Frightening way Chinese Communist Party uses its leverage to strongarm Hollywood, ‘manipulate discourse abroad’

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A House panel was briefed about efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to expand its influence and authoritarianism using financial pressure in Hollywood.

The CCP is allegedly spreading its message secretly in the U.S. through more than a dozen radio stations as Beijing has reportedly gotten control of some American-based media outlets, according to the written testimony delivered by Christopher Walker, the vice president for studies and analysis at the National Endowment for Democracy.

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Walker addressed the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Thursday in a hearing that was looking at China’s “digital authoritarianism.”

“The Chinese government has trained its attention on Hollywood, where its presence shapes the industry in ways both visible and unseen. Because China is an increasingly important market for the global film industry, entertainment firms have been striking deals that help give them access to that market, but put them at the mercy of Chinese censors,” Walker told the panel, chaired by Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff and including Ranking Member Devin Nunes.

“This leads to content either edited to fit the Chinese market, or proactively shaped to exclude anything the Chinese government might consider sensitive in the first place. Chinese co-productions are also more likely to feature positive depictions of China,” he explained, noting examples of how China has used its financial clout to exert changes to some Hollywood movies in order to avoid “offending China’s sensibilities.”

According to Walker:

Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” changed one character’s origin story from Tibetan to Celtic; the screenwriter acknowledged that offending China’s sensibilities was a concern. Prominent Tibet supporter and actor Richard Gere told The Hollywood Reporter in 2017 that the year before he “had an episode where someone said they could not finance a film with [him] because it would upset the Chinese.”

 

“China’s box-office weight has already affected the kind of films Hollywood makes. Pleasing Chinese audiences — and a Chinese central government hyperallergic to criticism — is now part of the Hollywood formula,” a Time article on the issue stated in 2017.

The article noted how Legendary Entertainment studio, which produced blockbusters like “Jurassic World” was being bought by a real estate and entertainment company that already owned U.S. theater-chain, AMC Entertainment. China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, that year made a deal with Sony Pictures to finance films in addition to the $1 billion acquisition of Dick Clark Productions, which delivers the annual Golden Globes and American Music Awards.

“The pattern of China’s engagement that has taken shape globally has not eluded the U.S.,” Walker told the House panel, noting that Beijing behaves “as a hidden hand behind a global web of stations” which mostly broadcast Chinese communist party-created or supplied content. The China Central Television channel in the U.S. is also controlled by Beijing.

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“More than a dozen stations across the United States operate as part of the CCP’s ‘borrowed boat’ approach, in which existing media outlets in foreign countries are used to project China’s messages,” Walker explained.

“Having learned to control political ideas within their own countries, autocrats are now bending globalization to their own ends by manipulating discourse abroad, especially in the wide-open information space afforded to them by the democracies. Massive investments in overseas media infrastructure play a central role,” he added.

The Hoover Institution and Asia Society issued a report last year which noted, as cited by Walker:

China’s influence activities have moved beyond their traditional … focus on diaspora communities to target a far broader range of sectors in Western societies, ranging from think tanks, universities, and media to state, local, and national government institutions.

China seeks to promote views sympathetic to the Chinese Government, policies, society, and culture; suppress alternative views; and co-opt key American players to support China’s foreign policy goals and economic interests.

 

Other witnesses also testified on the subject and warned that China seeks to censor alternative ideas with its expanded authoritarian reach, as Peter Mattis from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation argued, calling out the U.S. government for failing to respond “to violence, coercion, and intimidation committed or instigated by PRC [People’s Republic of China] officials on U.S. soil.”

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“These are allegedly criminal acts committed by a foreign government against our people on our soil, and U.S. authorities did not open criminal investigations,” Mattis said, blasting the U.S.for not responding “to PRC education officials intimidating Chinese students on university campuses, despite this activity not being consistent with their diplomatic status.”

See the House Intelligence Committee hearing in the video below:

(Video: YouTube/House Intelligence Committee)

Frieda Powers

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