China has been brazenly violating well-settled norms and the rule of law. This includes a recent case of a Chinese scientist who stole trade secrets from an American company, then used the stolen information to help a Chinese partner steal a similar technology.

But now China is accusing a liberal columnist at a top Communist Party newspaper of espionage, in the most lurid example yet of the kind of covert interference that China has embraced as it goes global.

Dong Xiaobo

China’s media environment remains highly restrictive, with all television, radio, and print outlets under the control of the Communist Party. Journalists must follow official guidance to avoid reporting on sensitive topics, including antigovernment protests, activists’ deaths in custody, and high-level cases of corruption.

Over the past decade, top Chinese officials have dramatically expanded CCP efforts to influence global media coverage about the country. These include covert and overt tactics, as well as pressure from governments and civil society organizations.

Despite these restrictions, some reporters and other media professionals continue to report on the country’s internal political and social affairs. Their work helps shape the public’s understanding of the political and economic landscape and serves as a bridge to information about China’s domestic policy and governance.

But the CCP’s censorship of Chinese state-run media has become increasingly difficult to scale, especially for foreign journalists. The Chinese government has retaliated against foreign media for investigative or critical reporting, using visa denials and other measures.

The Case

In July 2017, China accused a liberal columnist at a top Communist Party newspaper of espousing “anti-socialist” views. The case was the latest example of China’s efforts to suppress criticism of President Xi Jinping.

Since Xi came to power, the number of Chinese journalists imprisoned for criticizing him has surged. Reporters for the New York Times, Bloomberg News, and Reuters have been subjected to harassment by Chinese authorities in recent years, and PEN America has documented cases of Chinese censorship of foreign journalists’ access to sources.

These efforts to stifle critical coverage of China have been largely successful, according to experts. They have boosted the CCP’s image in key regions, limited negative media coverage of its foreign engagement, established dominance over Chinese-language media, and imposed financial difficulties on disfavored outlets.

Beijing’s tactics can have substantial long-term costs, especially where they undermine the rule of law or democratic norms. However, there are growing initiatives by governments, technology companies, journalists, and civic activists to increase transparency, diversify funding sources, and protect media freedom.


A longtime editor and writer at a top Communist Party newspaper was accused of spying by China on Wednesday after he met with a Japanese diplomat, his family said. The accusations were published by Global News, citing anonymous security sources.

It is not uncommon for China to use its media outlets to promote official narratives and political positions in other countries. This is especially true of foreign publications that have significant economic ties with China.

As Chinese entities build up control over key nodes in the information flow, the risks of allowing this kind of interference to occur are growing. These activities could undermine international efforts to uphold media freedoms and encourage critical reporting.

The Chinese government has extensive control over law enforcement and the judicial system, using these to stifle calls for freedom, human rights, and rule of law. It uses these tools to arrest lawyers, human rights activists, journalists, religious leaders, ethnic and religious minorities, and other individuals who do not conform to CCP ideology.


As the world’s most populous country, China is a highly diverse and complex country. From the highest mountains to one of the lowest, China’s teeming landscape is home to an array of cultures and languages.

Among the many things it does best is protect its citizens from foreign threats. The Chinese government flexes its muscles on both the international and domestic stage.

The government also uses its considerable resources to promote the nation’s achievements. For instance, it recently sponsored a large-scale public art exhibit to commemorate the country’s millennium anniversary.

The government has also taken to policing its own media, using Twitter and TikTok to suspend and delete accounts that spread misleading information on a wide range of topics.


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