Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the Kremlin on July 4, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Sergei Ilnitsky/Pool

The July 4 summit in Moscow between Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin caught the world’s attention as another milestone in the burgeoning China-Russia alliance. However, a less publicized event on the sidelines was one that will have long-lasting implications for the world at large.  

Held at Moscow’s President Hotel, the third China-Russia Media Forum concluded 17 agreements between the two countries’ most influential media conglomerates. A total of 120 representatives from 75 media outlets participated, and some of the big names were People’s Daily, China Daily, Xinhua, China Central Television, the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company, TASS, Sputnik, and RT.

Not all of the agreements have been publicized, but those that have been made available underscore resource sharing, including plans for a new TV channel to broadcast Russian-language programs in China, cooperation on publishing journals and magazines, enhanced exchange of news content, and mutual assistance on multilingual journalism.

Besides inking long-term agreements, forum participants recognized the media’s role in facilitating better friendship between the Chinese and Russian people, as well as rebalancing global opinion.

To the first point, despite China-Russia relations being at an all-time high, people-to-people understanding is still limited. According to People’s Daily vice-editor-in-chief Lu Xinning, bilateral relations suffer from “three warms and three colds”, expressed through warm ties at the senior governmental level against the lack of people to people understanding, cordial political bonds versus bleak economic exchanges, and fondness between elderly Chinese and Russians as opposed to lukewarm feelings between the young.

The task of Chinese and Russian media, therefore, from Lu’s perspective, is to help mediate this problem. Instead of focusing on colorless subjects such as arms sales and military affairs, journalists in both countries should pen vibrant stories about a newfound friendship between their young people, mutually beneficial aspects of Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union and China’s One Belt One Road, and Chinese-Russian cultural affinity.   

Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of Global Times, proposed a contrasting viewpoint. Rather than news diversification, Hu said he believed Chinese and Russian media must work in tandem to suppress “nonconforming” voices in both countries that raise doubts about the alliance’s future, which he characterized as a “thorn” that must be “plucked out”.

Hu is not alone in calling for a confrontational stance against opposing perspectives. His Russian counterpart, RT’s and Sputnik’s editor-in-chief and propagandist extraordinaire Margarita Simonyan, berated the “fake news” produced by the “truth-twisting” Western media and called for deeper cooperation between Chinese and Russian media to challenge the dominant narrative. Simonyan also hopes Russian TV channels can gain wider access to the Chinese market.

Many forum participants perceive Western mainstream media as an adversary that frequently attempts to smear China and Russia. Chinese and Russian media plan to seize the opportunity provided by the decline of the Western mainstream press and take control of a greater share of the global public forum. With growing public interest in alternative media, state-owned Chinese and Russian outlets are seeking to break Western mainstream media’s hold on global opinion through resource sharing and joint program promotion.

The third China-Russia Media Forum cemented the alliance between Chinese and Russian media in their push against Western counterparts. But China’s own interests will prevent some of Russia’s goals from coming to fruition.

For instance, while China has no problem working with old-school Russian media giants like TASS, it distrusts newly formed, aggressive firms with an unconcealed political agenda. China’s misgivings regarding politically charged foreign press organizations would prevent channels like RT, which has proved its effectiveness in swaying public opinion in diverse operational environments, from gaining official access to the Chinese audience.

Still, the Chinese are ready to learn information warfare techniques from the more experienced Russians and work together in capturing and shaping the global public discourse.

Zi Yang is a researcher and consultant on China affairs. He covers Chinese politics, security, and emerging markets. Zi holds a Master of Arts from Georgetown University and a Bachelor of Arts from George Mason University. Follow him on Twitter @MrZiYang.

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