organisations may not agree with the system of governance in China and that taints their view of coverage. We see things differently, we believe things should be presented as they are,” Tsai told an interviewer.

The task of executing that mission has fallen to 35-year-old CEO Gary Liu, a Mandarin-speaking California native with a Harvard degree, who had previously worked as chief executive of the digital news aggregator Digg and before that, on the business side of the music streaming company Spotify. When we spoke via Skype, Liu sounded a little bit uncomfortable when asked how well the SCMP is fulfilling Tsai’s vision. “The owners have their set of language, and the newspaper has our convictions,” he said. “And our conviction is that our job is to cover China with objectivity, and to do our best to show both sides of a very, very complicated story.” The paper’s role, as he sees it, is “to lead the global conversation about China.” And to achieve that goal, Liu is being given significant resources. Staffers talk of “staggering” expenditures, with one employee describing the number of new hires “like the cast of Ben Hur”.

Even under new ownership, the SCMP treads a delicate line on China, continuing to run granular political analysis and original reporting on sensitive issues such as human rights lawyers and religious crackdowns. Though pages are free from Xinhua copy, cynics joke the paper itself is transmogrifying into a kind of China Daily-lite, with increasing prominence given to stories about Xi Jinping, pro-Beijing editorials and politically on-message opinion pieces. All this is combined with constant, fawning coverage of owner Jack Ma, memorably described by the paper as a “modern-day Confucius”.

Two stories in particular have been heavily criticised. First, in 2016, it published an interview with a young human rights activist named Zhao Wei, who had disappeared into police custody a year before. In the interview, the activist’s quotes, recanting her past behaviour, were reminiscent of Mao-era “self-criticism”. Fears she had spoken under duress were confirmed a year later, when she admitted she’d given her “candid confession” after being held in a heavily monitored cell for a year – “No talking. No walking. Our hands, feet, our posture … every body movement was strictly limited,” she wrote.

Then, earlier this year, the SCMP accepted a “government-arranged interview” with bookseller Gui Minhai. Gui, a Swedish citizen, was one of five sellers of politically sensational books who disappeared in 2015 – in his case from his home in Thailand – and then reappeared in police custody in China in 2016. The SCMP interview was conducted in a detention facility, with Gui flanked by security guards.

But Liu is adamant that the paper has not made any missteps on his watch. He says the paper was invited – not forced – to cover these stories. In Gui’s case, he insists the decision was based on journalistic merit: “The senior editorial leadership team got together, and said: This is important for us to show up. If not, there’s a very high likelihood that the other stories reported do not share the entire situation. In fact, a lot of the other reports did not mention the fact that there were security guards standing on either side of Gui Minhai at the start and at the end of the interviews.” Liu stressed that “there is a significant difference between how we reported it, and how we would expect state propaganda to report it.” But many in Hong Kong were distressed that a journal once seen as a paper of record was effectively running a forced confession on behalf of the Chinese state.

To insiders, even the paper’s hardhitting coverage of China forms part of a broader strategy. “It’s all smoke and mirrors,” longtime contributor Stephen Vines said. “It’s so pernicious because a lot of is quite plausible.” In November, Vines issued a public statement announcing he will no longer write for the paper. A current SCMP journalist described “a veneer of press freedom”, noting, “It’s not so much that pieces are pulled and changed. It’s where they’re positioned, how they’re promoted. The digital revolution has made that all very easy to do. You write whatever you want, but the people control what we see.” The SCMP has countered public criticism of censorship aggressively, even running a column in which a senior editor blamed censorship accusations on “butthurt ex-Post employees with axes to grind”.

Chinese money is also being invested in print media far from home, including in South Africa, where companies linked to the Chinese state have a 20% stake in Independent Media, the country’s second-largest media group, which runs 20 prominent newspapers. In cases like this, Beijing’s impact on day-to-day operations can be minimal, but there are still things that cannot be said, as one South African journalist, Azad Essa, recently discovered when he used his column, which ran in a number of newspapers published by Independent Media, to criticise Beijing’s mass internment of Uighurs. Hours later, his column had been cancelled. The company blamed a redesign of the paper, which had necessitated changes in the columnists used.

But Essa pulled no punches in a piece he subsequently wrote for Foreign Policy: “Red lines are thick and non-negotiable. Given the economic dependence on the Chinese and crisis in newsrooms, this is rarely confronted. And this is precisely the type of media environment that China wants their African allies to replicate.” This is true not just in Africa, but for China’s media interests across the world.

These days Australia has come to be seen as a petri dish for Chinese influence overseas. At the heart of the row is a controversial Chinese billionaire, Huang Xiangmo, whose links to Labor party politician Sam Dastyari precipitated Dastyari’s resignation in 2017. Three years earlier, Huang provided A$1.8m of seed funding to establish the Australia China Relations Institute, a thinktank based at the University of Technology Sydney. ACRI, which is led by former foreign minister Bob Carr, aims to promote “a positive and optimistic view of Australia-China relations”.

In the past two years, ACRI has spearheaded a programme organising study tours to China for at least 28 high-profile Australian journalists, whisking them on all-expenses tours with extraordinary access. Many of the breathless resulting articles – footnoting their status as “guests of ACRI” or “guests of the All China Journalist Association” – accord remarkably closely with Beijing’s strategic priorities. As well as paeans to China’s modernity and size, the articles advise Australians not to turn their backs on China’s One Belt One Road initiative, and not to publicly criticise China’s policy towards the South China Sea, or anything else for that matter.

Close observers believe the scheme is tilting China coverage in Australia. Economist Stephen Joske briefed the first ACRI tour on the country’s economic challenges, and was dismayed at the largely uncritical tone of their coverage. “Australian elites have very little real exposure to China,” he said. “There is a vacuum of informed commentary and they [ACRI-sponsored journalists] have filled it with very, very one-sided information.”

Participants on the study tours do not downplay their influence. “I found the trip fantastic”, says one reporter who asked not to be named. “In Australia, the reporting often doesn’t go beyond having a one-party communist system. There’s a lot of positive things happening in China in terms of technology, business and trade, and that doesn’t get a lot of positive coverage.” Others treat the trips with more caution. “You go on these trips knowing you’re going to be getting their point of view,” says the ABC’s economics correspondent Peter Ryan, who went on an ACRI-sponsored trip in 2016.

ACRI responded to our questions about the trips by issuing a statement, saying that its tours “pale into insignificance” compared with similar trips organised by the US and Israel. A spokesman wrote: “Not for a moment has ACRI ever lobbied journalists about what they write. They are free to take whatever position they want.” The spokesman also confirmed that in-kind support to the trips has been given by the All-China Journalists Association, a Communist party body whose mission is to “tell China’s stories well, spread China’s voice”. For his part, Huang Xiangmo said he has no involvement in ACRI’s operations.

ACRI is a relatively new player in this game. Since 2009, the China-United States Exchange Foundation (Cusef), headed by Hong Kong’s millionaire former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, has taken 127 US journalists from 40 US outlets to China, as well as congressmen and senators. Since Tung has an official position – vice-chairman of the Chinese government advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – Cusef is registered as a “foreign principal” under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (Fara).

A picture of how Cusef has worked to sway coverage of China inside the US can be found in Fara filings by a PR firm working for the foundation since 2009. BLJ Worldwide, which has also represented Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, the Gaddafi family, and Qatar’s World Cup bid, organised journalist tours and cultivated a number of what it calls “third-party supporters” to marshal positive coverage of China in the US. In one year alone, 2010, BLJ’s target was to place an average of three articles per week in the US media, in venues such as the Wall Street Journal, for which it was paid around $20,000 a month. In a memo from November 2017, BLJ lists eight recommended third-party supporters who, it claimed, “can engage by writing their own op-eds, providing endorsements of Cusef, and potentially speaking to select media”. Fara filings also show that in 2010, BLJ discussed how to influence the way US schoolchildren are taught about China’s much-criticised role in Tibet. After conducting a review of four high-school textbooks, BLJ proposed “a strong, factual counter-narrative be introduced to defend and promote the actions of China within the Tibet Autonomous Region”.

Over the past decade, Cusef has widened its remit, mooting ambitious cultural diplomacy plans to influence the US public. According to a January 2018 memo, one of the schemes included a plan to build a Chinese “town called Gung-Ho in Detroit”. The memo suggests redeveloping an entire city block to showcase Chinese innovation using design elements from both countries, with a budget of $8-10m. The memo even suggests shooting a reality TV show following the progress of the Gung-Ho community as “a living metaphor for the promise of the US-China relationship”. Given Detroit’s parlous state, the memo concludes, “It will be very difficult for the news media to be critical of the project.”

Cusef responded to questions about its activities with a statement, saying: “Cusef has supported projects which enhance the communication and understanding between peoples of US and China. All of our programmes and activities operate within the framework of the laws and we are fully committed to carrying out our work by maintaining the highest standard of integrity.” BLJ did not respond to requests for comment.

China’s active courtship of journalists extends well beyond short-term study tours to encompass longer-term programmes for reporters from developing countries. These moves were formalised under the auspices of the China Public Diplomacy Association, established in 2012. The targets are extraordinarily ambitious: the training of 500 Latin American and Caribbean journalists over five years, and 1,000 African journalists a year by 2020.

Through these schemes, foreign reporters are schooled not just on China, but also on its view of journalism. To China’s leaders, journalistic ideals such as critical reporting and objectivity are not just hostile, they pose an existential threat. One leaked government directive, known as Document 9, even defines the ultimate goal of the western media as to “gouge an opening through which to infiltrate our ideology”. This gulf in journalistic values was further underlined in a series of CGTN videos issued last year, featuring prominent Chinese journalists accusing non-Chinese practitioners of being “brainwashed” by “western values of journalism”, which are depicted as irresponsible and disruptive to society. One Xinhua editor, Luo Jun, argues in favour of censorship, saying, “We have to take responsibility for what we report. If that’s being considered as censorship, I think it’s good censorship.”

With its fellowships for foreign reporters, Beijing is moving to train a young generation of international journalists. A current participant in this programme is Filipino journalist Greggy Eugenio, who is finishing up an all-expenses-paid media fellowship for reporters from countries participating in China’s grand global infrastructure push, the Belt and Road Initiative. For 10 months, Eugenio has been studying and travelling around China on organised tours, as well as doing a six-week internship at state-run television. Twice a week he attends classes on language, culture, politics and new media at Beijing’s Renmin University of China, as he works towards a master’s degree in communication.

“This programme continuously opens my mind and heart on a lot of misconceptions I’ve known about China,” Eugenio said in an email. “I’ve learned that a state-owned government media is one of the most effective means of journalism. The media in China is still working well and people here appreciate their work.” Throughout his time in China, he has been filing stories for the state-run Philippine News Agency, and when he finishes next month he will return to his position writing for the presidential communication team of Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte.

Some observers argue the expansion of authoritarian propaganda networks – such as Russia’s RT and Iran’s Press TV – has been overhyped, with little real impact on global journalism. But Beijing’s play is bigger and more multifaceted. At home, it is building the world’s biggest broadcaster by combining its three mammoth radio and television networks into a single body, the Voice of China. At the same time, a reshuffle has transferred responsibility for the propaganda machinery from state bodies to the Communist party, which effectively tightens party control over the message. Overseas, capitalising on the move from analogue to digital broadcasting, it has used proxies likesuch as StarTimes to increase its control over global telecommunications networks, while building out new digital highways. “The real brilliance of it is not just trying to control all content – it’s the element of trying to control the key nodes in the information flow,” says Freedom House’s Sarah Cook. “It might not be necessarily clear as a threat now, but once you’ve got control over the nodes of information you can use them as you want.”

Is it too late to save Hong Kong from Beijing’s authoritarian grasp?

Such blatant exhibitions of power indicate the new mood of assertiveness. In information warfare – as in so much else – Deng Xiaoping’s famous maxim of “hide your strength and bide your time” is over. As the world’s second-largest economy, China has decided it needs discourse power commensurate with its new global stature. Last week, a group of the US’s most distinguished China experts released a startling report expressing concern over China’s more aggressive projections of power. Many of the experts have spent decades promoting engagement with China, yet they conclude: “The ambition of Chinese activity in terms of the breadth, depth of investment of financial resources, and intensity requires far greater scrutiny than it has been getting.”

As Beijing and its proxies extend their reach, they are harnessing market forces to silence the competition. Discourse power is, it seems, a zero-sum game for China, and voices that are critical of Beijing are co-opted or silenced, left without a platform or drowned out in the sea of positive messaging created by Beijing’s own “borrowed” and “bought” boats. As the west’s media giants flounder, China’s own media imperialism is on the rise, and the ultimate battle may not be for the means of news production, but for journalism itself.

יום ראשון, 28 ביולי 2019

How the state runs business in China

Much of modern China’s epic growth was driven by private enterprise – but under Xi Jinping, the Communist party has returned to being the ultimate authority in business as well as politics.

When Xi Jinping took power in 2012, he extolled the importance of the state economy at every turn, while all around him watched as China’s high-speed economy was driven by private entrepreneurs. Since then, Xi has engineered an unmistakable shift in policy. At the time he took office, private firms were responsible for about 50% of all investment in China and about 75% of economic output. But as Nicholas Lardy, a US economist who has long studied the Chinese economy, concluded in a recent study, “Since 2012, private, market-driven growth has given way to a resurgence of the role of the state.”

From the Mao era onwards, Chinese state firms have always had a predominant role in the economy, and the Communist party has always maintained direct control over state firms. For more than a decade, the party has also tried to ensure it played a role inside private businesses. But in his first term in office, Xi has overseen a sea change in how the party approaches the economy, dramatically strengthening the party’s role in both government and private businesses.

International governments have noted Xi’s interventionist instincts with alarm. When US officials were pressed in early 2019 to provide evidence that Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant, had facilitated spying on the US and its allies, they pointed out that Beijing had already made their case for them: first with the party’s systematic infiltration of private companies, and second with the introduction of a new national intelligence law in 2017. The law states that “any organisation and citizen” shall “support and cooperate in national intelligence work”. The director of the US National Counterintelligence and Security Center, when asked about China’s entrepreneurs, cited these two policies in asserting that “Chinese company relationships with the Chinese government aren’t like private sector company relationships with governments in the west”.

Such shifts, under Xi, have gifted the US and EU an excuse to limit Chinese access to their markets, technology and companies. Australia has cited the same intelligence law to keep Huawei’s 5G technology out of its future mobile networks. Gordon Sondland, Donald Trump’s envoy to the European Union, gave such sentiment a hyperbolic spin to argue that Europe should do the same. “We want to keep critical infrastructure in the western world out of Chinese malign influence,” Sondland said. “Someone from the politburo in Beijingpicks up the phone and says, ‘I wanna listen in on the following conversation, I wanna run a certain car off the road that’s on the 5G network and kill the person that’s in it’ – there’s nothing that company legally can do today in China to prevent the Chinese government from making that request successfully.”

Until recently, such a statement would have been laughed out of court. No longer. Nor would Washington have contemplated the policy of “decoupling” the US and Chinese economies – shorthand for the administration’s commitment, through taxes, tariffs and other punitive measures, to disentangle its companies and their technologies from China’s supply chains.

The relationship between the party and private sector companies is, up to a point, flexible – certainly more so than with state companies. The party doesn’t habitually micromanage their day-to-day operations. The firms are largely still in charge of their basic business decisions. But pressure from party committees to have a seat at the table when executives are making big calls on investment and the like means the “lines have been dangerously blurred”, in the words of one analyst. “Chinese domestic laws and administrative guidelines, as well as unspoken regulations and internal party committees, make it quite difficult to distinguish between what is private and what is state-owned.”

The answer to the question “does the party control a company?” is that it is impossible to tell. In the current environment, fewer foreign governments want to give Beijing the benefit of the doubt. If there was any question as to who was in charge of the economy and business, Xi’s local and overseas critics alike only have to take the Chinese leader at his word, that in private enterprises, as with state-owned firms and every institution in China, the party is the ultimate authority.

In the early optimistic glow of Xi’s ascension to the leadership, a number of western commentators talked up his appreciation of markets. After all, from 1985 to 2007, Xi had served in two provinces, Fujian and Zhejiang, which were thriving bastions of private enterprise. Starting in the 1980s, Fujian was an important gateway for investors from nearby Taiwan, while Zhejiang was home to a number of China’s most famous private companies, such as Jack Ma’s Alibaba. The arc of Xi’s father’s career, from revolutionary to reformer, reinforced this optimism about China’s new leader. Lu Guanqiu, a businessman who owned and ran Wanxiang, a private car parts group, told Bloomberg: “When Xi becomes general secretary, he’ll be even more open and will pay even more attention to private enterprise and the people’s livelihood. It is because he was in Zhejiang for five years.”

Yet a deeper dig into Xi’s past statements and writings on the economy reveals an official who has been a dogged supporter of party orthodoxy on the economy at every turn. Xi might have taken big risks in domestic and foreign policy, but on the economy he was not one for ideological experimentation. In the politburo, as vice-president from 2008 to 2013 and as the leader of the party school for most of the same period, there is little evidence of him straying from his core beliefs about the need to strengthen party control inside businesses. Workers in Zhejiang watch a live broadcast of the Communist party congress as Xi Jinping prepares to take power, November 2012.

When Xi arrived in Zhejiang in 2002, the province was already well on the way up the economic ladder. Xi headed a group of officials, known as the “New Zhejiang Army”, who embraced the use of private investment to spread the risk in funding the province’s signature infrastructure projects. In 2007, in a conversation with Washington’s then ambassador to Beijing, Clark Randt Jr, recorded in US diplomatic cables and later released by WikiLeaks, Xi delivered a sophisticated, self-aware exposition on Zhejiang. He didn’t pretend that there was any secret to the province’s wealth other than local entrepreneurs, although he avoided using the language of the market in describing them. Xi did what every other official with responsibility for the economy did at the time: he simplified registration for private companies and helped them to access finance. When the party debated a law to protect private property, he supported it. “With property protection in place, Chinese can gain even more wealth,” Xi told Randt.

But Xi’s support for mixing private and public ownership structures was purely pragmatic. It had value, he said in another forum, because it would “improve the socialist market economic structure”. Xi’s assessment is echoed by Michael Collins, one of the CIA’s most senior officials for Asia. “The fundamental end of the Communist party of China under Xi Jinping is all the more to control that society politically and economically,” Collins argued earlier this year. “The economy is being viewed, affected and controlled to achieve a political end.”

By 2012, when Xi came to power, the landscape had changed substantially. China was initially knocked sideways by the global financial crisis in 2008, before swiftly navigating its way back to fast growth through a giant fiscal stimulus orchestrated by the government and delivered by the big state banks. The economy was also changing shape. From around 2010, after the fiscal splurge of the financial crisis, Chinese technocrats began to focus more intently on cutting debt and lifting consumption. That meant less focus on investment and exports and, if you listened to the entrepreneurs, a greater reliance on private business to generate growth.

“Chinese consumption is not driven by the government but by entrepreneurship, and the market,” Jack Ma of Alibaba said in September 2015. “In the past 20 years, the government was so strong. Now, they are getting weak. It’s our opportunity; it’s our show time, to see how the market economy, entrepreneurship, can develop real consumption.”

Ma may have thought that the times suited him, and to a degree, they did. His business continued to soar. But Xi was all the time making sure that the party grew in tandem with the economy, in both the state and private sectors. In retrospect, Ma’s comments look dangerously cocky.

Xi spent much of his first term in power reining in the big state firms. Under his predecessor, Hu Jintao, many of the large state enterprises, big enough to be in the top 20 of the global Fortune 500, had grown into powerful empires and breeding grounds for serious corruption. In the words of analyst Wendy Leutert, Xi “faced the aftermath of a decade of rapid expansion and weak internal discipline in the state sector”.

In 2016, Xi chaired a national meeting that cleared the way for a more expansive role for the party in enterprise. In 2017, the measures were further extended, with the body overseeing big state companies directing them to write the party into their articles of association. In 2018, the securities regulator followed up by issuing a new corporate governance code requiring listed firms, at home and abroad, to include in their internal guidelines an expansive role for the party. Many Chinese companies listed in Hong Kong also wrote the party’s role into their articles of association.

In some ways, codifying in public documents the party’s role in managing companies was both an instance of rare transparency and part of an increasing trend of the party openly displaying its power. In the past, Chinese state-owned listed companies had customarily filed misleading prospectuses ahead of their stock exchange listings, omitting the party’s pivotal role in the hiring and firing of senior executives. Similarly, company boards had long been legally and theoretically independent of the party, but not in practice. “The same individual who is chairing a party committee meeting on a Monday might well be chairing a board meeting later in the week,” notes a 2018 report on Chinese corporate governance. Xi Jinping at 20th anniversary celebrations of Hong Kong’s handover, June 2017.

There has always been an awkward fit between western notions of corporate governance and the party state’s insistence on having a role in companies. “It is rather like drawing a tiger with a cat as a model,” said one Chinese commentator. But the direction of policy under Xi has been clear: the power that the party had over business decisions and personnel in state firms, once wielded behind the scenes, would not only be strengthened. The party’s power would also be exercised explicitly.

Xi’s shadow now looms increasingly large over private firms as well. In March 2012, a few months before taking over as general secretary, Xi delivered a speech in which he stressed the need to increase the number of party bodies inside private business. Around the same time, new details for “party building” in enterprises were released, calling “for the party secretary to participate in and attend important executive-level meetings”.Get the Guardian’s award-winning long reads sent direct to you every Saturday morning

The party’s efforts to place itself inside private companies have been, according to its own figures, very successful. One recent survey by the Central Organisation Department, the party’s personnel body, found that 68% of China’s private companies had party bodies by 2016, and 70% of foreign enterprises. Although these figures sound high, they don’t match the targets the party has set for itself. In Xi’s old stamping ground of Zhejiang, for example, officials set a target in August 2018 to have cells inside 95% of private businesses. There was a need, the survey said, to retain the revolutionary spirit inside the companies as their ownership was handed on to the next generation.

Although the party is becoming more involved in private firms than ever, it wants to be part of business successes, not failures. It wants to sit alongside local and foreign entrepreneurs and share their wealth, not run their companies into the ground. Increasingly, it also wants to do more than supervise companies. It wants to be at the table when commercial decisions are made, not just manage staff. “We should make money together,” Lu Wei, then head of China’s party office for internet security, told Paul Jacobs, CEO of Qualcomm, a US chip maker, in 2014. Lu’s comments to some extent reflected Beijing’s desire to acquire Qualcomm’s technology, a sector in which China was weak. But the message was clear: the fat of the land should be shared with the state.

The party’s overarching aim, though, has remained consistent: to ensure that the private sector, and individual entrepreneurs, do not become rival players in the political system. The party wants economic growth, but not at the expense of tolerating any organised alternative centres of power. During the 1990s, Chinese leaders watched in horror as the Soviet Union disintegrated and its assets were privatised. Having seen business threaten to take over the state in Russia, Beijing has been determined to make sure that the same disaster does not befall China.

For a reliable benchmark about the power of the party in China, you only need to listen to wealthy entrepreneurs hold forth on politics. These otherwise all-powerful CEOs go to abject lengths to praise the party. To take a few companies listed in a single article in the South China Morning Post, Richard Liu of e-commerce group JD.com predicted communism would be realised in his generation and all commercial entities would be nationalised. Xu Jiayin of Evergrande Group, one of China’s largest property developers, said that everything the company possessed was given by the party and he was proud to be the party secretary of his company. Liang Wengen of Sany Heavy Industry, which builds earthmovers, went even further, saying his life belonged to the party. “They act as if they are being chased by a bear,” wrote Zhang Lin, a Beijing political commentator, in response to these comments. “They are powerless to control the bear, so they are competing to outrun each other to escape the animal.”

Jack Ma of Alibaba, the global face of Chinese entrepreneurship, has always managed to strike a quirkier and more independent stance than his fellow billionaires. “Be in love with the government. But don’t marry them,” he memorably said at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2015. Ma’s pithy aphorisms at home and abroad were mostly a plus for his business, but they had a downside. Ma’s high profile made him vulnerable. Last year, one of Ma’s former business partners told me, only half-joking, that if there was a presidential election in China tomorrow, Ma might win. That, he added, was a dangerous position to be in. Jack Ma performing at 18th anniversary celebrations for the Alibaba Group in Hangzhou, China, September 2017.

In September 2018, Ma unexpectedly announced that he would step downfrom a day-to-day role in the company the following year. Ma said he wanted to focus on education and philanthropy. An equally plausible reason for his resignation, the former business partner said, was Ma’s fear that his power and popularity had made him a target of the party. Ma has been in the party since the 1980s, although his membership was not declared until late 2018, after his retirement announcement, in an article in which the People’s Daily newspaper complimented him for his contributions to reform.

Whether or not some entrepreneurs were intent on taking him on, Xi pre-emptively took the fight to them. In 2017, his administration began a campaign to rein in swashbuckling business leaders, starting with some of the corporate chieftains who had become the standard-bearers for aggressive Chinese dealmaking overseas. Some business leaders were forced out of overheated commercial sectors such as real estate. Others were told to pull back from offshore forays, either because their high profile was an embarrassment for Beijing or because the government was trying to stop capital flight. Some, such as Wu Xiaohui, the chairman of Anbang Insurance Group, went the way that communist members who fall foul of the system often do, vanishing without explanation into the party’s detention system. Only months earlier, Wu had been leading negotiations to spend $14bn on hotels in the US, but the deal collapsed. In May 2018, the authorities announced Wu had been sentenced to 18 years in jail for fraud and embezzlement.

Meanwhile, China’s three dominant internet companies, Baidu (a search engine), Alibaba (e-commerce) and Tencent (messaging and gaming), known collectively as the BAT, have all felt the government’s wrath. In 2018, Tencent lost $200bn in its market capitalisation after regulators stopped approving new online games, pushing the company out of the world’s top 10 companies ranked by their share market valuation. The rapid growth of the BAT companies and their dominance of the internet in China has given them an outsized economic status. But their political value is just as important, as they have become indispensable to China’s surveillance state. With the mountain of data they generate, the BAT trinity are in effect turning into a real-time, efficient and privately run intelligence platform. In that respect, they are seen as ideal private companies. They both drive economic growth and also buttress the political system.

Foreign CEOs, too, have come under pressure to give the party a larger role in their firms. Again, this is a trend that began before Xi. Walmart, which famously won’t allow unions in its US stores, has had party cells in its companies in China since at least 2006, and party-controlled unions even earlier. Under Xi, however, emboldened officials have pushed foreign firms harder to accommodate the party and give its representatives a role in business decisions.

Now a wide range of foreign companies in China, from the cosmetics giant L’Oréal to Walt Disney and Dow Chemicals, all have party committees and display the hammer and sickle on their premises. In 2017, Reuters published an article that quoted executives from one European company saying that party representatives had demanded to be brought into the executive committee and have the business pay their expenses. Like Chinese entrepreneurs, foreign businessmen and women are trying to outrun “the bear”, not always with success.

But the party’s persistent efforts to colonise the private sector have stoked a backlash of their own. In late 2017, the EU business chamber in China formally complained about party organisations trying to extend their influence in their member companies, something they said would undermine the authority of their boards.

Yet the chamber’s argument was met with indifference in China, at least in public utterances. “When you are in Rome, do as the Romans do,” said Chen Fengying, an expert at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, a foreign policy thinktank. “Foreign investors should respect local rules and regulations in China.”

On one level, Xi has been untroubled by the backlash over his treatment of entrepreneurs. From his point of view, the idea that the private sector is being overly politicised is upside-down. Business leaders should “strengthen self-study, self-education and self-improvement,” he said in 2016. “They should not feel uncomfortable with this requirement. The Communist party has similar and stricter requirements on its leaders.”

Later, in 2018, when the economy started to slow and the trade war was ramping up, Xi was much more pragmatic and solicitous. In November, he invited a select group of entrepreneurs, including Tencent’s Ma Huateng (also known as Pony Ma), for a meeting in the Great Hall of the People. He wanted to reassure them that they were “all part of our family”. At the same time, a surfeit of stories appeared in the official media urging banks to lend private firms more money.

But not all entrepreneurs were buying the new line. One businessman, Chen Tianyong, posted a lengthy rant on social media, which he titled “An Entrepreneur’s Farewell Admonition”, explaining why he had left China. “China’s economy is like a giant ship heading to the precipice,” he wrote in a post that was later taken down. “Without fundamental changes, it’s inevitable that the ship will be wrecked and the passengers will die.”

יום רביעי, 24 ביולי 2019

How will Trump's war on Ocasio impact the Latino vote?

In 2018 the President tried to paint progressive Democrats as radicals. He still lost the House. Numbers show that Latino voters might be listening this time.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The new campaign strategy of Donald Trump is the same of 2016: radicalize his base with an inflammatory immigration speech and divide the vote of the opposition. What is new is the nemesis.

In the campaign that led him to the presidency, Trump promised to "drain the swamp" of DC, to remove establishment politicians, and the lobbyists turned Government officials and all those who represented the political and corporate corruption of the political system. It seemed to made sense. That year his rival were 15 Republicans with long careers, and Hillary Clinton, the poster girl of the American political system since she arrived at the White House back in 1993.

This time the president found another enemy: socialism, and particularly New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the rising stars of the progressive wing.

According to an internal poll by the Democratic Party published by Axios, AOC has become "the face of Democrats" for a key group of moderate voters.

The group that leaked the poll told the outlet that there was a concern that these voters associate the Democratic Party with the socialist policies promoted by Ocasio and her group of allies in Congress. "If all voters hear about is AOC, it could put the [House] majority at risk", said a top Democrat who is involved in several 2020 congressional races. "[She's] getting all the news and defining everyone else races."

In conversation with LPO, Dick Morris, political commentator and former Bill Clinton campaign manager, said Trump saw the opportunity to not only put Ocasio and Omar as the face of the Democratic Party but to make Pelosi and the rest of the party come out to defend them. Trump believes this play makes the voters put all the party in the same basket.

Ocasio's influence is not limited to the polls and her ubiquitous media presence. In the second quarter, the socialist firebrand raised $ 1.2 million for her 2020 reelection campaign. This number exceeded what New York mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Bill De Blasio raised (only $ 1.1 million). Even more impressive is that Ocasio does not take corporate donations. More than $ 1 million of the funds came from donations of less than $200.

As a comparison, the powerful Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi raised $ 1.3 million during the same period.

Ocasio's influence is not limited to the polls and her ubiquitous media presence. In the second quarter, the socialist firebrand raised $ 1.2 million for her 2020 reelection campaign. As a comparison, the powerful Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi raised $ 1.3 million during the same period.

Ocasio and Pelosi have repeatedly clashed over legislative and messaging issues. Recently they exchanged comments when Pelosi supported a budget package for border security sent by the Senate. Ocasio criticized the proposal for excluding protections for the children detained at the border, while the Democratic leader pushed her caucus to approve it.

Another central point is that Ocasio and her allies, in particular, three freshmen representatives who call themselves The Squad, support impeachment against the President. Pelosi has stated she would rather beat Trump in the ballots. Democratic leadership fears to alienate centrist and moderate voters who may not hate Trump and end up costing them the control of the House they won last year, or the presidency in 2020.

Trump took advantage of this apparent division in the opposition. Last weekend, in the middle of the debate over the treatment of migrants in detention centers, the president unleashed his attack on the Squad.

"So interesting to see "Progressive" Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world [...] now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don't they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done" the president tweeted. "I'm sure Nancy Pelosi will be very happy to arrange her trips! "

The attack was against the whole squad, but with a special dedication to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who emigrated from Somalia with her family at the age of 10, after spending several years in a refugee camp in Kenya.

The President's strategy seems obvious: paint the progressive wing of the party as "radical", and thus conquer the undecided and moderate vote.

The question is: Will Trump's strategy succeed?

There is a sector, however, where the president's warnings against AOC and socialism could echo: the Latino vote. Voters of Cuban and Venezuelan origin, who in Florida total almost 3 million votes, repudiate socialism

The survey published by Axios reveals that 74% of respondents knew who Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is, and only 22% had a positive opinion of the congresswoman. Omar was identified by 53% of respondents, and only 9% saw her in a positive light, an alarming number for the congresswoman. 18% of the participants said they had a positive view of socialism, while 69% saw it negatively. 56% saw capitalism as something positive against 32%. Omar was identified by 53% of respondents, and only 9% saw her positively.

In an interview with journalist Ryan Grim, Democratic pollster Celinda Lake criticized the poll released by Axios. She warned that, by hiding who commissioned the survey, what the methodology was and who conducted it, the media violated basic journalistic guidelines.

The problem is that Trump has already tried the same strategy of painting Democrats as radicals last year to sway the midterm elections. He failed. On November 6 the Democrats snatched 40 seats from the Republicans. The third largest change of seats since the Watergate scandal in 1974. But beyond the number of seats, the Democratic Party won 9 million more votes than the Republicans, the largest margin in the history of midterm elections.

A month before the 2018 elections Trump published a column in USA Today to alert voters on the dangers of American socialism and said, referring to candidates like Ocasio, Omar and the rest of the progressive wing: "The new Democrats are socialist radicals who want to model the economy of the United States based on Venezuela."

There is a sector, however, where the president's warnings against AOC and socialism could echo: the Latino vote. Voters of Cuban and Venezuelan origin, who in Florida total almost 3 million votes, repudiate socialism. The majority arrived in the US fleeing socialist regimes. Venezuelans support Trump because they hope he will end the Nicolás Maduro regime.

Democratic candidates are well-aware of that aversion. The mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, who is one of the leaders of the Bernie Sanders campaign, said in an interview with Jorge Ramos that therefore they avoid using the term "socialism" when the candidate speaks in front of Latin audiences, especially in Florida.

According to a March survey by McLaughlin & Associates, 44% of Latinos surveyed said the country was on the right track, while 49% said they were going the wrong way. But the most revealing number of this survey is the one that has to do with the approval of Donald Trump.

Among Latinos, 50% said they approved of the president's work, and 48% disapproved. More than one specialist has insisted that the main problem of the Democrats is the belief that the only issue that matters to the Latino community is immigration. The numbers seem to support this belief.

Morris, who also runs a polling firm, says that for two-thirds of the Latino population - those who are second or third generation - the immigration issue is not in their top 3 priorities. "First there's the economy, then education, then healthcare, and in fourth place comes the immigration issue."

Morris, who also runs a polling firm, says that for two-thirds of the Latino population - those who are second or third generation - the immigration issue is not in their top 3 priorities. "First there's the economy, then education, then healthcare, and in fourth place comes the immigration issue."

The former Clinton consultant, who is now working in Republican politics, points out that, according to several studies, the Latino and African-American populations have seen an improvement in their income under Trump. "It should not surprise anyone if they decide to vote with this in mind in 2020."

It still remains to be seen how effective it is for Trump to pick a fight with Ocasio. Her attacks against Senator Elizabeth Warren ended up being quite useful for the presidential hopeful by raising her name recognition to the national level. Warren is now one of the top three Democratic candidates in almost every single poll.

יום שני, 15 ביולי 2019

Broadening the Concept of Consumer Behavior: AN ANALYSIS OF POLITICAL MARKETING - 1975

Avraham Shama, Department of Marketing, Baruch College/CUNY

The broadened concept of marketing introduced by Levy and Kotler (1969) has suggested that in addition to economic products and services, the concept of markeing is applicable to the marketing of persons, organizations, and ideas. These broadened boundaries of the concept of marketing call for widening other marketing concepts whose boundaries were conventionally set to relate only to marketing of economic goods and services. Examples of such concepts heeding broader definition are: sellers and buyers, product development, product definition, consumer behavior, brand loyalty, market segmentation, promotion, and distribution. Although Levy and Kotler addressed themselves to these concepts, their discussion is brief, general, and auxiliary to their main theme. In doing so, they left the practical issue of broadening the above concepts quite open.

The purposes of this paper are to show the applicability of marketing concepts to the area of political marketing in general, and to discuss the relationships among consumer and voter behavior concepts in particular. To achieve these goals, a definition of political marketing is presented. Then the applicability of major marketing concepts such as sellers and buyers, market segmentation, product mix, brand loyalty, and the like is discussed. Finally, the similarities and differences in the structure of the study of consumer and voter behavior are assessed.


Political marketing is the process by which political candidates and ideas are directed at the voters in order to satisfy their political needs and thus gain their support for the candidate and ideas in question. A cursory comparison between marketing of goods and services, and marketing of political candidates would readily point up at least one common concept promotion. Clearly there is quite extensive use of media by the seller and the candidate for the purposes of informing, reminding, as well as changing attitudes and behavior. Possibly, such a comparison would also indicate that both marketing of goods and services, and marketing of political candidates utilize similar tools such as market research, and various statistical and computer techniques in studying the market. Although these points are essentially correct, they denote only a few of the similarities between marketing and political marketing.

A more serious comparison, however, will indicate that many more concepts and tools are shared by marketing of goods and services, and marketing of political candidates. Consider, for example, some well-known concepts of marketing: sellers and buyers, consumer behavior, market segmentation, image, brand loyalty, product concept, and product positioning. They are all concepts of political marketing. Consider also some of the familiar tools which are used in marketing: market research, media, advertising, multiple regression, factor analysis, discriminant analysis, conjoint measurement, and multidimensional scaling, etc. The are all tools utilized in the marketing of political candidates (Kotler, forthcoming), In addition, even the terminology that specialists of political campaigns use is basically a marketing terminology. For example, the development of political campaign terminology in recent years: "The Making of The President" (White, 1960, 1964, 1968, 1973), "The Selling of The President" (McGinniss, 1968), and the "Selling of the Candidates" (1971).

But perhaps the most powerful test for applying the concept of marketing in the area of political marketing, is by examination of the applicability of consumer behavior concepts to the area of voter behavior. The reason for this is that the consumer orientation of marketing has made consumer behavior concepts the focal points of marketing.

Similarities of Concepts

Common Concept One: Sellers, Products, and Buyers. Both marketing and political marketing include three main elements: sellers, products, and buyers. Marketing is a process by which sellers offer the buyers products and services in return for something of value (usually money). The same process takes place in political marketing, whereby the candidates offer the voters products or ideas such as "economic prosperity," or "safe society," in return for their votes and support in the campaign period and there after. The fact that many economic products can be sold and bought often while buying the product that political candidates offer can be done only infrequently and at a fixed point in time and space does not invalidate this argument, but rather indicates differences in nature and use of political and economic products, very similar to the differences in nature and usage of products and services which are-traditionally subsumed by marketing (e.g.: food items Vs. durable goods, insurance, auctioned merchandise).

Common Concept Two: Consumers. The core of both marketing and political marketing are the consumers. Without consumers, the marketer of economic goods and services does not have a market, and without voters the political marketer does not have a campaign. Because both marketers need consumers to survive, the concept of consumer behavior or voter behavior becomes a focal point of marketing and political marketing, respectively. The fact that in one case an individual is called "consumer" and in the other "voter," is merely a semantic difference. In both cases the individual can be viewed as an organism receiving stimuli about the product and reaching predispositions to respond, and a final response state after going through an essentially similar decision making process. Accordingly, the principles of well known models of consumer behavior can certainly be applied to voter behavior, and vice versa. In fact, the similarities here are so strong, that consumer behavior literature and models include concepts which were first developed in the literature of voter behavior, for example, selective exposure, selective perception, two-step flow of communication. (See Lazersfeld et.al., 1948; also Berelson et.al., 1954; Campbell et.al., 1966; Engel et.al., 1973; and Howard and Sheth, 1969).

Common Concept Three: Market Segmentation and Product Mix. Both marketing and political marketing utilize the concepts of market segmentation and target groups to increase sales and votes, respectively. Market segmentation is the process by which consumers and potential consumers of the product are distinguished along one or more variables so as to create homogeneous groups, and select some of them as target gm ups in order to offer a satisfactory product mix, and achieve the company's goals (e.g.: profit, growth, market share). Variables along which product and candidate markets are segmented are almost identical: age, sex, income, occupation, family size, race, personality characteristics, life style, and the like. Furthermore, product-specific variables such as previous product use and preferred product characteristics are often similarly used (e.g.: "how many times did-the voter support the same program or candidate before?" "What does the voter like most about the candidate?" etc.). As target groups the product marketer and the political candidates select consumers and voters, respectively, and offer them satisfactory product mixes. The product mix, viz., the different mixes of product, promotion, price and place that are offered to different voter segments, is also similar to the idea of product mix of marketing. Specifically, the product mix of political marketing includes: (1) product--the basic themes, ideas or issues that the candidate may represent "law and order", and "full employment," and another--"active foreign policy," (2) promotion-the specific mix of mass media advertising, specialized media advertising, and personal selling (i.e.: canvassing),that the candidate uses to reach his target voters. In addition, the idea that different voter segments may be effectively reached by different promotion mix is well practiced by political marketers, (3) price--the vote given to the candidate, which alternatively could have been given to the competing candidate. This price is not a fixed one (i.e., it is not merely a vote), but can be conceived as having different values which are a function of the attractiveness of those candidates competing with the chosen one; and (4) place--the importance of when and where the product (i.e. the candidate or the ideas representing him) is available to the voter. Obviously, availability and timing of the product are as critical elements in political marketing as they are in marketing of goods and services. The fact that the polls are open to the voters only in specified times and places, and the fact that each consumer is restricted to one purchase only (one vote), do not imply a sharp difference from the concept of place as it has thus far been conceived by marketing. For example, auctions are held only at specified places and times and contrary to elections not even on a regular basis. In addition, consumer purchases are often restricted in quantity, the way voters are restricted to one vote.

Common Concept Four: Product Image. Both product marketing and candidate marketing have emphasized that consumer and voter behavior toward products and candidates in question. In addition, it seems that they both have over-popularized the image concept to a degree where it became merely an impression or a stereotype that consumers and voters have about the products and candidates, respectively. However, a recent synthesizing effort to investigate this concept suggest that image is a result of an interactive perceptual process through which the perceiver selects some of the object's attributes (e.g. brand and quality of a product, party affiliation and issues of a candidate), processes them in his mind, and forms predispositions to respond toward the object. Therefore, it seems that the image concept is not only shared by marketing of goods and services, and marketing of political candidates, but rather is a concept common to many social political candidates, but rather is a concept common to many social sciences (Shama, 1975).

Common Concept Five: Brand Loyalty. When measured by the degree of attachment to the brand (as indicated by repeated purchase or brand attitude), and related to such consumer's characteristics as age, income, race, personality, etc., brand loyalty becomes equivalent to the concept of party loyalty of political marketing. Furthermore, the concepts of brand loyalty and party loyalty have been utilized as a baseline for promotion strategy for the product and the candidate. Accordingly, the first step of such promotion strategy is to distinguish between voters who are loyal to the party and swing voters and hence design a different promotion mix for each of the two main groups (Campbell, et al., 1966).

Common Concept Six: Product Development. Both product marketing and political marketing place great importance on the series of integrated activities and research that take part in the process of developing a product that will satisfy the target consumers and voters, respectively. In the case of consumer products, product development is a process through which a consumer-satisfying parcel of ingredients, quality, brand, package, etc., is created. Similarly, the process of developing a product in the political market is one of creating a parcel encompassing a candidate, issues, party, and the like, which will satisfy the target voters.

Common Concept Seven: Product Concept. Essentially a part of the product development process, the product concept includes the central idea(s) which serves as the core of the product in the target group's mind. This concept is shared by marketing and political marketing. Thus, an economic product such as a car might be planned and developed to convey "economy" and "dependability," while a candidate might wish to convey "healthy econ%my" and "active foreign policy" .

Common Concept Eight: Product Positioning. Related to the above concepts of product development and product concept, the idea of product positioning: the process by which the product is positioned vis-a-via its competitors in the market. Clearly, it is utilized by both marketing and political marketing. In both cases, the product's and the candidate's "location" in the perceptual map of consumers and the voters relative to the location of the competitors is to be determined, planned, and promoted so as to increase consumer and voter preference of the product and the candidate in question. In addition, products and candidates utilize the same research technique in determining and planning their positions in the market in relation to their competitors, namely multidimensional scaling.

Common Tools

Common Tool One: Market Research. Both marketing of economic products and services, and the marketing of politicil candidates make frequent use of market research or public opinion polling for the purposes of measuring product performance, identifying potential consumers, and detecting and solving problems. In doing so, market research and opinion research use similar methods of data collection (panels, interviews, questionnaires) and data analyzing techniques (regressions, factor analysis, discriminant analysis, multidimensional scaling). In fact, because rulers and politicians have been very sensitive to public opinion throughout history, it seems that early public opinion gathering techniques were developed before market research, and therefore the latter seems to have followed the-former not the contrary. Presently as was the case historically, both the social sciences and marketing utilize similar data gathering and analysis techniques indicating the basic similarity of their purposes.

Common Tool Two: Concept Testing. A technique used in the process of product development and product positioning, concept testing refers to the procedure which is designed to discover consumer reactions to different product concept, develop and introduce it to the market to satisfy the target consumers. Although not to the same degree of sophistication, this procedure is used by both marketing and political marketing. Thus, similar to product concept-testing, the candidate concept-testing involves the following major steps: (1) identification of possible candidate concepts, (2) introduction of candidate concepts to the voters; (3)recording voter reactions to each concept (by rank order, attitude measurement, intentions to vote); (4) identification of causal or associative connections among voters characteristics (socio-economic status, behavioral, and political) and their reactions to different candidate concepts, and to various attributes of single candidate concepts (factor analysis to reduce candidate attributes space, and voter characteristics space, and multiple regressions) so as to evaluate the contribution of separate candidate attributes and voter characteristics in the overall preference or separate candidate attributes and voter characteristics in the overall preference or ranking of the concept; (5) choice of the most positively evaluated candidate concept or concepts, and finally (6) introduction and promotion of the chosen concept or concepts among voter groups in reference to the results in step four. Clearly, this also implies the possibility for market segmentation: different voter groups who evaluated a given candidate concept differently can be regarded as different market segments.

Common Tool Three: Communication. The instrumental use of communication media for the purpose of promoting economic products and political candidates is another characteristic of both marketing and political marketing. Each of these utilizes media schedules, and media mix to effectively reach its target groups. Consistent with this last point, the fact that product marketing and candidate marketing use different media mixes or schedules should be regarded as an indication of the different nature of the products, and their target groups.

One clear conclusion that can be drawn at this point is the marketing as it has been traditionally conceived to refer to economic products and services, and political marketing, which relates mainly to marketing of political candidates, have much in common: (1) basic concepts such as sellers., buyers, products, consumers, market segmentation, are at the core of each of them, and (2) tools or techniques and media selection. on these grounds, the concept of marketing seems to be quite applicable to the area of political marketing.

However, a more critical examination of broadening the concept of marketing to include also political marketing is provided by examining the applicability of the most important concept of modern marketing. namely that of consumer behavior, to the area of voter behavior.


Voter behavior has been studied much in the same manner as consumer behavior, namely as a decision making process to engage in a certain action (voting, purchasing), including processes which precede and follow that act. Both the voter and the consumer are viewed as individuals receiving information, and possibly seeking out information, processing this information to reach predispositions to respond, and finally responding toward the product and the candidate in question. Consequently, the principles of well known models and frameworks of consumer behavior can be effectively applied to voter behavior and vice versa. Accordingly, in applying the general approach of consumer behavior models to voter behavior, one can point out the following components that are part of the decision process (Howard and Sheth, 1969).

1. Stimulus input variables which originate from the candidate and his party and are targeted at the voters. Such input variables may be related to the candidate's experience in politics, his style of action as a political figure, his stand on issues, and his party identification.

2. Environmental influences on the voter. These relate to such factors as social class, peer group, and family influence on the voter, as well as the influence of the voter's own personality traits, and past experience with the candidate in question.

3. Processing stimulus and environmental information to reach voting predispositions. Such processing is subject to learning and selective screening.

4. Output variables which relate to the decision how to vote, as well as to changes in perception of, and attitude toward, the candidate. One of the most powerful output variables is the voter party identification which, in a manner similar to brand loyalty, denotes an attachment to the party, and therefore also to its candidates.

5. Feedback processes.

Similarly, in applying voter behavior approaches to consumer behavior, one might follow the approaches of Lazarsfeld.-et al.(1948) and Campbell, et al. (1966) and postulate that consumer behavior is determined by socioeconomic status and psychological makeup. More specifically, one can follow Lane's (1965) model, and describe the consumer decision making process as including the following three components: stimulus, organism, and response.

1. The stimuli are symbols which are transmitted to the consumer from his social environment (e.g., the community, media, family, ethnic group,,social class, marketing channels) about the product or service in question.

2. The organism is the consumer receiving such stimuli, screening them through his perceptual and attitudinal screens in order to reach predispositions to respond toward the product or the service.

3. Responses include such actions as purchasing, expressing an opinion about the attitudinal object, reading and listening to messages about the attitudinal object.

On the basis of the above it is quite clear that voter and consumer behavior models utilize similar approaches. Furthermore, it can also be argued that consumer and voter behavior models are theoretically identical in that they utilize the basic SOR paradigm. Such a generic approach to the study of the voter and the consumer results in the mutual utilization of other concepts in the study of consumer and voter behavior.

Thus, both consumer and voter behavior scientists seem to prefer tie use of a middle-range theory approach in analyzing consumers and voters, respectively, rather than relying on comprehensive theories that are not yet well articulated. This takes the form of conducting studies which focus on the relationship between a fairly defined concept such as social class, the family, or peer group, or a limited number of variables such as self-confidence, education, and dogmatism, and consumer behavior or voter behavior. The hope is that the knowledge accumulated through such studies will permit more effective theory construction in the future (Merton, 1957; Ward and Robertson, 1973).

A summary of such a middle-range theory approach and findings in the areas of consumer and voter behavior is presented in Table 1. An examination of this table shows that different concepts such as learning, perception, and social class help to explain consumer and voter behavior in similar ways. For example, learning concepts help to explain the processes by which consumers and voters develop brand and party loyalty, respectively; perception contributes to the explanation of consumer and voter imagery and its resulting influence on their behavior; and social class helps to explain the purchase of certain products and voter party orientation.

Table 1 also suggests that the concepts depicted are of different nature and scope. Learning, perception, attitudes, personality, and motivation are theoretical concepts "that derive meaning from their role in the theory in which they are imbedded and the purposes of the theory " (Zaltman, Pinson, and Angelmar, 1973). As these theoretical concepts are commonly employed in the areas of consumer behavior and voter behavior for the same purposes of description, explanation, and prediction--they offer the researcher a wider universe for observation, hence increasing observational validity, a greater opportunity for concept operationalization, thus increasing content validity, and a basis for operationalizing concepts, thus improving construct validity. By offering such opportunities, these theoretical concepts play an essential role in theory-building focusing on human behavior in general, or subsets of this behavior. As a result, the proposition can be advanced that when a theoretical concept can be applied to mcre than one role of human behavior (e.g., consumption, voting), its observational validity, content validity, and construct validity become stronger, thus strengthening its role in theory building.

On the other hand, concepts and variables such as social class, family, age, education, and brand loyalty are of a narrower scope in that they usually represent simple, singular propositions as to the connection between a few consumer or voter variables and behavior. Although findings of such propositions are valuable, their share in theory building and pointing out commonalities of voter and consumer behavior is not very profound.


This paper has examined the applicability of the concept of marketing in general, and the concept of consumer behavior in particular, to the areas of political marketing and voter behavior. In both cases, it was suggested that marketing concepts are quite applicable to political marketing. Admittedly, by focusing on the decision making approach to voter behavior, other popular approaches were not given any exposure. Such approaches are (1) the normative approach which discusses how the individual should function as a political creature, (2) the legal approach which focuses on the individual's political rights and duties, and (3) the systems approach which studies the voter's role in the total political system. These approaches can represent some conceptual differences in the structure of consumer and voter behavior. Nevertheless, the similarities between consumer and voter behavior are still sharp.



Consumer behavior is a scientifically oriented approach aimed at the study of the consumption role of human behavior. However, the consumption role of human behavior is vaguely defined, as are its boundaries (Ward and Robertson, 1973). Therefore, broadening the concept of consumer behavior to include voter behavior does not have so much to do with actual broadening, but rather with an eclectic process of determining boundaries which have never been previously determined. Furthermore, because consumer behavior theory and approaches have so far only borrowed from the social sciences (including political science), the eclectic process of determining its boundaries may mean reciprocity with the social sciences in that some of the concepts which were borrowed by consumer behavior can now be returned to the social sciences with the contributions of consumer behavior. The testing of variables and the validation of concepts within consumer behavior contexts can now be shared with the social sciences and perhaps help explain some of the ambiguities still existing in the social sciences. Examples of such concepts are opinion leadership, selective processes, cognitive processes, role theory, imagery, and group behavior.


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