In addition to its Constitution and founding principles, a country’s executive leadership primarily sets its larger institutions’ tone. A country’s armed forces, diplomatic corps, legislature, large public sector companies, and the press slowly imbue themselves with the operant thought paradigm working at the core of its governmental apparatus and executive leadership.
Phenomenon such as the United States‘ private sector enjoying fewer liabilities from governmental oversight, the Pakistan Army‘s policy of unrestrained immoral debauchery in Gilgit–Baltistan, and the glaring gap between what the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) says and does are all manifestations of more profound governmental thought processes.
Unfortunately, applying this maxim to make sense of the CCP takes us to a dense realm of incomprehensibility. Unlike in other countries, it is difficult even to speculate, leave alone gauge, what goes on within the CCP.
One may attribute this to the iron curtain of opacity espoused by the CCP in all its realms of functioning. However, what it cannot reveal, it conceals through a dense miasma of disinformation and propaganda. What it does not approve of is quickly banned and brushed under the carpet.
For instance, from most recent memory, COVID-19 was the CCP’s opportunity to reap goodwill and accolades in the global community. However, CCP squandered this opportunity by sparking a debate about the origin of the COVID pandemic, restricting access of outsiders to Wuhan, withholding vital information, and flooding global media with vast amounts of disinformation.
In this regard, instances of Communist China‘s ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomacy emerging in the post-COVID era are particularly alarming. For example, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokespersons Hua Chunying and Zhao Lijian took to Twitter to hit back against external criticism of Communist China’s handling of COVID-19 and low quality of Chinese medical equipment exported to other countries.
Zhao tweeted that if someone claims that Communist China’s exports are toxic, then stop wearing Communist China-made masks and protective gowns. He suggested (albeit ridiculously!) in another tweet that It might be (the) US Army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Most would agree that seeing government officials spew unsubstantiated half-truths can be profoundly unsettling – this indicates a deeper malaise operating in the background.
There are numerous reports about China becoming a hotbed of disinformation in the post-COVID era. Ranging from the fiasco of the widespread rumour that ‘America will be locked down’ in April, to Xi Jinping‘s endorsement of ‘positive propaganda’ for ‘correct guidance of public opinion’, something sinister, opaque, and devious seems to be brewing in the CCP psyche.
To trace the roots of this thought process, one only needs to revisit Mao Zedong in 1945, when he proclaimed, “we should carry on constant propaganda among the people on the facts of progress and bright future ahead so that they will build their confidence in victory”, thus ushering the sinister era of Chinese disinformation.
The tendency to lie, obfuscate, conceal, and ‘spin stories’ lies at the heart of the CCP disinformation architecture. While on the surface it may seem that aspirations of ‘grand strategy’ and geopolitical leverage drive this agenda, the truth is much darker and banal.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in his character analysis of Iago, the super-villain in William Shakespeare‘s seminal play Othello characterises Iago’s hatred and desire to damage the protagonist Othello, as ‘motiveless malignancy’, or, ‘evil for evil’s sake’.
Perhaps, ‘grand strategy’ and geopolitical leverage may have been the drivers behind Chinese mega-projects such as China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Belt and Road Initiative. But what drives the CCP disinformation architecture is pure motiveless malignancy, emanating from an inherent desire to undermine, destabilise, and demoralise its rivals and potential rivals, while preserving its interests through totalitarian regulations.
This is hypocritical and ethically problematic because the CCP represses information within, while taking full advantage of open/free environments in democracies to push its contrived agendas into that environment. The CCP huffing and puffing over an animation film in 2018 because of perceived resemblances of its protagonist Winnie the Pooh with the Chinese Premier, and subsequently banning it, is a harmless example of CCP’s hard-headedness in the face of criticism.
Similarly, CCP’s freezing of political, economic, and diplomatic relations with Norway in the aftermath of award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, is a darker, more severe manifestation of CCP’s bullishness and hypocrisy.
Thus, whatever CCP says, even from its official channels, must be taken as a half-truth, if not outright lies! CCP’s actions in Doklam, Gawlan, and spin-doctoring by CCP’s media to portray China as a victim of Indian aggression needs to be seen in the light of a very potent, dubious disinformation architecture.
To destroy Othello, Iago plants seeds of doubt in his mind. Subsequently, he regularly waters those seeds by framing Othello’s reality through his convoluted reasoning. When the curtains are drawn, Othello’s world has been destroyed. But Iago is no better, having been destroyed by his own malicious ambitions.
Honesty in relationships is essential. CCP must wake up to the importance of this maxim in a globalised, multi-polar world, where one nation’s export is another nation’s import.