China's approach to electoral interference differs from Russia's but is nonetheless potent, targeting vulnerabilities in democratic systems. In this third segment of our investigation into electoral interference, we delve into China's tactics and the weaknesses that democracies must address to counter such operations effectively.
China's Subtle Influence Strategy
While Russia's tactics often aim to sow chaos and division, China adopts a more nuanced approach, leveraging its access to diaspora communities to influence election outcomes. Unlike Russia, which seeks to exacerbate divisions, China aims to cultivate support for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) among ethnic Chinese voters in democratic nations.
Leveraging Ethnic Communities
Ethnic Chinese communities in countries like the US and Canada represent significant voting blocs, providing China with an opportunity to sway election results through targeted messaging and support for pro-CCP candidates. By influencing local Chinese media and community networks, China can shape opinions and undermine critics of the CCP, thus exerting subtle but impactful influence on national politics.
Exploiting Structural Weaknesses
China's operations exploit structural vulnerabilities in democratic systems, including lax regulations on foreign influence and the influence of ethnic communities on local politics. By targeting diaspora communities and circumventing institutional safeguards, China can manipulate election outcomes without raising significant alarm.
Tactics of Covert Influence
China employs various tactics to influence diaspora communities and shape electoral discourse, including:
- Media Manipulation: Controlling Chinese-language media outlets and influencing editorial content to shape public opinion.
- Social Media Manipulation: Spreading disinformation and misinformation on social media platforms to sway public perception and support specific candidates.
- Elite Capture: Recruiting former senior officials and business leaders to advocate for China's interests, thus influencing societal discourse and decision-making.
Democratic nations must address vulnerabilities in their electoral systems to mitigate the risk of foreign interference. Key measures include:
- Strengthening regulations on foreign influence and political donations.
- Enhancing monitoring of social media platforms and combating disinformation campaigns.
- Building resilience against covert influence by educating the public and bolstering institutional safeguards.
China's covert influence operations pose a significant threat to democratic elections, exploiting structural weaknesses and targeting diaspora communities to sway election outcomes. By understanding these tactics and addressing vulnerabilities in electoral systems, democracies can effectively safeguard their democratic processes against foreign interference.