In this webinar, Mr Drew Thompson and Mr Dien Nguyen An Luong examined the key measures that China has used to influence the information environment in Vietnam and how the Vietnamese government, the media industry and the Vietnamese public have responded to such efforts.
VIETNAM STUDIES PROGRAMME & MEDIA, TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY PROGRAMME WEBINAR
Friday, 23 July 2021 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute organised a webinar on “China’s Efforts to Shape the Media Landscape in Vietnam” on Friday, delivered by Mr Drew Thompson and Mr Dien Nguyen An Luong. Mr Thompson is Visiting Senior Fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy while Mr Dien is Visiting Fellow with the Media, Technology and Society Programme of the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.
Mr Thompson noted that all countries seek to influence others through a wide range of means, many of which – such as diplomacy – are established and accepted, while others are regarded as objectionable. While traditional media is generally not a tool of influence used directly by governments in liberal democracies, state-owned media is a key element in China’s efforts to shape the global information environment. The primary objective and rationale for China’s influence campaigns, Mr Thompson noted, is the preservation of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) power.
China’s influence campaigns are coordinated by several key CCP and government organisations under the state council, the most important of which are the propaganda organs. The CCP propaganda department, for instance, has a dedicated external propaganda office, which is publicly referred to as the State Council Information Office. Externally focused print media is also another key element of China’s influence campaigns. The Global Times and China Daily, for instance, have numerous international editions and large presence on various social media platforms which are banned in China, such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. These are not commercial entities funded by advertising, but rather organisations funded directly by the Chinese government.
China, however, has had little success at shaping the media environment in Vietnam. Internet censorship, strict media controls and ownership limitations set by the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) have shut Chinese companies out of the Vietnam market. For instance, China has been unable to penetrate the Vietnamese media market via Chinese-language newspapers – a common strategy China has employed successfully in other countries – as Vietnam’s only Chinese-language newspaper is controlled by the VCP. Vietnam’s state media, like China’s, is also directly funded by the state, and thus have little need for Chinese funding or advertising.
Vietnam has largely employed the same tools China uses to manage the information environment within its borders. Censorship as well as visa and licencing requirements have limited the number of foreign journalists and media bureaus in the country. Translations of foreign media can only be carried out by organisations approved by local authorities. Foreign advertising is also banned in Vietnamese media. Vietnam’s full suite of control measures has thus prevented China from penetrating its information environment. As a result, China’s playbook in Vietnam is smaller than elsewhere.
Mr Dien concurred that Beijing’s repeated attempts to shape its narrative in Vietnam’s mainstream media have largely failed. In addition to Vietnam’s media control measures, Mr Dien noted that anti-China sentiments in Vietnam, inflamed by Vietnam’s territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea, have also contributed to China’s lack of success in Vietnam.
Given Vietnam’s strict controls on mainstream media, much of China’s influence campaign in Vietnam has instead been conducted on social media, especially Facebook. China’s embassy in Hanoi and consulate general in Ho Chi Minh City have actively promoted anti-American narratives via their Facebook pages, though reaction to this has been largely negative. In July 2020, for instance, the Chinese embassy in Hanoi faced online backlash after posting a note from a Global Times editor warning Vietnamese about US intentions in Vietnam. China, in a bid to recalibrate its online messaging strategy, has since refrained from posting provocative statements on its embassy’s Facebook page.
Souring Sino-Vietnamese ties have exacerbated anti-China sentiments in Vietnam and whetted Vietnam’s appetite for closer defence and economic ties with the US. Polls after polls, including one conducted by the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute this year, have reflected the Vietnamese public’s overwhelming desire for Washington to act as a hedge against Beijing. It is thus safe to say that China still has a long way to go in cultivating a “loveable” image in Vietnam, Mr Dien noted.
The webinar concluded with a Q&A session that discussed issues ranging from party-to-party ties between Vietnam and China, China’s influence campaigns in other Southeast Asian countries, Vietnam’s own propaganda organs, state-sanctioned astroturfing, as well as the role of Chinese tech companies in China’s influence campaigns.
The webinar was moderated by Dr Le Hong Hiep, coordinator of the Vietnam Studies Programme, and attended by some 180 participants.