Is China Interfering in U.S. Elections? | NTK Network Is China Interfering in U.S. Elections?

Is China Interfering in U.S. Elections?

The president said they are, and the vice president will echo those claims in a Thursday speech. Experts are mixed in their answers.

By NTK Staff | 10.04.2018 @11:00am
Is China Interfering in U.S. Elections?

On Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence will echo a bold claim from President Trump in recent weeks: China is attempting to interfere in U.S. elections.

CNN‘s Jim Sciutto previewed Pence’s remarks in a tweet Thursday morning:

CNN had more details about Pence’s speech in a piece published Thursday:

“Beijing has mobilized covert actors, front groups and propaganda outlets to shift Americans’ perception of Chinese policies,” Pence will say.

The vice president will cite a Chinese government document, called “Propaganda and Censorship Notice,” which he will claim lays out a strategy aimed at “splitting apart different domestic groups in the United States.”

Among the institutions targeted for Chinese Communist Party coercion, according to the vice president, are “businesses, movie studios, universities, think tanks, scholars (and) journalists.”

What do experts say?

China experts Rush Doshi and Robert D. Williams, both of The Brookings Institution, say the “claims should not be dismissed out of hand, [but] the reality is more complex.”

In the United States, Chinese state-controlled media outlets like China Daily, CGTN and Xinhua clearly hope to influence the U.S. information environment. Several newspapers, including the Washington Post, carry inserts published by the China Daily. In addition, there is some evidence that United Front-linked donors have sought to support U.S. research institutions, though there remains an honest debate about whether and how such funding has impacted research products. At the same time, some state-linked donors have even launched their own institutions that participate in contemporary policy debates and endeavor to shape the discussion—with apparently limited success.

But, Doshi and Williams caution, the U.S. should take “proactive” measures, because China’s efforts in other countries suggest they could, one day, take more aggressive steps to interfere in U.S. political affairs.

For now, there is no public evidence that China has sought to leak private information or access electoral systems to manipulate U.S. elections. Indeed, China’s efforts in the United States appear less mature and flagrant than they are in Australia or Taiwan. Even so, the fact that influence efforts are in full swing elsewhere—and that Beijing could one day take a page from Moscow’s more aggressive playbook here if relations continue to deteriorate—means that Washington needs to be proactive.

Foreign Policy staff writer Elias Groll is more skeptical. In a piece published Tuesday, Groll wrote:

…the Beijing-funded China Daily has been buying inserts in local papers around the world for years. And there is little other evidence to back up Trump’s claims about Chinese election interference.

…But a U.S. intelligence official familiar with the matter described Russia and China as “among the most sophisticated actors that we’ve seen” carrying out influence operations. “We see China involved in influence operations around the globe.” The official added that American intelligence agencies are carrying out an assessment of whether Chinese operatives are targeting the U.S. election.

As with most things in Washington, the reality seems more complex than political actors make it out to be. That said, even the prospect of Chinese interference in U.S. election should, in theory, be enough to make Congress and the president “proactive.” Few in America would want a repeat of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

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