Our Take

China leverages the digital stack—network infrastructure, devices, applications, content, and governance—to influence five countries in the Global South, ASD’s Bryce Barros, Nathan Kohlenberg, and Etienne Soula explain in a new report with the International Republican Institute. 

In May, Russia’s Spanish-language outlets enjoyed high levels of social media engagement despite restrictions, China’s “wolf warrior” diplomats outperformed many of its media outlets, and Iran’s outlet HispanTV likely violated platforms’ ban evasion policies by pushing content under accounts branded as “Nexo Latino,” ASD’s Information Manipulation Team found in its May 2022 Hamilton Monthly Report

Some states have passed restrictive election laws in reaction to the disinformation about the 2020 election, which could make it more difficult to vote and further corrode trust in elections, Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine writes in The Fulcrum.

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Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian diplomats and state media focused on three main topics last week:

  • Ukraine’s EU candidacy: Kremlin-linked accounts claimed both that “Ukraine will not live to see EU membership” and that the EU would disappear before accepting Kyiv as part of a push to derail EU plans to grant Ukraine candidacy status.
  • Divided West: Russian propagandists said that the United States was ready to turn on Ukraine, claimed high gas prices would lead to the “the united Western front against Russia is falling apart,” and showcased division within NATO.
  • Biden: Kremlin-backed accounts posted nearly 400 tweets about U.S. President Joe Biden, painting him as incompetent and unpopular.

Chinese diplomats and state media highlighted three narratives last week: 

  • Xinjiang: #Xinjiang and “Xinjiang” were the top hashtag and key phrase among Beijing-linked Twitter accounts as they promoted the region’s economic opportunities and rejected Western accusations of genocide.
  • Ukraine: Chinese propagandists continued to ignore atrocities committed by Russia in Ukraine while suggesting that Western sanctions have strengthened Russia’s economy, hurt Western consumers, and created global food shortages. 
  • Global South: China targeted many of its messages towards audiences in the Global South last week, positioning itself as being interested in “common development” rather than the West’s efforts to build coalitions among “like-minded” countries.

Read the full report here

News and Commentary

Jan. 6 committee highlights Trump efforts to pressure state officials: The House committee investigating January 6th presented new evidence that showed how former president Donald Trump and his legal team threatened election officials in battleground states to decertify the election results and revealed that the former president and some Republican lawmakers were directly involved in a scheme to submit fake slates of electors in states President Joe Biden won. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine said, “Yesterday’s hearing by the January 6th committee was just the latest to show the lengths to which former president Trump was willing to go in order to reject the 2020 election results and override the will of the voters. While American democracy held up in 2020, it did so just barely. The witnesses at yesterday’s hearing not only made clear how close our system was to failing, but described in chilling detail the personal toll that standing up for the 2020 results has taken, and continues to take, on themselves, their colleagues, and their families.”

U.S. and EU to introduce cybersecurity aid to counter China: The United States and European Union will introduce joint funding for secure digital infrastructure in developing countries to counter Chinese technology investments. China Affairs Analyst Bryce Barros said, “The joint U.S.-EU plan to provide foreign aid for cybersecurity is an excellent first step and shows that the EU can be a reliable partner as the United States seeks to counter China globally. The lack of access to good China analysis can be a real hindrance for smaller and developing countries. By bolstering the abilities of developing countries to monitor Chinese technology companies, this joint plan can make a real impact in preventing nefarious use of the digital information stacks in the countries it seeks to assist.”

U.S. funds VPN companies to combat Russian censorship: The United States increased funding for three VPN companies—nthLink, Psiphon, and Lantern—to help Russians bypass censorship and access Western media, after a recent spike in VPN downloads by Russians since the start of the Ukraine war. Deputy Director David Salvo told the Dispatch, “There are many Russian citizens who would rather receive reliable news rather than simply consume state propaganda. Providing funding for VPN providers is a creative way for the U.S. government to use the power of the coffers and the power of technology to help Russians find workarounds to their increasingly restrictive information environment.”

In Case You Missed It   

  • China has been collecting digital and biological data on its citizens as part of a growing surveillance network to maintain autocratic rule, a New York Times investigation found.
  • Russia threatened to retaliate against Lithuania after the Baltic state barred rail transport of EU-sanctioned Russian goods to the exclave of Kaliningrad.
  • China-based TikTok employees repeatedly accessed U.S. user data from China despite pledges that the platform stores U.S. user data in the United States, according to leaked audio from 80 internal meetings.   
  • Russian intelligence agencies have increased the rate of cyberattacks targeting governments, organizations, and humanitarian groups supporting Ukraine, new Microsoft research found.
  • Commissioners in Otero County, New Mexico certified primary results, reversing a previous decision to reject the vote totals over false claims that voter machines were not secure.
  • A Nebraska man pleaded guilty to charges of threatening an election worker over social media last year, securing the Justice Department’s task force to protect election workers’ first guilty plea.

ASD in the News

Six Lessons from a Decade of Asia Strategy Simulations. Co-Director Zack Cooper wrote for GMF

As China’s Xi Jinping Shuns Volodymyr Zelensky, Taiwan Engages With Ukraine. China Affairs Analyst Bryce Barros quoted in Newsweek

Russia Turns Diplomats into Propagators of Disinformation. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in Diálogo Americas

Amid Rising Tension with Beijing, US Creates ‘China House’, Co-Director Zack Cooper quoted in VOA

ACE Is Now ‘Normal Ops’ in Pacific, but Utility in Conflict Requires More Partners. Co-Director Zack Cooper quoted in Air Force Magazine

How Russia’s Leading Search Engine Spreads Kremlin Propaganda on Ukraine: Introducing ASD’s Yandex Dashboard. ASD research indexed in the Research Buzz

U.S. importers brace for chaos as Uyghur Act looms. ASD research highlighted in Politico China Watcher

Quote of the Week

“The Russian President must accept that there is a community of law-based democracies in his neighbourhood that is growing ever closer together. He clearly fears the spark of democracies spreading to his country.” 

  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said during an interview with Münchner Merkur newspaper on June 20, 2022.

The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.