Xi Jinping, Chinese president and general secretary of the Communist Party of China. Photo: Xinhua

The release last week of a white paper on Tibet is an attempt by the Communist Party of China to whitewash the ground reality through propaganda.

Since the birth of the CPC, propaganda has been one of its most powerful tools. From Mao Zedong to Xi Jinping, propaganda has always been an integral part of their control of public opinion and elevate their status to cult-like figures among the masses in China.

In short, propaganda is central to the operation of the Chinese system of government. With the coming of Xi and his use of sophisticated technology, it has now become what Patricia Thornton of Oxford University aptly calls the “technocratic engineering of public opinion.”

However, the CPC has also employed propaganda to justify, or deny, its acts of enforced assimilation and repression in the occupied states of Tibet, East Turkestan (Xinjiang) and Southern Mongolia and justification for the implementation of the Hong Kong National Security Law. 

Tibet a laboratory for CPC propaganda 

When Tibet was invaded by CPC-controlled China in 1951, it was publicized as the liberation of Tibet by what was then known as the Red Army. Ever since, the CPC has mastered the art of euphemism.

Through sugar-coated words, the CPC has managed to appease the Tibetan authorities about their so-called missions of modernizing Tibet until the Tibetan people are able to stand on their own feet and rule by themselves.

The late Tibetan academic Dawa Norbu wrote, “What the Chinese team told the Sakya Lama and the local authorities in 1953 by way of explanation for their intrusion was the substance of official Chinese policy in Tibet for the next few years.”

The settlement between China and Tibet was made to appear like a mutual agreement between the two governments. Euphemistically it was called the Seventeen Point Agreement, when it was in fact signed without the willing consent of the Tibetan government or support of the Tibetan people.

Later because of increasing international criticisms over violations of human rights in Tibet, from the 1990s onward, the CPC went on a propaganda offensive, and since then has been churning out white papers on Tibet. 

CPC propaganda in the time of Covid-19

Last year was a busy time for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, CPC-affiliated media such as the Global Times and CPC-sponsored Internet soldiers to counter major narratives that were against the Party’s interests.

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Twitter became one of the platforms for its defensive and offensive propaganda. The language used by officials of the Foreign Ministry and their online behavior were so aggressive in nature that it was dubbed Wolf Warrior diplomacy.

Because of the intensity and insensitivity of some posts by Chinese government officials, Twitter decided to label their accounts. Soon afterward, Twitter decided to label most of the accounts managed by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.  

Recently, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying decided to share on her Twitter account an article in The Washington Post by Cary Wu, a professor of sociology at York University in Canada. The simple reason for Hua’s empathy was that the article lauded the achievements of the CPC in controlling the pandemic based on a survey of about 20,000 respondents showing thumbs up for the Party’s performance.

One may wonder how 20,000 respondents in China could decide the verdict of a country of 1.4 billion. Remember, even billionaires like Jack Ma of Alibaba and Wang Xing of Meituan in China are not spared for being outspoken about anything critical of the CPC.  

Future scenario: a marathon of cult worship

With the upcoming celebration of the CPC’s 100th anniversary, one may expect a grand display of its alleged contributions to China’s overall development and toward the world as well. Already the CPC has started screening propaganda films in theaters across China. 

The peddling of the Party’s anniversary may be accompanied with portrayals of Xi Jinping as a savior, because the Covid-19 pandemic has severely dented the image of China under President Xi.

One may expect speeches by Xi on his plan to reinvigorate the “Chinese Dream,” thereby entrenching his own dream to remain in power for life. Perhaps there will also be the release a full-fledged documentary or movie in Chinese and English glorifying China’s success story against the Covid-19 pandemic under the leadership of Xi Jinping.

The coming years will be busy for Huang Kunming, director of the CPC’s Central Propaganda Department (also called the Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee) and Yang Jiechi, director of the CPC Foreign Affairs Work Commission. They may need extra budgets for their national and international campaigns promoting the CPC and Xi Jinping.

This is similar to the situation faced by Chairman Mao, after the failure of the Great Leap Forward, when he decided to relaunch himself. Hence there is a great possibility for Xi to relaunch or rebrand himself as the savior of the Chinese people and of the world. There is also a possibility to make a full-fledged propaganda movie on Tibet and East Turkestan on par with Hollywood standards.

In short, in the days to come, based on the intensity of the propaganda at home and abroad, one may come to a conclusion about the growing insecurities of the CPC and Xi Jinping. 

Tenzin Tsultrim

Tenzin Tsultrim PhD is a visiting fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute, a think-tank of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala, India.