Shen Haixiong, who is among other things head of state-controlled China Media Group (also known as Voice of China) is developing increasingly close links with Russia and particularly with Dmitry Kiselyov, head of Russian state press agency Rossia Segodnia , which itself controls the Sputnik news agency. The two state media bodies, which operate a tightly controlled information warfare strategy, are tending to move closer together in the drafting and expression of their official messaging, particularly where it concerns the United States. China has greater resources at its disposal but Russia is able to help it fine-tune its strategy for consumption by Western audiences, an area in which it has longer experience.
A productive double act
Haixiong, who is also head of propaganda in the key Guangdong province and deputy minister in the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda department, was made a member of Russia’s Order of Friendship on 18 November for his “great personal contribution to the strengthening of friendship, cooperation and mutual comprehension between the Russian and Chinese peoples”. The honour is not unconnected with his pro-active behind-the-scenes work in the Russian-Chinese Friendship Committee, where he co-chairs the media council alongside the verbose Kiselyov. Not content with heading the state press agency, Kiselyov has since 2012 been presenting the weekly Vesti Nedeli (News of the Week) programme – said to be Putin’s favourite news programme – on the highly popular Rossiya 1 TV channel. Rossiya 1 is controlled by state-controlled public broadcasting group VGTRK, of which Kisselyov has been a deputy director since 2008.
Together, the two spin doctors have expressed their wish to see a “strengthening of ties between their peoples”, which they see as requiring closer partnership in the information sector. That means more sharing of their respective experiences, creation of shared media content and joint testing of innovative technology. Haixiong and Kiselyov are also in charge of a long-discussed Sino-Russian project to develop 4K resolution 5G as a means of increasing cooperation between their respective media organisations. The project was the object of consultations in the wings of the summit meeting on the Belt & Road Initiative in April, creating the prospect of a high-level information war being coordinated together by China and Russia.
Gift of the gab
As a state propaganda veteran, Haixiong was one of the leading organisers of China’s recent International Forum on Democracy on 4 December. The event was intended to counter the impact of the Summit for Democracy organised by the United States on 9 and 10 December, to which China was not invited. A real public relations operation, the forum gave Chinese spin doctors a platform for the messages China wanted to send its US antagonist.
In the speech he gave on 4 December, Haixiong sang the praises of Chinese state projects like Crossing the Xinjiang which was produced by China Central Television, the state-controlled TV broadcaster controlled by his group and which he also heads, while criticising the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. This is a favourite theme with the authorities in Beijing which is well established in Afghanistan. It draws on it heavily as a means of countering the narrative directed by the US at the so-called non-aligned countries. In this area, China’s message increasingly matches that of Russia.