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MODERATOR:  Good afternoon from the State Department’s Brussels Media Hub.  I would like to welcome everyone joining us today for this virtual press briefing.  We are very honored to be joined by James P. Rubin, the Special Envoy and Coordinator of the Global Engagement Center.

Finally, a reminder that today’s briefing is on the record.  With that, let’s get started.  Special Envoy Rubin, thanks so much for joining us today.  I’ll turn it over to you for opening remarks.

MR RUBIN:  Thank you very much to the Brussels Media Hub coordinators and all those who put this together.  The modern era allows for briefings in a much more high-tech way than I’m used to; I used to do this 20 years ago, and it was more old-style.  But let’s do the best we can and make it as real as we can.

I’m going to just put this up for a second.  This is our new report.  It came out last week, and I think it’s an important document.  It’s the first of its kind from the State Department.  We did a briefing here in the United States about it, and we wanted to give you all a chance to talk about it as well.  The report speaks for itself.  I urge you to read it and obviously ask any questions you have about it.  But pretty much all we need to say is in there.  But let me make a few opening remarks about the context here.

You hear a lot about the so-called “democracy versus autocracy” challenge in the world today, and although that is a dominating aspect, there are also problems that don’t fall into that category.  We all know those examples where that’s not a very good model for thinking about them.  But I think in the case of the information challenge, the undeclared information war that we’ve been in with authoritarian governments has been going on for more than a decade.  And I think it’s taken some time for us in the West to realize the extent of this challenge and to begin to address it.

This report is a way of bringing to light the techniques and the tactics that China pursues in this conflict, and I think it’s worth starting any report briefing like this with a simple sentence from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Let me read it.  “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

That’s the context.  I think we all have to admit that, at a fundamental level, that isn’t really the current reality.  There’s a fundamental asymmetry with these authoritarian regimes – the PRC, the Kremlin, the Iranian Government – where they block access to their information space.  The asymmetry is that they are free to operate, to manipulate, to use whatever means they can in the rest of the world’s information space.  That asymmetry is something that we should keep in mind in thinking about this and any attempt to draw false equivalence between what the United States does and what these authoritarian regimes do.  There is no false equivalence because there’s a fundamental asymmetry.

We believe that every country has a right to pursue and speak to its own policies and practices, and nothing in this report is designed to take that right away from the Chinese.  The point here is that it should be done based on fact-based narratives and it should not include the kind of manipulation that the Chinese use.

Let me be clear.  This is the first comprehensive U.S. State Department analysis of how Beijing employs these deceptive and coercive methods as it attempts to distort the global information space.  It’s doing so to advance its geopolitical objectives.  There are five main categories.  I won’t go through the whole report with you; you can do that yourself.  But they are: leveraging propaganda and censorship; promoting digital authoritarianism; exploiting international organizations and bilateral partnerships; putting together cooptation of individual actors with coercion of those who speak against or in contradiction to what the Chinese want; and finally, exercising control over Chinese-language media.

The point of this report is to talk about techniques and tactics.  And I think what comes together in this report for the first time, when you put together all these elements, is what I would call a breathtaking ambition on the part of the CCP, and that is to seek to dominate the information space in key parts of the world, parts of the world where American security, the security of our friends, allies, and partners, is jeopardized.

The specifics of each case we can talk about, but I think we should remember that the United States, when it spends its money internationally to try to operate in this space, what we are doing is spending money to build a free information space, to train journalists, to build an information environment in which journalists can hold the government to account.  That’s very different than trying to dominate the space by suppressing narratives they don’t like and pumping up, falsely, narratives that they prefer.

So that’s the basic difference.  That’s why this report is important.  I don’t want to overstate it.  We haven’t laid out everything we know.  But we’ve tried to put together a lot of public information, some information gleaned through the information – through the interagency process to provide journalists and society and academia, think tanks – all of the people that care about this issue can take information from this report and do their own analysis and their own work.  Because without us all working together, this dominating of the information space is a future we could face.

I mean, let’s face it.  This is not a threat like terrorism or physical threats or particular economic embargoes that we face on a normal basis.  This is one that happens slowly, with the slow accretion of domination that the information space can yield the results that the people don’t even understand they are being manipulated into.  And that’s why it’s so dangerous.  That’s why it’s so difficult.  I’ve had a lot of jobs in government, and I have to end by saying this is a tough one because, on the one hand, you want to make sure that the free information environment is promoted, that you don’t cross the line into seeking to censor opinions you don’t like; but that you do identify when China, Russia, Iran, and others are seeking to manipulate the information space either through false narratives, through flooding the market, through echo chambers – all the techniques discussed here.

That’s the difference between what they’re trying to do and what we’re trying to do, which is to build an information space in which our different opinions are welcome.  You’re going to ask me questions.  I don’t mind; I don’t always like them, but I don’t mind.  That’s part of democratic environments.  So I think in this case the democracy-authoritarian model and competition is clearer than it is in some of the others.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Special Envoy Rubin, very much for those opening remarks.  The floor is now open for questions.  Let’s go ahead and start with a question from Nicolas Barotte from Le Figaro.  He asks, “Could you please describe how the PRC and Russia help each other on disinformation campaigns?  Do they have common tools?  How does the PRC use artificial intelligence for its disinformation campaigns?”

MR RUBIN:  Yes, thank you for that question.  In my nine months here, I think the thing I’ve been most struck by is that while the PRC seeks to present itself as somehow this neutral party in this war, the facts prove otherwise – not only in supporting Russia economically and diplomatically, but particularly in the information space, Russia and China are fully aligned.  Let’s focus on the specifics that they pursue.

Russia would have you believe that it’s America’s fault that Russia invaded Ukraine, that somehow this was part of an American design or that our policies on NATO enlargement caused this.  The fact is, one morning, for no reason, an unprovoked invasion occurred.  China repeats Russia’s arguments, creates an echo chamber suggesting America’s responsible for this, that somehow we’re trying to make money on this, or our military-industrial complex is to blame – conspiracy theories that are not based on facts, and Russia and China are fully aligned on that.

Another example is in the case where we and the Ukrainians are working through the (inaudible) program on programs to clear up potential risks of weapons of mass destruction, and the Chinese and the Russians together, both of them, identically claim that there are biological weapons in Ukraine.  And this is an extremely pernicious lie, and it’s repeated over and over again by Russia’s spokespeople and by Chinese spokespeople.  There are examples in this report of where the Russians will make that assertion, the Chinese will repeat it; the Russians will use the Chinese repetition to create an echo chamber suggesting that this is a widely accepted view.

To blame the United States for Russia’s decision to, in an unprovoked way, to wake up one morning and invade their neighbor with hundreds of thousands of troops, is a blatant misrepresentation of the facts.  And I think there are other examples where Russia and China try to use NATO policies to somehow explain away this decision by Russia to go to war.  I’ve given you an example of some of the ways they do this.

To get to the artificial intelligence question, look, we’re just coming to grips with this; this is a new challenge.  I would say that certainly use of inauthentic behavior in the social media space, coordinated inauthentic behavior, is going to get worse through artificial intelligence.  Artificial intelligence may give actors like Russia and China together the ability to tailor their messages to specific subgroups, to find out what people are interested in, to create a lie out of their interests, and to appeal to them through that subgroup.

Obviously, artificial intelligence can also magnify a problem by magnifying the number of actors.  It can also magnify the problem by making it easier to translate.  In Europe, for example, where mostly all of you live, there are multiple languages.  There are dozens of languages in Europe.  Artificial intelligence can multiply and magnify disinformation and manipulation by instantly translating to those languages and then tailoring it to the particular cultural aspects of a particular country.  We’ve seen that happen in Slovakia.  We’ve seen it happen in Bulgaria.  We’ve seen it happen in Moldova – I just visited.

So Russia and China clearly are aligned on the biological weapons, on the cause of the war, on somehow blaming the United States for helping the Ukrainians to defend themselves.  Every country’s first right in the international system is to be able to defend itself.  To help them defend itself is not prolonging the war; it’s helping the Ukrainians to be able to protect their loved ones and their country.

Look, this is either going to be a long war in which the Ukrainians are outmanned, out-gunned, and out-supplied because of Russia’s size, or it’s going to be a long war in which the United States and others at least help the Ukrainians help themselves by fighting back against this invasion.  To call it – to blame the United States for this invasion is the – is a farce.  Unfortunately, it’s used continuously by Russia and China.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  Let’s go to our live.  Alex Raufoglu, you have your hand raised.  Your mike is open.

QUESTION:  Hi, John, thank you so very much for doing this.  And Special Envoy, thanks for the report; very complete report, it covers a lot.  A couple of quick questions here.  First of all, geographically speaking, what regions you would like to highlight as major battlefields, if you want, where you see that warning signs are flashing red?  Ukraine jumps out first, of course, but I also know you just returned back from Moldova.  Just boiled down a little bit, are there particular Eastern European countries that you would like to name, when it comes to naming a name?  I’m also curious about, of course, South Caucasus.  I cover Azerbaijan mostly.  Can you just give us sort of a bigger picture of what we should be bracing for if this threat remains unanswered?

And secondly about non‑state actors and how the GEC is attacking them.  We all covered how Prigozhin-linked groups played an important role in the disinformation field.  And we also write – are covering how Putin is trying to bring back Wagner and Wagner-led groups.  Are you tracking them?  And is there any particular concern you have about non-state actors?

And finally about the Türkiye.  Beyond publishing this report and media engagement, which I appreciate, but are there other, let’s say, tools in your toolkit that you are exploring to address this problem?  Thanks so much.

MR RUBIN:  Okay.  Let me start with taking these in order.  Regions – I wake up every morning and I consider my battlefield, my field of engagement, to be Latin America, Asia, and Africa when it comes to the Chinese.  That is where they are spending huge amounts of  money to try to dominate the information space.  Europe has played a role because of Russia’s engagement – invasion of Ukraine, and Chinese repetition – remember, this is a choice to fully align itself in the information space.  And before I answer the other parts of the question, I should say that it’s had an effect.  I’ve seen the effect on European governments and peoples as they become increasingly aware of the extent to which China is repeating Russia’s arguments and Russia’s side in the war in Ukraine.

The European publics – European governments have been remarkably united and robust, and it’s been heartwarming, as an American whose lived and worked with Europeans over the past decades, to see the strength of the European response.  I think the more and more European publics and governments appreciate the extent to which China backs Russia in the information space, the clearer Europeans will think about the China problem in general.

Now, to get to the other regions in the world, look, this is a particularly pernicious problem because China spends billions of dollars on putting forward its point of view.  And by and large – let’s take their wire service, for example, Xinhua.  This is not like Russia,  where it purports to claim all sorts of false stories and events, lines of argument, and invents stories completely.  By and large, Xinhua is an accurate wire service.  It does tend to exaggerate and repeat and collate every single piece of bad news coming out of the United States, whether it’s related to weather or accidents or crime or societal difficulties, and it claims all is wonderful and perfect in China.  But by and large, it’s fact-based.

The problem is they’re taking this fact-based news service and trying to use it to dominate, particularly in Africa and Asia, smaller countries.  And do this in a very pernicious way, and it’s very, very hard to – for the local governments to appreciate it.  Not only do they buy up reporting and buy up news operations – and that’s laid out in this report – but they also do something that’s – causes this information dominance.  They will give their wire service free to, let’s say a newspaper in country X in Africa, but demand that in exchange for that free news service, the newspaper doesn’t use any other news service.  And you all are journalists.  You understand the power of news services.  Think of what the result is.

Let’s take country X or, say, Fiji in Asia.  That means a Fiji journalist with a Fiji editor and a Fiji publisher and a Fiji leadership is seeing the news through the eyes of the PRC, through the eyes of Xinhua.  And that means they are seeing this with – this laundering, the Chinese manipulation, through completely legitimate and knowledgeable and otherwise respected and trusted sources.  That’s the kind of thing that’s extremely difficult to track, extremely difficult to stop.  And something needs to be done about it, and we’re trying to do something about it, which gets me to the second – or to the third question – and come back to the second one on Prigozhin.  The toolkit.

First of all, the problem with this subject is it’s a brand-new discipline.  Let’s face it, in the early years of the spread of social media and the rise of the information age and the 24 hour news cycle, most observers regarded this evolution and democratization of the news environment as a good thing, as something that would spread democratic values, something that would spread truth around the world.  And so it was felt there was no need to do much more than to promote freedom in the information space, and certainly to some extent that has been true.  But to a large extent, the net effect of all this has been to give the authoritarian actors like the PRC, like the Kremlin an opportunity to use the uncontrolled and media environment of social media to be a gigantic tool of war.  The Russian defense minister has sort of laid out very clearly how pictures and the internet and social media are actual weapons in his notions of the way to pursue Russian interests.

So it’s taken us a long time to realize the net effect of the spread of democratization of the media.  So the first step in any problem is to recognize it.  The reason we put these reports out, the reason why we spend so much time and effort in this extensive document is to show what a problem it is and why it’s more than just a problem.  It’s a national security issue, because when these issues are done by Russia, by China, the Chinese and the PRC, they can have an impact on national security.

We’ve seen Russia and Russian entities try to interfere in Slovakia, and they may be having an effect on the political situation in Slovakia.  We’ve seen the effect that I’ve mentioned about the Ukraine war.  Those of us in this business find it hard to believe that in the so-called – well, let’s just say in Africa, Asia and Latin America, why is it so hard to convince governments and peoples that Russia invaded Ukraine and that there is a perpetrator and a victim?  Why is it seen in this sort of neutral way?  Well, one of the reasons for that is for a decade or more the United States has been the subject of repeated information manipulation from Russia and China.

So the toolkit has to start by recognizing the problem.  That’s what this report does.  It also has to include working with civil society, academia, and media organizations themselves.  Look, we’re on the divide every day in terms of policy and how it’s explained.  We propose policy X, journalists raise questions – that’s our life.  But on the question of this information space in general, I would argue we’re on the same side.  Journalism will not survive and thrive in an environment in which a fact-based world is not dominating, but a manipulated world is dominating.

So we have to find ways to communicate with each other and to help each other to prevent Russia and China and others from interfering in a nation’s information space.  I believe information integrity, the integrity of the information space, is much like territorial integrity.  When Russia and China intervene and interfere and play a role behind the scenes, that should be seen in the same way as an incursion in the physical world.  And the more that countries around the world understand that, the more they’re going to be wanting to work with us to defend ourselves.  We are working with memorandums of understanding in Moldova and North Macedonia and Bulgaria – we’ve just started – to try to build capacity.

This isn’t like development where it’s hundreds of billions of dollars.  This is a technical assistance question.  Just the way we helped emerging democracies in the ’90s with learning how to develop election capabilities, we need to help countries around the world learn how to examine their information space, analyze it, and be able to identify when it’s being interfered and intervened by Russia or China through surreptitious practices.  There has to be transparency in media ownership; there has to be provenance, where news comes from.  There’s a big difference between saying there are biological weapons in Ukraine and there are – Russia says there are biological weapons in Ukraine.  As long as China and Russia can put the first out there without any provenance or any caveats, the information space will be dominated.

On Prigozhin, we’ve obviously been following this very, very closely.  Unfortunately, in the roundup of the Wagner Group by the Kremlin in which their defense ministry is trying to take over some of the physical mercenary activities of the group and as well as the catering contracts and others that gave it most If it’s money, I suspect there’s going to be an attempt to take advantage of the various media operations that Prigozhin created.  They have various names for it.  We call one Africa – AP is one we call; I can’t remember what the P stands for.  And we’re going to have to watch that really, really closely.  It’s my understanding that in the taking down of Wagner, the disinformation operations he’s used in Africa have not been taken down.  They’re in place and ready to be incorporated into Russia’s dominating bureaucracy, which includes the Kremlin and various ministries and various outside groups.

I’m going to be traveling to other countries around the world, to get back to your first question.  I – probably some of the regions I just mentioned, where I believe there are – there’s clear evidence of information manipulation.  But I don’t want to preview that quite yet.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  We’ll go to another submitted question from James McCarten from the Canadian Press.  He says, “Canada is currently embroiled in a major diplomatic dispute with India.  In general, are such disputes fertile ground for disinformation campaigns, either from within those countries or from the outside?  Does the current Canada-India dispute make Canada a more attractive target for PRC efforts?”

MR RUBIN:  Let me just say in our report, if you take a look at it, there are a few examples given about particular Chinese interference in Canadian domestic politics and in their universities and ways in which they’ve sought to manipulate their individuals, coerce individuals, and discredit individuals.  And those accounts are in the report, and I urge you to take a look at that.

This is a tricky subject.  Let me just say that we support Canada’s investigation.  We want everyone to help – including the Indian Government – help advance the investigation into this terrible assassination, and we would urge everyone to cooperate and to take the investigation as far as it goes.  This is obviously an area that is ripe for information manipulation.  What we’ve seen, taking just as an analogy, I came back from Moldova – you mentioned that.  I was able to observe four or five different strains in that country, the Romania-Moldova divide, the former Soviet Union versus the new democracy, the support for the West, the support for Putin, the language issue.  Anytime there is an underlying discontent in a country, the manipulators will use that, and unfortunately they’re getting better and better at it and finding through this democratized media system we now have who thinks what, what they think.  And through artificial intelligence and spending money on it, they can develop tailored narratives.

I haven’t seen any specific evidence of the Canadian-Indian issue, but I do know that China has made a big effort to interfere in the domestic affairs of Canada through the ways I mentioned.  And it’s particularly ironic, because you may remember that for decades China was the loudest demander that nobody interfere in their domestic affairs, and yet when it comes to information manipulation, when it comes to interfering in the politics in Canada, when it comes to the South China Sea, where they’re interfering in the territorial waters of countries around the region, when it comes to the famous balloon incident – suddenly sovereignty is not so important to the Chinese Government.  The sovereignty of Ukraine doesn’t seem to matter to them at all in the sense that they have reported – repeated China – Russia’s arguments for the war.

So we have to watch out for these things.  That’s why the information space is such a difficult space in which to work.  Because remember, there’s nothing wrong with a healthy debate; there’s nothing wrong with people expressing opinions.  There’s nothing wrong with people asking hard questions or even suggesting outrageous things as long as the – that it’s done in an open, transparent manner where you have – know who’s saying what to whom and why.  When the provenance of information is not clear, when we don’t know that it’s the Chinese Government or the Russian Government doing something, that’s when it’s information manipulation.  The Chinese have a phony persona called Yi Fan, which we talk about in this report, who proports to be an international affairs commentator when we know full well he’s a foreign affairs operative for their foreign ministry.

So that’s the hard part.  I can’t tell you for sure whether that will happen in Canada.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  We’ll go to another submitted question – I think you answered part of this – from Aya Sayed from Roayah News Network in Egypt.  Aya asks: “How could the U.S. and allies counter China’s information manipulation efforts on a global scale?  And do you think China would or will try to influence the U.S. presidential election campaigns by spreading disinformation or by promoting certain narratives?”

MR RUBIN:  Right.  I work at the GEC, the Global Engagement Center, and that’s part of the State Department.  I need to be very clear that the State Department and the GEC does not look at the American information space.  We don’t look at questions like that.  There are other agencies in the government that do that, and I’d urge you to pose your question to them.  I’m sure we’re going to be making a concentrated effort to prevent our elections from being manipulated by others, as others have clearly tried to do so in the past.

You’ve asked the $64,000 question – how do you respond to all this, what do you do about it?  And I think this report’s importance is that we’re trying to put together small, individual actions so that people can be – understand the breadth and length of the ambition of China to dominate the information space.  As I said earlier, I think we’ve been in an undeclared information war in which the PRC and Russia have sought to undermine the United States and our friends and allies around the world for a decade or more.  And in the early days, we really didn’t seem to take it as seriously as I think we should.

I think we’re starting to do that now.  What does that mean?  It means developing coordinated ways of looking at your own capability.  So if you think of this as an information war, NATO is an Alliance that shares interoperability between tanks and artillery and aircraft, but we don’t tell every country what to do in terms of what kind of tank or what kind of artillery, or we don’t tell them how to paint their tanks, what color, or how to operate.  But we operate with interoperability so that we can, together, deal with this.  Information, more than any other discipline, is transnational.  There is no – through the internet, there is no real nationality to some of this effort.  So it has to be worked on transnationally.

So I think obviously it would be better if we did a better job communicating our messages and we had more messengers and more platforms and more free and fair media around the world, and we will try to work on that.  I gave you the example of the absence of wire services in particular newspapers in particular countries around the world.  We would like to see a world in which there were more, not less news services to have a mix, and China’s narratives will rise or fall on the merits rather than being able to wholly dominate an information space.  So we have to do more in promoting those free media capabilities.

But we also have to have a common operational picture.  We have to be able to look at this information space and distinguish between the horror of everyday yelling and screaming and opinions and democratic debate from those issues in which Russia and China have chosen to intervene and to manipulate the situation.  We have to be able to find out whether a piece of information originated in China or was originated by the PRC or originated by a Kremlin operative, so that people know what they’re reading and seeing and hearing.  As I said, there’s a big difference between hearing some fact presented as a fact and knowing that it’s the view of Russia or China or Iran that says this is a fact.

I believe that people, through proper education and media literacy, can distinguish between something said by the Russians and something that’s stated as a fact.  When it’s stated as a fact without transparency, without provenance, we’ve got a real problem.  That’s what we have to work on so that we don’t get into the business of trying to censor particular points of view.  What we need is provenance and transparency so that everyone gets to express their point of view, including their own opinions – even, as they would put it, their own facts, even though that’s not really a logical sentence – and then let them rise or fall.  As long as we know where it comes from or we know whether it’s originated by the PRC or the Kremlin, then we have to trust the people to make their own conclusions.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  I think we have time for one or two more quick questions.  Stefan Wertzel* from ARD German Radio wrote in and asks:  “China’s government regularly invites European media representatives to join government-organized tours through Xinjiang, Tibet, and other areas in China.  What role do these state-sponsored trips play in China’s propaganda strategy?”

MR RUBIN:  Thank you.  By the way, I need to make one correction of something I said earlier.  I think I used I word “assassination.”  I meant the word “murder.”  That was ill-advised of me, and I don’t want to be exaggerating the situation.  There was clearly a murder; it should be investigated in Canada.  It was terrible that it happened but I should have used the word “murder,” not “assassination,” because that has political overtones.

Look, China – I have ambassadors coming to me every day from the Middle East, one came to my office from Honduras the other day, and China invited the entire Honduran press corps on a trip to China to indoctrinate them: to bring them over there and to tell them everything is wonderful, to try to indoctrinate them.  China clearly has enormous resources to use in the way that you suggested.  And all we can do, realistically, is to try to educate governments, media, academia, think tanks, civic society on these tactics that the Chinese use to combine that kind of indoctrination with particular dominating of the information space through the examples of wire services that I mentioned so that alternative sources are available.

What we don’t want to see happen in Honduras or anywhere else is that the entire press corps somehow, having traveled to China, feels compelled to soften their reporting.  That’s the problem, and it’s one of the many tactics that China uses to co-opt elites.  Let’s face it: in some of the countries around the world, the elite opinion matters more so than, perhaps, it does in all the democracies that most of us come from.  And so what China tries to do is co-opt those elites through Confucius Institutes, through sister cities, through hiring politicians and others to join semi-official groups and through this travel, as an example.

Those are their tactics.  I just hope people are smart enough to know that’s the purpose of them.  And I want to draw a distinction between that kind of activity and us bringing journalists to America on Fulbright programs or other programs and teaching them how to be journalists, teaching them how to ask hard questions of government, treating us – teaching them how to hold us to account, hold their own governments to account.  That’s a very different trip than one that the PRC tends to host.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  I think we have time for one last question from Dusan Komarcevic.  Dusan asks, “How do you assess the influence that China has in the Western Balkans right now?”

MR RUBIN:  Right.  I think – I did travel there.  I went to Kosovo, North Macedonia, to Bulgaria, to – I guess that’s not formally part of the Western Balkans, but I guess we call it Balkan – Montenegro, and I was stunned by the problem there of the Serbia media repeating Russian propaganda.  Serbia is the only country in the region that hasn’t shut down RT and Sputnik.  Somehow they think they can do that and still get into the European Union, which puzzles me.  Every European Union country has, in the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine, has shut down RT and Sputnik as essentially weapons of Russian military operation by lying about the reasons for their invasion and falsifying reports and denying obvious truths.  Serbia has become an entry point for Russia in the Western Balkans.

However, in my meetings with government officials and others, I detected a growing desire by the Chinese to play a role through purchasing of media organizations.  I didn’t see the kind of outright manipulation that I gave you in other examples, but I suspect it’s coming.  I did see some cases where the Chinese road system isn’t quite as good as it’s cracked up to be in North Macedonia, and they are going to have to build a Western road because the Chinese road didn’t work out very well.  But that’s mostly, as I said, in the construction area.  But there have been efforts to purchase media organizations to develop a dominating ownership or principal ownership in media organizations, which I suspect will have an impact on the willingness of China to allow for honest reporting to be made about what goes on around the world.

So it’s a growing problem that’s very real, but right now the biggest problem is that Serbia is a portal for Russian pollution of the information environment, maybe even turned RT and Sputnik into the Serbian language, which means that it’s easily understood by countries in the region.  So that’s the major information problem right now.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  Unfortunately, that is all the time we have for today.  Thank you all for your questions and thank you especially, Special Envoy Rubin, for taking the time to join us.  Before we close the call, Special Envoy, I’d like to see if you have any closing thoughts you’d like to share.

MR RUBIN:  Yes, thank you for that.  I was just thinking about it.  Look, I can’t see where you all are and where you’re all sitting, but I just need to say it again:  I’ve worked for 20-plus years in the foreign affairs – well, 30 years in the foreign affairs business; I’ve been on both sides of the divide as a government official, as a journalist and a commentator; I’ve anchored news reports; I’ve been an op-ed writer and a commentator.  And I believe in real journalism, and I’ve been deeply troubled at the difficulty modern journalism faces not only from the financial collapse of the system by which journalism used to be paid and operate through social media basically taking reporting and not paying for it, but also by the concrete decision from Moscow and Beijing to take advantage of the asymmetry.

Remember, there is a full Chinese wall that blocks the rest of the world’s information from coming into China, and increasingly in the aftermath of the Ukraine war, there’s practically a growing Kremlin wall that’s not quite as high as the Chinese wall but it’s getting there.  That means that they do not operate on a level playing field.  That means everything they do in the rest of the world is free for them because nobody can interfere in their information space and even get truth out of opinions out or information out without a lot of difficulty.

And so in the rest of the world, if we do believe in the freedom of information that I mentioned at the beginning, if we do believe in a fact-based world that we want to live in for our kids, for everything, we’re all in this problem together.  And I haven’t pretended to have any brilliant solutions, completely.  The most important thing is to make sure people understand what Russia and China are doing.  We put out a report a couple of years ago called “Pillars of Russian Disinformation” in which we identified various websites and portals that the Russian propaganda system was using to launder its information, and that helped make everyone understand what they were and those portals eventually collapsed as a result.  They’re moving them to other places.

We’re hoping through this report on China, for those of you who are reading it, looking at it and care about this issue, to make sure everyone knows these various techniques and tactics so that we make it harder for them, even though they have a fundamental advantage: they’re playing in this asymmetry.

But thank you all for listening.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir, for those final thoughts.  Shortly we will send an audio recording of the briefing to all the participating journalists and provide a transcript as soon as it is available.  We’d also love to hear your feedback and you can contact us at any time at TheBrusselsHub – that’s one word –  Thanks again to everybody for your participation.  We hope you can join us again for another round of press briefings soon.  This ends today’s briefing.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future