“Singing from the Songsheet”: Media uncritically parrots ASPI’s anti-China propaganda

Dec 7, 2023
Strips of newspaper with the words Propaganda typed on them. Black and white. Close up.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) have once again proven they should be re-named the American Strategic Policy Institute. They have produced a new report based on errors, misunderstandings, speculation and offered no proof whatsoever to make China, and people who support China, look bad; all while being funded by the US State Department. At least the report was funded by the US State Department until ASPI decided it wasn’t!

An archived version of the report clearly stated that the research was funded by the US State Department. This statement was then removed in the version now released. Why? Perhaps the removal may be due to legal issues or just an error. But if so it supports a view that the report itself was hastily put together without care or due diligence. As we read the report, that becomes even more apparent.

Image: Supplied

In a subsequent version, the reference has been removed

Image supplied

Singing from the CCP’s Songsheet” is an academic disgrace. Even by its own admission it starts with a disclaimer, but no apology, for errors.

Image supplied


One gripe before we start: the Communist Party of China is not the CCP. It is the CPC. The Communist Party of Vietnam is the CPV, in the UK it’s the CPGB, in the USA it’s the CPUSA; and so on, why then must ASPI persist in misspelling the correct name of the CPC? An error, or perhaps deliberate misinformation, designed to belittle an organisation they disdain.

We know that the US State Department does fund anti-China narratives, there are two Acts written into US law, one of $250 million and another of $500 million, which means that instead of looking for positivity, the writers of US-funded reports start with the hypothesis that China is bad and set out to prove it. This completely ignores nuance, any facts that contradict the hypothesis, and totally fails to take into consideration the opposing side of the hypothesis; that China might actually be doing something right. The motivation for writing such articles, financial reward, is exactly what the authors of such reports allege of the people they write about.

But it doesn’t stop there, every time ASPI releases a report, Australian media leaps in to amplify it. An example was the Sydney Morning Herald which made several errors and was contacted by one of the named people in ASPI’s report with corrections.

After being contacted, SMH at least had the decency, in an updated article, to correct their errors by removing false news, correcting the name of the employer they work for and deleting the fact that they were contacted for comment, when they were not. That’s three errors in one paragraph of a purportedly respected newspaper. For the record: I did contact the named person, I received the answer that: “the journalist claims he contacted me months ago (!!!)”. Yet the ASPI report was only released days ago. Another error, or are the SMH readers being misled too?

ASPI have been made aware of the errors but have not made any corrections.

Nor have they provided any explanation as to why the front cover of their report depicts a white man conducting a Chinese choir, it seems to contradict the narrative that the “CCP” are directing the output of the foreign influences, not all of whom are “white” and depict the opposite, with a white man controlling the output of a Chinese choir! Why ASPI use cartoons to do this remains a mystery, perhaps its because their legal team advised them it would be libelous to use a real person without proof, or perhaps because there is no photograph available that would suit the narrative – as in ASPI’s reports of “forced labour” and “concentration or re-education camps”, the best they can do, even in a day and age of millions of digital images online, is to produce a cartoon depiction since no real photos exist.

ASPI’s report is fundamentally about how people, around the world, but in particular, a few in China, promote the “talking points of the CCP”. In the Key Findings there are a few points worth mentioning:

They claim foreign influencers in China are reaching international audiences and Indeed they are. Because they are showing China as a beautiful and friendly place, which it is. Audiences on X and TikTok are seeing this and realising they have been misled by US-funded propaganda. In a glaring omission, ASPI have not, in any part of their report examined the content being seen by international audiences and found misinformation; instead, they only allege that it is “CCP” propaganda.
They complain that the “CCP” is creating competitions to promote “party-state-aligned content” and again they are, but content creators are entering from far and wide; the “My China Story” competition has gathered over 800,000 submissions from at least 15 different countries and ASPI’s use of the term “party-state-aligned content” is grossly misleading as the competition simply ask for positive stories about China.

Surely if ASPI wish to prove propaganda (in the negative sense), they would be better served if, instead of criticising the competition, they were to watch some of the content that was submitted and demonstrate what’s wrong. It’s another glaring omission that they have completely failed to do so. Consequently, they cannot point to a single video entry that lies or misinforms. They merely infer negativity because the state pays the prize money.

I was at the 2021 award ceremony and saw the video entries were of the achievements of individuals helping communities, many were about the vast and diverse terrain, or history of China, some were about the food and culture that China has to offer and some were of the scientific and technical achievements made by individuals. I saw no video which showed any government department achievement, only Chinese people and Chinese things. The vast majority of them were made by Chinese people, in Chinese, for a Chinese audience; which also seems to contradict the idea that it’s done to promote China to the outside world.

Disclaimer: I was present at the award ceremony because I was the recipient of an award for this competition. A video was made by Zhongshan Broadcast TV Station (yes, the dreaded state media) about my wife and myself after we had raised significant sums of money for disabled people in her home town, Zhongshan. We had cycled together across China, my wife had walked from Guangdong to Beijing, I cycled separately from the border of Macau to the border of Kazakhstan in Xinjiang and Chinese media thought our story might be a good story to enter the competition. We received no prize money, only a certificate. There was absolutely nothing political about this video, or our achievements, can ASPI can find a lie or misinformation here?

No, ASPI’s only complaint boils down to one thing. The influencers mirror “CCP’” talking points: China’s government has, by all accounts, done some remarkable things. Forget lifting 800 million out of poverty and the installation of over 42,000 kilometres of high-speed rail, these are undeniable and globally acknowledged. They built sealed roads and installed 5G communications into every rural village in this huge country; they’ve put people in space, landed rovers on the Moon and Mars; they’ve installed more wind and solar energy than the rest of the world combined and have returned blue skies to the cities; there are even reports that China has carbon-peaked 7 years ahead of target.

Crime has reduced to almost non-existent and the country has developed the world’s largest tertiary education system with 240 million graduates. Car ownership, a good indicator of economic status, continues to increase but, even with massive increases, the number of road fatalities remains the same and pollution has decreased. The country is getting wealthier and China works on narrowing the inequality gap and the number of hospitals has increased over a 12-year-period from 21 to 37 thousand.

This list could go on and should. If a country has all these achievements plus a globally acknowledged cuisine; diverse scenery as snow-capped mountains, deserts, rainforests and tropical islands; history such as the Great Wall and the Terracotta Warriors, then surely that’s a country worth making videos about and that might be why 800,000 submissions have been received to competitions about it.

The only thing China has done differently is to NOT play the same game the USA plays; instead of budgeting $800 million USD a year for negativity about its challengers or rivals, China pays 10,000- 30,000 RMB ($1,400-4,200 USD), prize money to promote positive things about itself.

ASPI discloses they receive US funding in their annual report. It’s a lot of money but despite being paid so much, they couldn’t find the time to have the authors watch some videos, find any lies then write a truthful report. Until they do that, whatever they write is exactly what they accuse others of doing, state funded propaganda and, unless they can demonstrate there are lies in the videos they watch, then their report serves no purpose other than to misinform.

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