Argentina

Vulnerable
Beijing’s Media Influence Efforts
High
41 85
Local Resilience & Response
Notable
38 85
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least influence) to 85 (most influence)

header1 Key findings

Report by: Ellie Young and Anonymous

 

  • Increased influence efforts: Beijing’s media influence efforts in Argentina appeared to have increased steadily during the coverage period of 2019-21, following earlier significant gains. Chinese party-state media renewed cooperation agreements with Argentine public media and signed new agreements with at least one major private media group. The embassy registered a Twitter account in March 2020 and grew its engagements on social media in an effort to reach local audiences more directly.
  • Support for trade, skepticism of rights record: Public opinion polling in Buenos Aires found that respondents generally had a positive image of China but also lacked familiarity with the country. Favorable impressions of the Chinese government decreased during the reporting period, although a majority continued to support increased trade with China. In another poll, almost half of respondents lacked confidence in Xi Jinping’s ability to do the right thing in world affairs, and a similar proportion had negative perceptions on China’s human rights record (see Impact and Public opinion).
  • Coordination with local voices: The Chinese embassy in Argentina maintains close ties with a variety of media groups, academics, political leaders, and influencers. It published dozens of signed articles, gave interviews to local outlets, and held media briefings to disseminate Beijing’s preferred narratives on particular issues. In August 2021, the embassy organized a virtual media forum to celebrate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties. A range of government officials—including the Argentine ambassador to China and President Fernandez, who has actively pursued closer ties with China—have echoed the embassy’s preferred talking points (see Propaganda).
  • Partnerships with diverse outlets: Cooperation between Argentina’s public media and Chinese state media goes back decades and is mediated through high-level channels. Multiple agreements are in effect between Xinhua news agency, the Spanish edition of the People's Daily, China Daily, and the Argentine ministry of communications, publicly funded outlets, or major private media outlets. Although these agreements and resulting content cut across the political spectrum, some instances of media cooperation appear to be based on ideological sympathies between left-wing organizations and the Chinese Communist Party. China Global Television Network content disseminated by the Venezuelan news agency TeleSUR also reached left leaning audiences in Argentina (see Propaganda).
  • Focus on preferred narratives: Chinese party-state propaganda has regularly emphasized close ties between the Chinese Communist Party and the ruling Justicialist Party of Argentina while promoting stronger bilateral relations. Diplomats regularly praised China’s achievements in green development, economic growth, and poverty alleviation. They also promoted narratives of international solidarity against foreign interference in internal affairs and backed Argentina’s claims to the Falklands/Malvinas Islands. Chinese coverage of anti-epidemic cooperation and the coronavirus response sometimes overlapped with anti-American messaging (see Propaganda).
  • No disinformation campaigns: Researchers found limited evidence of Chinese cyber troop activity in Argentina, with suspicious accounts amplifying posts from Chinese state media outlets. A sprawling pro-Chinese propaganda network tracked by the research firm Graphika reached audiences in Argentina for the first time in early 2021 and was unknowingly amplified by local influencers (see Disinformation campaigns).
  • Heavy influence in diaspora media: A large Chinese diaspora community numbering over 200,000 is served by a variety of local Chinese-language media outlets, many of which cooperate with the Chinese party-state and republish content from mainland outlets. Pro-Beijing editorial lines dominate Chinese-language content, including that which is produced by friendly local voices such as the bilingual Dangdai magazine (see Chinese diaspora media).
  • Critical media coverage, civil society pushback: As China’s economic influence in the country has grown, Argentina’s pluralistic and vibrant media sector has reported regularly on local scandals involving Chinese organized crime, in addition to environmental issues, labor disputes, or corruption cases related to Chinese investments in the country. News outlets that cooperate with Chinese state media do not appear to have shied away from participating in such critical coverage, and local media have also covered civil society efforts to push back against Chinese Communist Party influence (see Resilience and Response).
  • Legal gaps and media vulnerabilities: Concentrated media ownership as well as a lack of sufficient regulation to ensure transparency and accountability have hurt the development of sustainable and independent media. Low journalistic expertise on China combined with the Chinese Communist Party’s continuing efforts to co-opt influential political and academic voices have created vulnerabilities to Chinese media influence (see Vulnerabilities).

header2 Background

Argentina has a status of Free in Freedom in the World 2022, the latest edition of Freedom House’s annual study of political rights and civil liberties.1 It has a status of Free in Freedom on the Net 2021, the latest edition of Freedom House’s annual report on internet freedoms.2 Argentina is a vibrant democracy with competitive elections, lively media and civil society sectors, and unfettered public debate. There are laws guaranteeing freedom of expression and state censorship is banned. However, media ownership is concentrated among large conglomerates and public advertising tends to favor government-friendly outlets, leading to media politicization and polarization.3 Journalists face violence and occasional harassment, including legal charges, especially when covering LGBT+ issues, corruption, and drug-related criminality.

Diplomatic relations between Argentina and the People’s Republic of China were established on February 19, 1972 and significantly deepened during the administration of former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2014).4 The two countries elevated the bilateral relationship to the highest level of a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2014, a year in which Argentina experienced its second debt default. Warm relations continued through the return to power of the Peronist party under the leadership of President Alberto Fernández in 2019. Argentina has been one of the largest recipients of Chinese investment and loans in Latin America, receiving at least $17 billion in funding from Chinese state-owned banks between 2005 and 2022—although the majority of these investments took place before 2015.5

China has actively worked to increase its presence and influence in the region since publishing its first white paper on Latin America in 2008. It joined the Organization of American States (OAS) as an observer nation in 2004 and became a member of the Inter-American Development Bank in 2009. Argentina’s participation in the Forum of China and Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (China-CELAC Forum) began in 2015. It joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in October 20206 and formally signed on to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) during President Fernández’s state visit to Beijing in February 2022.7 Trade between China and Argentina boomed during the pandemic, dominated mostly by Argentine exports of soy and beef, and China became Argentina’s top export market for the first time in the spring of 2020.8

Political leaders and commentators have sometimes framed improving ties with China as a means to hedge against Argentina’s debt commitments to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).9 As such, governments on both sides of the political spectrum have repeatedly expanded currency swap deals with Beijing since 2009, agreeing to an amount of around $18.5 billion in the most recent round of negotiations in 2020.10 Alongside deepening financial ties, Chinese companies have announced loan or investment projects in Argentina’s mining, infrastructure, telecommunications, and energy sectors. The two countries have also increased their cooperation in security and space.11 Points of tension in the bilateral relationship include ongoing challenges of Chinese organized crime in Argentina and illegal fishing operations.12 More than 25 Argentine universities and academic institutions have cooperation and exchange agreements with Chinese counterparts and in 2020 China opened a third Confucius Institute in Argentina at the University of Cordoba.13

Recent estimates put Argentina’s Chinese diaspora and expatriate population between 180,000 and 200,000, making it the fourth largest migrant group in the country.14 Since around 2001, immigrants from mainland China have increased rapidly and now dominate this community.15 A small but significant Taiwanese population exists and Taiwan maintains a diplomatic presence in the country through the Commercial and Cultural Office of Taipei in Argentina.16 An active community of Falun Gong practitioners, Chinese and non-Chinese, meets regularly in several major cities and has previously faced attacks from the Chinese embassy when protesting the Chinese government’s human rights abuses.17

header3 Beijing’s Media Influence Efforts

Propaganda and promotion of favored narratives

 

Key narratives

Chinese state media and diplomatic actors’ efforts to proactively shape the narrative and influence public opinion in Argentina increased during the coverage period, spurred by key milestones in the bilateral relationship and efforts to leverage ongoing global issues. Diplomatic actors frequently emphasized the close political and cultural ties between China and Argentina ahead of the 50th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations in February 2022. They regularly highlighted the close ties between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Justicialist party (and Peronism more generally) as a foundation for strong bilateral ties.1

There was a strong propaganda campaign before and after key events such as the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC in 2019 and the centennial anniversary of the CCP in June 2021, with the Chinese embassy soliciting feature pieces from local academics, business leaders and officials for commemorative issues published in local media.2 During the CCP’s centennial year, the embassy coordinated with local publishing houses to translate and publish six books on Marxism and the CCP.3

Chinese diplomats in Argentina largely avoided combative “wolf warrior” style messaging and instead mostly stuck to positive messaging that promoted China as a strong partner for development and multilateral cooperation. For example, both Chinese state media and local diplomats highlighted China’s so-called victory over extreme poverty as an example of the country’s superior governance system.4 The embassy regularly published articles in local outlets promoting Xi Jinping’s attendance at regional and international forums such as the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation or the United Nations General Assembly, foregrounding China’s leadership in global affairs and repeatedly stressing Beijing’s willingness and ability to be a partner for “win-win” cooperation in areas such as green development, poverty alleviation, and anti-pandemic work.5 Such narratives boosted Chinese public diplomacy efforts to shore up support for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a multifaceted Chinese framework for development cooperation that Argentina formally joined in February 2022, becoming the largest Latin American economy to do so.6

Chinese diplomats in Argentina defended Beijing’s One China principle and its record on human rights. They also criticized American hegemony, “unilateralism,” and “colonialism,” positioning China in contrast as a partner for multilateralism cooperation.7 They noted China’s increasingly vocal support for Argentina’s claim to the Malvinas/Falklands Islands and simultaneously quoted Argentine politicians’ support for China’s position on Taiwan, framing the two issues as mutual defense of territorial integrity and sovereignty against foreign interference that formed a strong foundation for bilateral relations.8

The coronavirus outbreak at the beginning of 2020 marked a notable expansion of Chinese state media strategy in Argentina. Diplomats embarked on a major propaganda campaign involving interviews on primetime television, radio, and op-eds published in local media outlets to positively frame China’s virus prevention and control measures as well as its cooperation and open communication with international partners.9 This campaign had three broad aims: to mobilize the Chinese diaspora for pandemic prevention and control; demonstrate its generosity as a responsible global actor (while simultaneously obfuscating the CCP’s role in the original outbreak); and presenting China as a scientific powerhouse through its successful development and dissemination of COVID-19 vaccines.10 Embassy communication regarding the coronavirus pushed back against the so-called “political virus” of blaming China for the pandemic.11 Beijing leveraged its mask diplomacy to strengthen bilateral ties, with diplomats on both sides repeatedly quoting a line from the Argentine epic poem El Gaucho Martín Fierro to emphasize that brothers “must have true unity at all times.”12 As part of this, Chinese state media highlighted Argentine officials’ gratitude for medical aid, Chinese-made vaccines, and a donated field hospital used for pandemic prevention and control efforts.13

Key avenues of content dissemination

Xinhua maintains a branch office in Buenos Aires.14 Chinese state media content is available online to Spanish-speaking audiences globally through a variety of online platforms. Both the state news agency Xinhua and the CCP mouthpiece People’s Daily maintain Spanish-language websites, as does China Radio International (CRI). CRI also broadcasts in Spanish over short-wave radio around the world.15 China Global Television Network (CGTN) Spanish (also known as CGTN-E) offers 24-hour programming available online for free. The magazine China Today, which is published by the China International Publishing Group, maintains two Spanish-language websites.16 CGTN-E and CCTV-4 are also available via satellite television, and CGTN-E began broadcasting in Argentina on the Telecentro cable network in February 2022.17 Although there is no publicly available data on this content’s audience reach in Argentina, at least one academic study suggests that its influence is minimal (see Impact). Other key avenues of content dissemination include:

  • Embassy communications: The Chinese embassy in Argentina played a key role in Beijing’s local media engagement strategy, regularly organizing meetings with public and private media executives. It developed relationships with traditional opinion makers such as Sino-Argentine academic experts and business leaders as well as emerging social media influencers who had previously participated in embassy-sponsored study trips to China and subsequently used their experiences to share softer stories about Chinese culture and participate in public diplomacy.18

The embassy noticeably ramped up its media engagement efforts following the COVID-19 outbreak in early 202019 and registered a Twitter account in March 2020.20 Chinese diplomats appeared on primetime television and radio to discuss the coronavirus situation in China and its impact on Sino-Argentine relations at least ten times during the first four months of 2020. In the fall of 2021, the embassy held media briefings on topics such as the Beijing Winter Olympics 2022 and the efficacy of Chinese-made vaccines, demonstrating a more proactive effort to shape local narratives.21 The number of signed articles and written interviews published by Chinese diplomats in major local news outlets such as Perfil, Ámbito Financiero, Pagina 12, BAE Negocios, Clarin, El Economista, El Cronista, and Télam more than doubled from 2019 (at least 10 articles) to 2020 (at least 20 articles), according to a Freedom House survey of embassy press releases, and embassy personnel published more than 20 signed articles in 2021. While most of these pieces covered bilateral economic issues or recent international developments that positively portrayed China as a leader in multilateral cooperation and development, two op-eds that sought to counter critical “foreign” perspectives on the crackdown in Hong Kong and “Chinese-style” human rights also promoted misleading propaganda narratives.22 In addition to regularly publishing in local outlets, the embassy also coordinated the publication of special commemorative issues in Clarin, the most influential print outlet in Argentina, and the publicly funded national news agency Télam.23

  • Longstanding cooperation with public media: Cooperation between Argentina’s public media and Chinese state media goes back decades and is mediated through high-level channels. Media cooperation was prioritized in the China-Argentina comprehensive strategic partnership agreement signed with the government of Cristina Kirchner in 2014. The next year, Argentina’s communications ministry signed an agreement with what was then the Chinese State Administration for Press, Publishing, Radio, Film and Television (now the State Administration of Radio and Television).24 The Xinhua News Agency also signed a separate cooperation deal with the Argentine Senate to promote cultural exchange.25 Since then, Xinhua has supplied news monitoring services to a variety of Argentine government bodies.26 In 2018, Argentina’s Federal System of Media and Public Content co-hosted the China-Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAC) Media Forum with Xinhua.27 Ahead of Xi Jinping’s visit to Argentina in December 2018 the two countries signed a raft of deals including two news cooperation agreements between Chinese and Argentine state-controlled media.28

In 2019, the Argentine Secretary for Media and Public Communications Hernan Lombardi visited Beijing and signed the “China-Argentina Film and Television Association Strategic Cooperation Framework Agreement.”29 A co-production on Chinese New Year celebration programming titled “Talking About the Spring Festival” and a special series titled “Brilliant 70 Years China TV Month” to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China were both highlighted as examples of deepening media cooperation between the two countries.30 During the report coverage period, the Chinese ambassador met with media executives from Radio and Television Argentina (RTA), the state news agency Télam, and TV Pública as well as government officials from the Secretariat for Media and Public Communications to discuss the need to improve objective reporting on China and Sino-Argentine relations to “enhance mutual understanding, build consensus, and overcome difficulties” in the bilateral relationship.31

  • Expanding ties with a range of private media groups: In addition to deepening ties with public media outlets, Chinese state media and diplomatic actors have close ties with private media groups ranging across the political and geographic spectrum in Argentina, allowing them to weather varying political headwinds in Argentina as various media outlets aligned with or in opposition to the sitting government gained power.32 For example, in 2015 El Diario del Pueblo, the Spanish version of the CCP mouthpiece People’s Daily, signed a cooperation agreement with the Argentine daily La Nación, a conservative mainstream outlet.33

Grupo América, the second-largest media conglomerate in Argentina, also has close ties with Chinese state media. The Grupo América founder and businessman José Luis Manzano has taken an active role in regional media cooperation forums organized by Chinese state media entities, where he has been described as a “friend to Beijing.”34 Several of its publications, including the Rosario-based La Capital and the popular financial daily El Cronista, started publishing “China Watch” supplements from China Daily in 2016 with a reported distribution of 150,000.35 Diario Uno publishes “China Watch” online.36

In addition to Grupo América, executives from the major media groups Grupo Clarín, Grupo Indalo, Grupo Perfil, and Grupo Octubre also met with the Chinese embassy and expressed their interest in deepening cooperation with Chinese state media entities during the coverage period, with Grupo Octubre signing a cooperation agreement with CGTN in January 2021.37 Such cooperation agreements can have a noticeable effect on China-related news coverage. For example, content from the embassy or China Media Group dominates coverage of China in Clarín, a mainstream newspaper with the largest circulation in Argentina, and can be hard to distinguish from regular news reporting.38 A Freedom House survey also found that Chinese state media content also regularly appeared in Página 12 (owned by Octobre) and Ámbito Financiero (owned by Indalo).39

Some instances of media cooperation appear to be based on ideological sympathies between left-wing organizations and the CCP. For example, the Union of Press Workers in Buenos Aires (UTPBA) is a member of the Belt and Road Journalists’ Network (BRJN) and its secretary general Lidia Fagale leads the weekly radio program Clave China, which broadcasts content from CMG, on Radio Cooperativa La 770, a fringe left-wing radio station.40 More generally, so-called ideological “militant” journalists in Argentine media have undermined the norms of an unbiased or objective press, and some have sought increasing competition with like-minded foreign counterparts such as Venezuela’s TeleSUR, the Cuban state-owned Granma newspaper, or Chinese state media.41

  • Collaboration on trainings and joint media forums: In September 2019, participants from 46 media outlets across 26 Latin American and African countries, including at least one representative from the Argentine channel A24 TV, attended a media workshop of the Belt and Road News Network (BRNN) in Beijing on the theme “new era, new ideas, new media, new technology.” In addition to visits to central state media entities, participants were given “interview and research” opportunities to “personally experience China’s unremitting efforts and fruitful results in poverty alleviation, ecological civilization…and independent intellectual property rights.”42 Such topics showcase a positive portrayal of China’s development model that glosses over systemic issues of wealth inequality, environmental degradation, and rule of law violations. Nevertheless, these trips provided a much-needed opportunity for journalists to engage with China: according to one participant in 2017, “In Argentina, there is not a good understanding of China, and there’s also this huge culture gap. But even if you don’t think you have a relationship with China, China has a big relationship with you. If we’re smart, we should look into this country.”43

After travel restrictions were put in place in 2020, cooperation opportunities continued through virtual formats. In August 2020, Chinese state media organized a joint statement on behalf of media organizations representing “15 institutions from China and 10 Latin American countries,” including Argentina, calling for strengthening media cooperation to “promote the building of a community with a shared future between China and Latin America and a global community of health for all.”44 In November 2021, the Argentine state news agency Télam organized a virtual Panorama Forum in cooperation with Radio y Televisión Argentina (RTA), Grupo América, and the China Media Group. The forum was attended by ambassadors from both countries and the Argentine foreign minister Santiago Cafiero.45 Attendees highlighted the strong ties between Argentina and China in the face of “some actors on the international scene” who opted for “unilateralism” during the pandemic, while others reiterated both sides’ mutual support for issues of “sovereignty and territorial integrity.”46

A month later, media executives from Grupo Indalo and Grupo América, among others, participated in a launch event for the “China-LAC Media Action” project, which reportedly included a co-production between CGTN and the Venezuelan news agency TeleSUR (popular among left-wing audiences in Argentina), as well as the creation of a multimedia platform for content sharing.47

  • Leveraging friendly voices among political and academic elites: Chinese state actors have successfully developed relationships with a range of academic and political commentators who can provide influential local voices on topics relating to China and Sino-Argentine relations.48 The CCP International Liaison Department, which is responsible for building ties between the CCP and political parties around the world, has developed close ties with both the ruling Justicialist party and the center-right Republican Proposal (PRO) party.49 The Argentina Council for International Relations (CARI) has signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation with the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), a research institute directly administered by the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs,50 and helped to promote the BRI in Argentina.51 Academics from CARI contributed articles with titles such as “China: an Extraordinary Transformation and Unprecedented Economic Growth” to special issues published in local media organized by the Chinese embassy.52 Similarly, the Latin American Center for Chinese Political and Economic Studies (CLEPEC) helped to coordinate CCP training and exchange opportunities for young Argentine politicians.53 Its director is a regular contributor to local media, and regularly echoes Beijing’s preferred narratives in quotes such as, “China today is the second largest economy in the world and the primary voice defending multilateralism, trade liberalization, and international cooperation.”54

Senior government officials regularly and openly praised China, sometimes lending their support to legitimize Beijing’s more controversial policies. During a 2021 China Xinjiang Development Forum held in Beijing, the Argentine ambassador to China Sabino Vaca Narvaja told the Chinese state tabloid Global Times, “I have been to Xinjiang. What I saw there is prosperous development and different ethnic minority groups living in harmony. Seeing is believing,” and that he believed that “many of the media outlets [writing reports about severe rights violations in Xinjiang] produced their reports under the influence of some countries.”55 President Alberto Fernandez, who is also leader of the Justicialist party, attended a virtual summit of the CCP and World Political Party Leaders in July 2021 where he gave a speech praising the CCP’s accomplishments.56 Five months later, after Fernandez stressed the importance of non-interventionism at the US-led Summit on Democracy, Chinese state media gleefully picked up his remarks and argued that he had “openly slam[med]” the United States’ hypocritic record on human rights and democracy.57

Disinformation campaigns

For the purposes of this report, disinformation is defined as the purposeful dissemination of false or misleading content, especially by engaging in inauthentic activity (such as via fake accounts) on global social media platforms. Researchers found limited evidence of Chinese cyber troop activity in Argentina, with suspicious accounts amplifying posts from Chinese state media outlets that promoted positive reports on economic and commercial activities. This aligned with the Chinese party-state’s efforts to present itself as a benign ally for development cooperation and non-interventionism.58 A sprawling multilingual pro-Beijing propaganda network closely tracked by the research firm Graphika and nicknamed “Spamouflage” reached Spanish-speaking audiences in Latin America for the first time in early 2021. Accounts linked to this campaign were found to engage mostly with the Twitter accounts of Chinese officials, businessmen, and so-called “chavistas,” or left-wing Latin American commentators. Some Spamoflauge posts were amplified unknowingly by local influencers in Argentina, including the culture minister Villegas Poljak.59

Censorship and intimidation

There were no reported instances of the Chinese embassy or other Chinese state-linked agents attempting to censor journalists in Argentina during the coverage period. However, a number of public and private media outlets have close ties with Chinese state actors (see Propaganda and promotion of favored narratives). Journalists working at these outlets may be encouraged to self-censor in order to maintain their access to professional benefits (such as training opportunities or subsidized travel) as well as favorable relations with the embassy and their counterparts in Chinese state media. Researchers have noted that apart from a few critical outlets, Argentine mainstream media rarely covered controversial topics related to Chinese activities and investments in the country such as the debate on securing national fifth generation (5G) telecommunications networks or the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines during the pandemic.60

Control over content distribution infrastructure

China-based companies do not have a significant presence in Argentina’s digital television infrastructure, but some firms with ties to the CCP have been gaining a foothold in the information technology and social media sectors, creating some potential vulnerability for future manipulation.

Huawei, a company with strong ties to the Chinese party-state and a record of providing censorship or surveillance technologies to foreign governments, has been present in the Argentine telecommunications equipment market since 2001. Both Huawei and ZTE, a Chinese telecom giant with ownership links to the CCP, have signed agreements to provide “smart city” surveillance technologies to local governments.61 Huawei is the main technology provider for Argentina’s 4G network and will likely be involved in the nation’s shift to 5G wireless networks.62 Chinese-owned companies made up less than 10 percent of smartphone sales in Argentina during the coverage period.63

In the social media space, TikTok, the global subsidiary of the Beijing-based social media platforms ByteDance, was the most downloaded app in 2021.64 Local media and politicians across the political spectrum have registered accounts on TikTok.65 There have been some documented cases around the world in recent years of TikTok removing or downplaying politically sensitive content, including content that violates domestic Chinese censorship guidelines, although the company has subsequently reported correcting errors.66 A media report from June 2022 based on leaked TikTok meetings raised concern that statements made by ByteDance regarding data privacy of US users were false, and more broadly called into question other statements the company has made regarding its policies.67

Overall, there was no evidence in Argentina of Chinese control over content distribution infrastructure being used to marginalize critical content or artificially amplify pro-Beijing content.

Dissemination of CCP media norms, tactics, or governance models

Media professionals in Argentina did not receive trainings aimed at disseminating Chinese information control tactics and norms or being otherwise influenced to adopt CCP-style media governance models during the reporting period. However, media cooperation through a variety of regional frameworks continued and deepened during the coverage period, providing opportunities for outlets “friendly to Beijing” to gain training in new media technologies and access centralized resources for PRC-approved reporting on China. At the Panorama media forum, which was jointly organized by Chinese and Argentine media groups in November 2021, the president of Télam Bernarda Llorente said that public media of different countries must cooperate together to “avoid the intermediation of large concentrated groups and media oligopolies,” implying that cooperation with Chinese state media was seen as an opportunity to enhance the capacity and influence of publicly funded media over privately owned competitors.68

Chinese diaspora media

Argentina has a significant Chinese expatriate and diaspora population, estimated around 200,000 people. This includes a historic Taiwanese community.69 It is served by a number of local Chinese-language media outlets, many of which republish content from Chinese state media and cooperate with the local embassy. Representatives from Argentina Weekly (阿根廷周刊), New World Weekly (新大陆周刊), and the website Argentine Chinese Network (阿根廷华人网) attended the Tenth Forum on Global Chinese Language Media in 2019, which was jointly organized by the State Council Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, the Hebei Provincial People’s Government, and the state-controlled China News Agency.70

New World Weekly, Shijie Zhoukan (世界周刊), the Argentine branch of the Brazil-based Nanmei Qiaobao (南美侨报阿根廷周刊), and the online forums Agenting Huaren Toutiao (阿根廷华人头条) and Horizonte Chino (阿根廷华人在线, 51argentina.com) are all members of the Global Chinese Media Union, a media alliance overseen by the China News Agency. Many of these outlets have also participated in events organized by the Chinese Embassy in Argentina.71 A number of official accounts on the Chinese social media platform WeChat offer news content for Argentine consumers, and at least one government entity in Argentina, the municipal government of Buenos Aires, has registered an official account to promote the city as a tourism destination for Chinese-speaking audiences.72 WeChat is owned by the PRC-based company Tencent, and official accounts on the platform are subject to domestic Chinese censorship pressures. The bilingual quarterly magazine Dangdai (当代), which describes itself as an “intercultural communication project,” is affiliated with the House of Chinese Culture in Buenos Aires and cooperates closely with universities and embassies in both countries.73 As part of its close cooperation with Chinese diplomatic entities and businesses, the magazine maintains a pro-Beijing editorial line.

header4 Resilience + response

Underlying media resilience

 

  • Strong media and legal safeguards for freedom of expression: Argentine law guarantees freedom of expression, and the country decriminalized libel and slander in 2009. The country has historically had a robust and lively media ecosystem with strong capacities for investigative journalism. An Audiovisual Communication Services Law prohibits more than 30 percent foreign investment in broadcasting companies.1 Information and communication technologies (ICT) are overseen by the National Communications Entity (ENACOM).2 The Argentine Forum of Journalism (FOPEA) functions as an independent watchdog for media freedoms.3
  • Creative solutions to boost sustainable independent media: Media researchers have looked at creative finance and ownership models for independent media in other countries to learn from and develop ideas for how to address systemic challenges facing Argentine media. Taking the lesson that “the business model shields the editorial model,” digital outlets such as Tiempo Argentina have experimented with cooperative ownership and news subscription models.4
  • Developing responses to online disinformation: Although efforts to combat disinformation so far have mostly focused on election-related disinformation,5 both state and non-state actors are increasing their focus on this issue. In October 2020, the Public Defender’s Office announced the creation of a media observatory intended to monitor online disinformation and symbolic violence such as hate speech; however, press freedom advocates expressed concern about the project’s ambiguous mission and alleged ideological bias while also warning that it could be abused to silence online discourse.6 Civil society groups such as Chequeado and Proyecto Desconfio are engaged in fact checking and promoting media literacy among the broader public.7

China-specific resilience

  • Comparatively high degree of research and knowledge production on China and bilateral relations: According to one literature review, academics from Argentina and Chile produced the highest number of publications on China-Latin America relations across the LAC between 2010 and 2020 compared to other countries in the region. These researchers are at the forefront of a growing body of local expertise on China that has developed significantly over the last decade.8 However, many of the topics of research relate to economics or business and experts have argued that the country still needs to develop a more diverse range of expertise on China, including on domestic Chinese politics and CCP foreign influence (see vulnerabilities).
  • Varied and critical coverage of China and Sino-Argentine relations, including use of international news sources: Local media outlets have reported critically on Chinese investments and activities in Argentina, and to a lesser extent on China. Some topics recently covered include the problem of illegal fishing by Chinese vessels off the Argentine coast;9 Chinese companies’ extractive practices in lithium mining; labor disputes with local trade unions;10 transnational Chinese organized crime in Argentina;11 and issues of corruption surrounding Chinese investments.12 A variety of media outlets, including ones with friendly relationships with Chinese state media and the Chinese embassy, have covered topics that are sensitive to the CCP such as human rights abuses in Xinjiang, attacks on press freedom in Hong Kong, or Chinese aggressions towards Taiwan, sometimes with the aid of international reporting from news agencies such as Agence France-Presse (AFP), Agencia EFE, and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).13 Infobae, a popular digital outlet with a broad regional audience that is generally seen as being particularly critical of the Chinese party-state,14 also regularly provides independent coverage on China-related issues and does not rely on content from the embassy. New media ventures such as the regionally focused Diálogo Chino, which describes itself as “the only independent journalism platform dedicated to understanding the China-Latin America relationship and its sustainable development challenges,” and the Buenos Aires-based Reporte Asia provide platforms for journalists to develop their expertise in reporting on China and the Asia-Pacific.15
  • Journalists, civil society push back against CCP influence: Some activists and civil society groups have sought to raise awareness about CCP media influence and expressed their concerns about the potentially corrupting risks of the current government’s close ties with Beijing.16 The Epoch Times, founded by practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual movement that is banned in China, maintains a branch in Buenos Aires and publishes critical reporting on the CCP, its human rights abuses, and transnational repression.17 In April 2020, the Falun Dafa Information Center publicized efforts by an alleged agent of the Chinese government who offered to pay news outlets to publish a prewritten article defaming Falun Gong, an attempt which was rejected by at least three outlets and then apparently abandoned.18 In April 2022, members of the Civic Coalition filed a criminal complaint against the sitting ambassador to China, accusing him of influence peddling for Chinese interests.19 There are also emerging non-state initiatives to monitor and respond to CCP influence efforts. One example is the Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de América Latina (CADAL), which has expanded its critical focus on China’s efforts to erode democratic norms in recent years.20
  • Human rights advocates leverage media and the court system: During the reporting period, Argentine media covered efforts by parliamentarians and civil society to raise awareness about the CCP’s persecution of targeted minorities. For example, eight Argentine lawmakers signed onto a July 2021 joint statement calling on the CCP to immediately stop its “systemic and brutal campaign [to] eradicate” the spiritual practice of Falun Gong.21 And although Argentina, which began its tenure as head of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2022, has refrained from supporting international criticisms of China’s domestic policies in Xinjiang, its progressive legal system has provided an opportunity for advocates seeking accountability for Chinese violations of universal laws on human rights. In early 2022, local and international media reported on a criminal complaint submitted by international Uyghur advocacy groups against China to the Federal Criminal Court of Appeals in Buenos Aires, under local universal jurisdiction rules.22

header5 Vulnerabilities

  • Lack of diverse critical awareness about China across academic, media, and political sectors: Previous research shows that Beijing has prioritized developing relations with local authoritative commentators who can lend support and legitimacy to CCP influence efforts, and that this strategy appears to have borne fruit.1 Regional analysts have noted that some China-focused scholars in Argentina seem to avoid sensitive topics such as those related to China’s “internal affairs” in order to maintain their access to funding and research opportunities in China.2 Senior government officials have demonstrated a concerning tendency to pander to Beijing. Since his controversial elevation to the position of ambassador to China in 2021, 3 Sabino Vaca Narvaja has been criticized for his strong praise of the CCP and his alleged lobbying for Chinese companies’ interests.4 Although some journalists are beginning to develop independent expertise on China, there are no broader media education opportunities aimed at informing on and countering the risks of CCP influence. A lack of accredited Argentine journalists working inside the PRC also limits the capacity for in-depth original reporting on China.
  • Legal gaps ensuring media ownership and advertising transparency: Media ownership is concentrated among large conglomerates that frequently favor a political grouping, and Argentina lacks effective regulations governing media cross-ownership. State advertising dominates the overall advertising market but it is distributed disproportionately and non-transparently, encouraging politicization and weakening opportunities for the development of sustainable independent media.5
  • Lack of journalist safeguards encourages self-censorship: Journalists sometimes face charges including fines for social media comments or court injunctions that seek to force them to reveal their sources, which could hinder investigative journalism and encourage self-censorship. However, these charges tend to ultimately be dropped. At the same time, recent court rulings on “right to be forgotten” cases have been criticized by scholars and human rights activists who warn that they could erect potential obstacles to accessing information online. In 2020, it was revealed that government agencies had excessively monitored journalists’ activities on social media and offline in recent years.6

header6 Impact and Public Opinion

A comparative study of international broadcasters in Latin America conducted in 2016 found that the Spanish-language channel CGTN-E lagged behind its competitors Actualidad RT and HispanTV in terms of brand recognition across a small sample of university-aged viewers in Argentina and Mexico. The researcher found that all three channels suffered from problems of credibility and were perceived as presenting an “alternative” view to Western media.1 Chinese state media has not succeeded in directly penetrating the Argentine media market despite strong efforts to do so, instead relying on partnerships with local outlets to reach larger audiences. But it may not need much success to appeal to a generally receptive public that lacks knowledge on China: according to a November 2021 survey conducted in Buenos Aires, 82 percent of respondents said they had little or no knowledge on China, but 55 percent had a positive image of China and 63 percent thought that Argentina could learn from China’s economic and social development.2

There was majority support for economic and political relations with China in parallel with broad skepticism of the Chinese government and its record on human rights, which increased over time. In a 2020 poll conducted by Latino Barometer, 58 percent of respondents believed that trade with China was favorable for the economic development of Argentina, and 56.6 percent thought that relations between Argentina and China were good.3 At the same time, a slightly greater proportion of respondents believed that China had a negative (37.1 percent) rather than positive (34.4 percent) influence in Latin America.4 Pew research polling conducted in 2018 found that a near majority (47 percent) of Argentines expressed no confidence in Xi Jinping, and around 50 percent believed that China does not respect personal freedoms or human rights.5 A 2018/2019 LAPOP found that Argentina had the second-highest levels of trust in the Chinese government across the Latin America and Caribbean region (LAC), second to the Dominican Republic.6 However, such perceptions declined significantly (by more than 10 points) between 2018 and 2021 both in Argentina and across the broader LAC.7

Interestingly, a regional analysis of China’s COVID-19 mask diplomacy and media campaign found that its apparent impact was minimal—despite substantial media coverage and recognition of China’s efforts to present itself as a leader in global pandemic prevention and control. Social media analysis of tweets on China across the LAC suggested that mixed views of China largely paralleled pre-pandemic opinion surveys.8

header7 Future Trajectory

The following are key areas researchers, media experts, and Argentine officials and journalists should watch for related to Beijing’s media influence in Argentina in the coming years.

  • Expansion of media cooperation through content-sharing, co-production, or regional agreements: Although public interest in Chinese state media content appears low, the China Media Group has had some success in disseminating its content to broader audiences through local partnerships with mainstream media outlets such as Clarin. During the report coverage period, Beijing signed new media cooperation agreements with local outlets and established regional content-sharing platforms such as the Belt and Road News Network and the China-LAC Media Action project. Although little evidence has so far emerged that these friendly ties have translated into editorial changes or incidents of self-censorship, press freedom watchers should monitor these relationships going forward. In the future, Chinese state media will likely continue their efforts to centralize content production for LAC audiences as well as tailoring content through partnerships with local media groups to better appeal to regional and national audiences.
  • Expanding reach and influence on social media: Both Chinese state media and diplomatic actors have expanded their activity on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook during the reporting period, and it is likely that their audiences will continue to grow. These accounts provide new opportunities to monitor the CCP’s messaging priorities and preferred media narratives. In the future, researchers should also track how broadly or uncritically local media outlets use propaganda from party-state affiliated accounts as news sources. Emerging PRC-owned social media platforms such as WeChat TikTok are rapidly growing their user base in Argentina and should be closely monitored for signs of content manipulation.
  • Growth of non-state actors in influence operations: Social media influencers with ties to the Chinese party-state apparatus have developed large and engaged local audiences, leveraging popular interest in Chinese language learning and cultural topics. In other countries, the CCP has leveraged its covert ties with such influencers to present a softer perspective on China, but also to promote propaganda narratives that engage in denialism of human rights atrocities or spread anti-imperialist and anti-Western narratives.1 In addition, as Chinese companies like Huawei or PowerChina become increasingly involved in Argentina it is likely they will also increase their lobbying and influence efforts through increasing engagements with media and public relations firms.2
  • Closer coordination with other authoritarian media entities: Recent years have seen a growing narrative alignment between state media entities from authoritarian countries such as China, Russia, Iran, and Venezuela that has included the replication and sharing of disinformation and parallel propaganda efforts to foster anti-Western narratives. Media researchers should closely observe the parallel tactics and influence efforts of these entities—including CGTN collaboration with TeleSUR, which is popular among some Argentine audiences—to assess whether and how it affects audience engagement and understanding of China and Sino-Argentine relations.
  • 1Clint Watts, “‘The One Like One Share Initiative’ – How China Deploys Social Media Influencers to Spread its Message,” Selected Wisdom (Substack), September 21, 2021, https://clintwatts.substack.com/p/the-one-like-one-share-initiative.
  • 2To give an example, the Chinese state-owned company PowerChina, which has actively invested in Argentina’s energy sector, coordinated a media visit to China with the China-Latin America Press Exchange Center and the China Public Diplomacy Association in 2019. See: “中拉新闻交流中心记者团访问公司” [A journalist delegation from the China-Latin America Press Exchange Center visits the company], PowerChina, May 24, 2019, https://www.powerchina-intl.com/index.php/show/9/1101.html (https://archive.ph/Gl6ll).

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