Beijing’s Media Influence Efforts
37 85
Local Resilience and Response
45 85
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least influence) to 85 (most influence)

header1 Key findings

Report by BC Han and Sascha Hannig


  • Increased media influence efforts: Beijing’s media influence efforts in Chile increased during the coverage period (2019-2021). This was reflected in new diplomatic accounts on social media and more active messaging by the local embassy, as well as ongoing efforts to deepen ties with local news producers through content sharing agreements.
  • Positive impressions of China but growing skepticism: Polling data from 2019 and 2020 revealed that a majority of Chileans surveyed had a positive impression of China and China’s influence in Latin America and supported increasing bilateral ties with China. However, few see China as an attractive model for Chile to emulate. Some politicians and media commentators have criticized China’s aggressive diplomacy, its handling of human rights, and economic investment in Chile (see Impact).
  • Aggressive diplomacy but limited social media presence: Chinese diplomats were active in publishing op-eds and giving interviews in outlets across the political spectrum. The Chinese ambassador Xu Bu, who served until late 2020, had a tendency to respond aggressively to criticisms of Beijing. His successor continued to publish regularly in Chilean outlets, although his tone was less antagonistic. The embassy also developed a social media presence during the coverage period. However, its Twitter account, created in December 2019, had fewer than 2,000 followers by the end of 2021 and limited engagement from Chilean users during the coverage period (see Propaganda).
  • Content dissemination via mainstream media: Both the state-run China Media Group and Xinhua, Beijing’s official state-run news agency, have been proactive in offering free content to Chilean media outlets. Several mainstream news outlets, such as the right-wing outlet El Mercurio and the business-focused magazine América Economía, occasionally publish content from Chinese state media. In 2020, the center-left station Radio Cooperativa and right-wing daily La Tercera both inked content-sharing agreements with China Media Group. La Tercera only carried content in 2020, but Radio Cooperativa’s agreement extended into 2021 and expanded beyond a radio program into a multi-media production. Some local news outlets participated in regional media cooperation summits organized by Chinese state media. One outlet, the private television network Mega, also worked with China Media Group to coproduce a series focused on Chinese culture (see Propaganda).
  • Support among Chile’s political elite: Before the pandemic, several Chilean politicians were invited on trips to China. In 2019, on such a trip, then-president Sebastián Piñera declared that countries should be free to choose their own political systems, echoing to local media one of Beijing’s common deflections of international criticism of the Chinese Communist Party’s repressive rule (see Propaganda).
  • No targeted disinformation campaigns: There was no evidence that disinformation campaigns originating in China specifically targeted news consumers in Chile, but Chilean researchers have found inauthentic accounts boosting engagement with Chinese state media Spanish-language accounts on Twitter. The Chinese embassy in Chile also promoted conspiracy theories obfuscating the origins of the COVID-19 virus, which the Chinese foreign ministry has spread internationally (see Disinformation).
  • Strong influence on diaspora media: The Chinese expatriate and diaspora population in Chile is estimated at 30,000. It is served by a handful of traditional and online media outlets founded within the last ten years that largely align with Beijing’s preferred narratives on issues ranging from the government’s policies in Xinjiang to China’s COVID-19 response (see Diaspora media).
  • Growing awareness of Chinese influence: Since 2019, several legislators from both the opposition and ruling parties have questioned Beijing’s human rights policies and denounced China’s influence on critical infrastructure in Chile. Some journalists have responded skeptically to local efforts to increase cooperation with Chinese state media. Outlets that have friendly relationships with Chinese state media (like El Mercurio and La Tercera) have also published pieces critical of Chinese government policies. Chilean experts on China are increasingly consulted by journalists and policymakers, though some opinion leaders remain reluctant to criticize Beijing (see Resilience and response).
  • Robust protections for press freedom: Chile has relatively robust legal safeguards protecting media transparency but lacks rules limiting cross-ownership or foreign investment in the media. There is also a growing culture of investigative journalism, particularly following antigovernment protests in 2019, and reporters have expressed confidence in their freedom to report independently, despite some attacks on the media by the government in recent years (see Resilience and response).
  • Gaps in relevant expertise: In-country expertise on Chinese politics and influence is expanding but still limited. Domestic expertise on disinformation is emerging, but civil society efforts to combat it so far have mostly focused on fact-checking rather than researching or monitoring its origins (see Resilience and response).

header2 Background

Chile is a stable democracy that has experienced a significant expansion of political rights and civil liberties since the return of civilian rule in 1990. It was rated Free in Freedom in the World 2022, Freedom House’s annual report on political rights and civil liberties.1

The country also has a relatively free internet, though critics warn that proposals to criminalize speech that denies human rights violations committed during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973–90) may violate international human rights standards.2 Other ongoing concerns include corruption and conflicts linked to land disputes with the Indigenous Mapuche people.3

The challenges of COVID-19, combined with widespread criticism of media during student-led 2019 protests, pushed Chilean media outlets to rebuild trust with their audiences.4 Television stations began offering more debates and political commentary on popular morning programming.5 The government introduced new rules that sanctioned legislators who participated in media shows at the expense of their parliamentary duties.6 Some outlets introduced fact-checking initiatives.7 More generally, the effects of fake news and online disinformation gained attention in public discourse.8 Despite increased audience interest during the pandemic, print circulation and newspaper readership continued to fall, causing massive layoffs even at the largest newsrooms and broadcasters.9 In 2021, television and social media were the two most popular means of news consumption in Chile, capturing 80 percent of local audiences,10 and the three most used social media platforms were Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram, in that order.11

Chile and China established diplomatic relations in December 1970,12 and the military rule of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) did little to disrupt the two countries’ close relationship.13 Chile was the first Latin American country to support China’s bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). In 2005, it became the first country in the world to sign a free trade agreement (FTA) with China.14 In 2012, Chile became a “strategic partner” of the People’s Republic of China (PRC),15 and the relationship was upgraded to a “comprehensive strategic partnership” in November 2016—the highest designation under the Chinese government’s system for categorizing its relations with foreign countries.16 Sebastián Piñera, president of Chile from 2010-2014 and 2018-2022, continued to deepen Chile’s relationship with China. Chile joined the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in November 2018 and China’s associated institution for finance, the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), in July 2021.17 In April 2019, the two countries signed a Joint Action Plan for 2019-2022 covering 14 areas for advancing cooperation, including in the energy, agriculture, transportation, telecommunications, space, and cultural sectors.18

In 2021, the Export-Import Bank of China became the third Chinese bank to operate in Chile,19 and Chile opened its fourth consulate in China.20 Bilateral trade grew 40 percent from 2020 to 2021, boosted by strong Chinese technology imports and Chilean mining exports, with China remaining Chile’s largest import and export trade partner.21 Although Chinese aid to Chile was virtually nonexistent prior to 2020, in the early months of the pandemic, Chile was among the top recipients of Chinese donations to Latin America. According to a dataset generated by the researcher Francisco Urdinez, Chile received donated medical supplies worth $9.5 million from various Chinese companies, foundations, provinces, and the Chinese central government between February and June 2020.22 A June 2020 agreement between Chile’s Pontificia Universidad Católica and Sinovac to test vaccines in Chile led to Sinovac shipments in early 2021 that helped Chile become a regional vaccination leader.23

There is some growing resistance to recent Chinese activity in Chile’s energy and telecommunications sectors. In July 2020, Chile chose a Japanese firm over Huawei, a PRC company with close Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ties and a record of building censorship and surveillance systems in China and abroad,24 to build a trans-Pacific fiber optic cable.25 In November 2021, Chile’s Civil Registry and Identification Service canceled a tender won by a Chinese-German consortium to process passports and national identity documents over data security concerns and fears that the deal could jeopardize an existing visa waiver program with the United States, which led to diplomatic tensions with China.26

header3 Beijing’s Media Influence Efforts

Propaganda and promotion of favored narratives

Key narratives

Chinese state media narratives in Chile focus primarily on the benefits of Chile-China cooperation, often referencing the idea of a “win-win” relationship between both countries in regular inserts placed in major Chilean newspapers like El Mercurio and La Tercera.1 They also seek to undermine or question international criticisms of Chinese policies.2 Following the highly publicized acquisition of medical equipment (including through both donations and purchases) and vaccine procurement deals,3 Chinese diplomats emphasized China’s positive role in aiding Chile’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.4 Most Chileans were initially vaccinated against COVID-19 with Chinese-made Sinovac vaccines.5 The Chinese ambassador Niu Qingbao, who began serving in February 2021, defended Chinese-made vaccines’ safety and “high accessibility” after the New York Times and former Italian prime minister Mario Draghi raised questions about Sinovac’s effectiveness in combatting the coronavirus delta variant in Chile.6 In response to these concerns, Niu suggested that the New York Times “also investigate and report how many vaccines the US has hoarded, how many it has offered to developing countries, and what contributions it has made to the international anti-pandemic fight,” framing the issue of vaccine efficacy as a geopolitical competition.7 Niu also published op-eds repeating disinformation from Beijing that claimed the coronavirus could have originated from a US-based lab.8

Attacking the United States and other democratic societies and movements is a major theme of Chinese state propaganda in Chile. In 2019, former Chinese ambassador Xu Bu (2018–20) called American criticisms of Chinese companies like Huawei “malicious lies” and described the Chinese government’s investments in Latin America as “substantial contributions to economic development,” contrasting them with the United States’ alleged preference for military interventions and sanctions.9 Xu also attempted to defuse growing local concerns over Beijing’s repression in Hong Kong by labeling prodemocracy activists like the former lawmaker Joshua Wong as “thugs” and “violent radicals.”10

Key avenues of content dissemination

  • Private media cooperation and media inserts: Both the state news agency Xinhua and China Media Group (CMG)—China’s predominant state-controlled media company for radio and television broadcasting11 —have been proactive in offering free content to Chilean outlets. Xinhua has contacted several media outlets to offer its photo database or newswires for China-related content. In some cases, journalists noted that Chinese state media entities were “too insistent” in offering their content, even after being asked to stop. In one example, Xinhua went as far as bringing a pre-signed contract to a meeting with a Chilean news organization.12 Center-left radio station Radio Cooperativa and right-wing daily La Tercera both signed content sharing agreements with CMG in 2020, the 50th year of diplomatic relations between Chile and China. La Tercera published 63 articles under a section titled Conexión China that included Chinese state media articles and interviews from pro-Beijing voices in 2020, but stopped carrying such content after that year. Radio Cooperativa’s content-sharing agreement continued into 2021 and expanded beyond radio across multiple media platforms online. China-related content carried by Radio Cooperativa, housed under the brand Efecto China, included op-eds, interviews, a weekly radio show, videos, and news stories. Under this label, Chinese state media content from outlets like Xinhua, CGTN, and China Radio International (CRI) is mixed with original content or content from other sources on China, which obfuscates the distinction between state-produced propaganda and independent reporting. 13 Radio Cooperativa also republished content from other Chinese state media like China Daily, People’s Daily, and the Global Times, publishing between 20 to 30 articles from Chinese state media outlets by the end of 2021. From 2017 to 2020, the outlet also cooperated with the Beijing-backed Confucius Institute at Pontificia Universidad Católica and Cruzando el Pacífico, a Mandarin-learning education company with close ties to the Chinese embassy in Chile, to hold an annual contest called “88 Frases en Chino” (88 Chinese Phrases) that awarded three participants who best mastered 88 common phrases in Mandarin with a trip to China.14 Other outlets without publicly available content-sharing agreements also republish Chinese state media content or otherwise collaborate with Beijing-backed groups. Popular right-wing outlet El Mercurio and business-focused América Economía occasionally publish inserts or other content from Chinese state media or diplomatic representatives,15 including reprints of CMG articles that sought to distract from the Chinese government’s public health response during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic by attacking the US. The oddity of these articles was commented on by local journalists.16 In October 2019, the Chinese embassy bought eight full pages in El Mercurio to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC, with articles written by Chinese and Chilean diplomats, academics, public opinion leaders, and businessmen.17 Emol, a digital outlet owned by El Mercurio that has its own editorial body, reposted some inserts from the special edition issues along with translated articles originally published by Chinese state media outlets such as China Radio International (CRI), Global Times, and China Global Television Network (CGTN). As of November 2022, Emol had over 2.6 million followers across multiple social media outlets.18 An interview with a CMG journalist conducted by Emol TV about racism against Asians and Chinese people during the COVID-19 pandemic reached over 36,000 views on their channel.19 El Mostrador, Chile’s first exclusively digital outlet and increasingly an agenda-setter for news in Chile, republished Chinese state media content during the coverage period and met with the Chinese ambassador in March 2022.20 The international news agency Pressenza, which has a bureau in Chile, also regularly published op-eds that repeated Chinese state propaganda or promoted a more favorable view towards China.21 In 2020, the co-director of Pressenza’s Chile bureau participated in an event commemorating 50 years of Chile-China relations where she remarked that “we are convinced that communications play a fundamental role in bringing peoples together, in the mutual recognition of their independence and the development of cooperative and friendly relations.”22 Some Chilean media companies produced content in partnership with Chinese outlets: private television company Mega worked with CMG to coproduce a series of culturally focused 45-minute episodes showcasing parts of mainland China, which aired from December 2020 to January 2021.23 Mega is a member of the Colombia-headquartered Latin American Information Alliance (AIL), which cooperates closely with Chinese state media. For example, AIL inked a deal to share information on pandemic reporting with CMG in August 2020. 24 According to one journalist interviewed for this report, Chilean journalists sometimes wrote articles that effectively repackaged Beijing’s propaganda for paid media content that was not labeled as such.25 Chilean news outlets participated in China–Latin America media cooperation events during the coverage period.26 For example, Chilean journalists participated in a 2019 Chinese foreign ministry press briefing as part of the China-Latin America Media Exchange Center, a program for enhancing media cooperation between foreign and Chinese media that is overseen by the semi-official China Public Diplomacy Association.27 In August 2020, the free-to-air television channel Canal 13 was one of 15 media outlets that participated in an online forum for media cooperation with “Latin American Partners” co-hosted by CMG and the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).28 Chile previously led regional efforts to foster closer media ties between Latin American and Chinese media outlets. In 2016, Chile hosted the first-ever China–Latin America Media Leaders’ Summit, which was attended by Xi Jinping and then-Chilean president Michelle Bachelet.29 The event was jointly organized by ELAC and the PRC State Council Information Office.30
  • Stronger diplomatic presence on traditional media, less on social media: Former Chinese ambassador Xu was known for his “wolf-warrior” approach to diplomacy, attacking the US and critics of Chinese policy in television appearances and print media op-eds.31 In April 2019, Xu said in an interview with La Tercera that then-US secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s comments regarding Huawei showed that the American diplomat had “lost his mind.”32 In August 2019, Xu published an op-ed in El Mercurio criticizing legislator Jaime Bellolio for meeting with Joshua Wong, a leader of the Hong Kong prodemocracy protests, saying he had been “with the wrong person.”33 Niu Qingbao, Xu’s replacement, continued to publish extensively in outlets like Radio Cooperativa and La Tercera that had close cooperation with Chinese state entities, as well as the online outlet El Mostrador.34 Though the ambassador does not have a personal social media account, the Chinese embassy in Chile has an active Twitter account with 1,189 followers and 300 posts as of December 2021.35 The account mostly reposts content from Chinese state media in Spanish (Xinhua) and English (China Daily). As of January 2022, the Chinese embassy was not present on Facebook, despite it being the most popular social media platform for Chileans.
  • Chinese state media presence: Xinhua has a branch office in the Chilean capital Santiago and at least one active correspondent in the country.36 In 2015, Xinhua signed an agreement with the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs to promote information sharing, citing Chile’s FTA with China as the reason for additional exchange of information.37 CCTV and CGTN are available via cable provider GTD Manquehue and DirecTV satellite service. There is no disaggregated data on Chinese state media’s television audience in Chile. More broadly, paid television maintains a 36 percent share of television consumption in Chile.38 In terms of social media, Chile is the sixth most common country of origin for Xinhua Español’s Twitter followers and the seventh-largest for followers of CGTN Español.39 CGTN also has correspondents based in the country.40
  • Limited presence of accredited journalists in China: There are only a few known instances of Chilean journalists visiting China since 2019, mainly due to travel restrictions implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in early 2020 and political unrest within Chile. In April 2019, a convoy of several journalists and production teams traveled with then-president Piñera to China,41 one of whom interviewed the chief executive of Huawei Chile and discussed the benefits of fifth generation (5G) technology for mobile networks for Chileans.42 During his trip, Piñera made comments defending the Chinese government, which were reproduced by journalists (see below). In the absence of accredited Chilean journalists based in China, young Chilean social media influencers living in China have been instrumental in providing accessible news about China as well as promoting closer ties between the two countries. YouTuber Cassandra Armijo has been contacted by travel agencies from various Chinese provinces to promote tourism.43 Since 2020, she has also posted vlogs about the daily reality of living in China under the CCP’s “Zero Covid” policy.44 She had 199,000 subscribers on YouTube and over 20,000 followers on Instagram by the end of December 2021, and was featured in La Tercera in 2020 as an example of growing Chilean connections with China.45
  • Support from political and economic elite: Although critical voices have grown in prominence in recent years, public opinion influencers still defend Beijing’s influence in Chile as well as the CCP’s human rights record. Chilean politicians and legislators from across the political spectrum have been invited to travel to China.46 In 2019, then-president Piñera stated while visiting China that “every country has a right to the political system of its choosing”—repeating one of Beijing’s key defenses against foreign criticism.47 The former centrist president Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, who accompanied Piñera on the trip, has advocated for closer trade and cooperation with China48 and promoted specific Chinese-backed projects such as the construction of trans-Pacific fiber optic internet cables.49 Andrónico Luksic, chairman of the conglomerate that owns television channel Canal 13, also accompanied Piñera on the trip.50 Similar messages are repeated by representatives like Issa Kort, president of the Chilean Congress’s China Political Dialogue Committee,51 and academics like Yun Tso Lee from the Universidad del Desarrollo, who has argued that “any country would be angry if other states were meddling in their internal affairs” in a piece responding to international criticism of the CCP’s crackdown in Hong Kong.52 In August 2019, the Communist Party of Chile, which was part of the leftist ruling coalition led by former president Michelle Bachelet from 2013–18, sent a parliamentary envoy to visit mainland China to learn about the Chinese development model.53 One of the attendees, Karol Cariola, was quoted by Chilean media saying that “China is a democracy” and “there is free access to the Internet in China,” and these statements were discredited by local journalists.54 Experts on the bilateral relationship argue that such trips could lead to a stronger and more organized pro-China lobby in Chile’s legislature, as they have in other Latin American countries.55 At least nine meetings between Chinese and Chilean political representatives were organized from 2019-2020.56 Chilean health authorities have highlighted China’s aid in countering the COVID-19 pandemic in Chile through the donation of medical supplies, vaccines sales from Chinese companies, and the construction of a laboratory for vaccine production. Chilean minister of health Jaime Mañalich appeared at a public ceremony to a relatively small donation of medical supplies from the Chinese embassy on behalf of the Chilean government. This formal event lent support to Beijing’s narrative that it has been a key partner for Chile’s pandemic relief, despite the fact that most donations came from private Chilean companies that have businesses in China.57 Chile’s Ministry of Health invited Chinese ambassador Niu to give speeches on several occasions in front of local media outlets.58 In February 2021, President Piñera publicly stated that vaccines from China were “safe and efficient” after receiving his vaccine, and his statement was promoted by the Chinese embassy in Chile to counter criticisms of the efficacy of Chinese-made vaccines.59

Disinformation campaigns

For the purposes of this report, disinformation is defined as the intentional dissemination of false or misleading content, especially through inauthentic activity—such as the use of fake accounts—on global social media platforms. During the coverage period, the Chinese ambassador and Spanish-language Chinese state media have repeated global disinformation regarding the origins of COVID-19.60 As detailed elsewhere in this report, both Chinese diplomats in Chile have made misleading statements about topics like democracy in Hong Kong and promoted anti-US narratives. While some emerging evidence suggests bots that boosted the accounts of Chinese diplomats were active in the country,61 researchers have not found evidence of specific disinformation campaigns targeting Chilean audiences.

Censorship and intimidation

There appears to be some self-censorship on China-related issues among Chilean commentators. One opinion editor for a mainstream outlet with a dedicated China section who was interviewed for this report and requested anonymity said that “there is self-censorship to some extent.” He explained that opinion leaders avoided “publishing strong criticism of China” for economic reasons, and to avoid getting “in trouble with China or los[ing] favor [with] China.”62 He added, “The articles that I receive are positive towards China and discuss how Chile can be a better partner of the country. If I want something more critical, I need to look for it.”63 Chinese diplomats have used their public platform to criticize Chilean legislators and foreign officials whom they perceive as undermining Beijing’s position on sensitive topics like Hong Kong’s independence. However, Chilean journalists interviewed for this report did not report facing targeted intimidation or harassment from the Chinese embassy.

Control over content distribution infrastructure

China-based companies with ties to the CCP are not present in Chile’s digital television infrastructure, but have been gaining a presence on social media, creating potential vulnerability for future manipulation. In 2020, TikTok, a global subsidiary of the Beijing-based social media company ByteDance, was the most downloaded social media app in Chile.64 Some Chilean politicians and media outlets use TikTok to reach younger audiences, including the television channel Meganoticias, which has 358,000 followers on the app.65 There have been documented cases around the world of TikTok removing or downplaying politically sensitive content, including content that violates domestic Chinese censorship guidelines, although the company has subsequently reported correcting many of these errors.66

Huawei a PRC company with close CCP ties and a record of building censorship and surveillance systems in China and abroad,67 was the second largest seller of mobile phones in the country in 2020.68 By the end of 2021, Huawei had built several data centers in Chile and was a main supplier to telecommunications companies like WOM and Movistar (Telefonica), both of which are involved in Chile’s transition to fifth generation (5G) wireless networks.69 During the coverage period, there was no evidence of political censorship or content manipulation on TikTok or devices using Huawei technology.

Dissemination of CCP media norms, tactics, or governance models

There is a growing effort by the Chinese government to train journalists in Chile as part of a wider policy spanning Latin America and the Caribbean. Speaking at the opening ceremony of the 2016 China-Latin America and Caribbean Media Summit in Santiago, Xi Jinping declared a commitment to train 500 media practitioners from Latin America and the Caribbean by 2021 and expressed a desire to see China and Latin America tell their own stories without the input of third parties, which he said could negatively distort information.70 While such “training” trips can include some technical capacity-building elements, they have also been described as free propaganda tours that promote the CCP’s agenda, image, and media governance model.71 Travel restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the program, and the number of journalists who ultimately participated in this project is unclear. In December 2018, Pontificia Universidad Católica signed a memorandum of understanding with Tsinghua University to provide fully paid scholarships for Chilean students to study a master’s degree in Global Business Journalism from 2019–20 at Tsinghua.72 Information on the details of this program are limited. However, while such programs offer a rare opportunity for journalism students to gain exposure to China, they are likely designed to encourage journalism that favors the Chinese government or promotes its views.

Chinese diaspora media

Local community leaders estimated the Chinese ethnic and diaspora population in Chile to be around 30,000 in 2018.73 Beijing plays a key role in shaping the media that is available to Chinese diaspora groups. Diaspora organizations like the Zhijing Chinese Association (智京中华会馆) received support from the Chinese embassy to promote Chinese-language education and media,74 and Chinese-language media outlets like Zhihua News Agency (智华新闻社) and “Window on Chile,” (智利之窗), published weekly by the Brazil-headquartered South America Overseas News since 2017,75 sent representatives to the 10th World Chinese Media Forum, a Chinese state-sponsored event jointly organized by the State Council Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, the Hebei Provincial People’s Government, and the state news agency China News Service.76 These outlets maintain a pro-Beijing editorial line. During the 2019 Hong Kong protests, for example, Zhihua published a statement from 23 diaspora groups condemning prodemocracy protesters.77

Chinese state media also provide content to a variety of diaspora-focused news sources in Chile. Zhihua News Agency, hosted on, serves as the Chilean content partner for the People’s Daily, which is featured on the website’s front page.78 Zhihua presents pro-Beijing narratives on sensitive topics like Xinjiang and Hong Kong.79 “Window on Chile” and Ordinary People (小人物), a monthly cultural magazine newspaper founded in 2012 with a print distribution of 1,000,80 also published articles from Chinese state media. Five Chile-focused WeChat news accounts reviewed by Freedom House, including the accounts of Zhihua News Agency and Ordinary People, maintained pro-Beijing narratives on topics like the BRI, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and COVID-19.81

header4 Resilience + response

Underlying media resilience

  • Strengthening of journalism practices and investigative journalism: Historically, Chile has not had a strong tradition of watchdog journalism. That has evolved in the aftermath of social protests in the months before the COVID-19 pandemic.1 For example, investigative journalism website has become an important agenda-setter for national news discussions.2 According to journalists interviewed for this report, the Chilean press is opposed to propaganda attempts outside of paid inserts, and the commercial departments of newspapers have little influence on editorial decisions. Journalists interviewed for a 2021 report published by the Media for Democracy Monitor noted that they could freely carry out their professional duties and that there is a culture among Chilean journalists of adhering to industry ethics, despite the weakness of self-regulatory professional media bodies.3
  • Initiatives to counter disinformation: In recent years, several multi-stakeholder initiatives have emerged to promote awareness on disinformation. TechCamp Chile, one such initiative, focuses particularly on women and Indigenous peoples who participated in recent elections or have been impacted by constitutional reforms. The initiative had broad participation with leaders from civil society, businesses, schools, and media outlets like La Tercera, which is helping to create a platform for media partners to incorporate their point of view.4 In December 2019, there were at least 17 active data verification platforms in Chile.5 New journalist education programs are also starting to incorporate the issue of fake news, though there is little discussion of foreign actors’ role in spreading disinformation or misinformation.6
  • Media transparency: All media organizations in Chile are legally required to publish the name and address of their legal representative or owner, as well as the outlet’s director.7 Disclosing detailed information about the medium’s ownership upon request is also compulsory.8 Additionally, Chile has a transparency law requiring public organizations—including publicly funded media groups—to make their financial status, salaries, and management board information available to citizens.9 These details are not as readily available for private media, which must voluntarily make such information public.10

China-specific resilience

  • Growing coverage of China-related issues and CCP influence efforts, including the use of international wires: According to current journalists, issues related to China regularly make it to the front page of newspapers, and there is consistent coverage of sensitive issues, though the tone may vary from paper to paper.11 Even papers that had content sharing agreements with Chinese state media outlets published pieces critical of China’s domestic policy, often using international wires. For instance, La Tercera published an Agencia EFE piece in 2019 about the crackdown on Muslims in Xinjiang.12 Emol, the online version of El Mercurio, published an Agence-France Presse (AFP) piece about forced sterilizations in Xinjiang in 2021.13 Media and think-tank attention on the topic of Chinese influence is also growing. Sascha Hannig, researcher at Instituto Desafíos de la Democracia (IDD), Francisco Urdinez, assistant professor at Pontificia Universidad Católica, and Carlos Portales of the Universidad de Chile have published and spoken publicly on the dangers of CCP influence efforts.14 In 2021, multimedia brand Pauta published a story about Beijing’s “offensive media campaign” in Chile.15 Various papers also published commentary on Chinese ambassador Xu’s aggressive style.16
  • Journalistic awareness: Journalists interviewed for this report acknowledged the issue of Chinese state actors’ increasingly frequent attempts to influence Chilean media.17 One editor said that because they knew news audiences trusted the information from their paper was accurate, they were aware that readers could be confused by paid inserts that looked similar to a regular article.18 At the same time, they noted that other embassies also pay for inserts to portray a good image of their countries or to celebrate key anniversaries, and thus saw no problem with the practice. One former journalist noted that they had been asked to cover events hosted by other embassies that had collaborated with their organization in the past.19
  • Content agreements drying up: Radio Pauta and other outlets received free access to Xinhua News Agency for a trial period but decided not to continue when it was due to be paid.20 According to one journalist from a major newspaper who was interviewed anonymously for this report, Chinese state media representatives would arrive to a product presentation meeting, but then expect their counterparts at the Chilean outlet to sign the contract the same day, generating immediate skepticism from the Chilean outlet.21 Three interviewees said that while they would not accept written content from Chinese media representatives, they would be more willing to use media deals to get access to a free image database, which could be prohibitively expensive from other sources.22 La Tercera, which had an ongoing content sharing agreement with CMG, stopped publishing Chinese state media content after September 2020.
  • Political pushback: Several legislators have spoken openly about the risks of PRC influence. Jaime Naranjo from the Socialist Party (PS) has spoken out regarding concerns about Chinese investment in Chile’s critical infrastructure—particularly in sensitive areas such as data privacy.23 There was strong public pressure against the Chinese company Aisino’s involvement in Chile’s national passport and personal information system.24 However, legislative efforts to block further investments that could pose a risk to national security have been stymied by Chile’s strong dependence on Chinese trade and investments.25 In 2019, Jaime Bellolio from the Independent Democratic Union (UDI) party and Vlado Mirosevic of the Liberal Party (PL) traveled to Taiwan and also met with the prodemocracy activist Joshua Wong in Hong Kong. The Chinese embassy criticized the trip, and the Chinese ambassador published an op-ed in El Mercurio complaining that the deputy had “defamed and seriously slandered our country as if he were an authority on morality.”26 In his reply, Bellolio said that the ambassador should not bully him, adding “China may be one of the largest countries in the world, but in terms of human rights and democracy it is one of the smallest.”27 He later reiterated his support for Wong’s cause and suggested bringing the activist to Chile.28

header5 Vulnerabilities

  • Gaps in protections against foreign and political influence: Chile has one of the highest levels of foreign media ownership in the world, estimated to be more than 60 percent in 2016.1 Compared to other Latin American countries, it has relatively limited restrictions on the ownership and control of broadcasters.2 Foreign investors may participate in broadcasting activities in Chile and even serve as exclusive controllers of Chilean broadcasting companies.3 However, there is a 10 percent limit on foreign investment for radio broadcasters, unless the foreign country has a reciprocity agreement that allows Chileans to get a radio license in the foreign country with fewer restrictions.4 Print media concentration is high, with an effectively unchallenged duopoly of El Mercurio Group and Copesa, which owns La Tercera, both of which cooperated with Chinese state media during the coverage period.5 Chile has no rules against partisan or political ownership of media groups.6 There are also currently no regulations regarding the cross-ownership of media companies, which would help to protect media diversity.7 Finally, Chile lacks adequate regulation ensuring transparency in media advertising, particularly online.8 As a result, Chinese state media placements are inadequately labeled and easily conflated with regular news content.9
  • Deterioration of press freedom: Chile’s score on Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index has fallen significantly since 2016.10 This decline in media freedom stems primarily from a dramatic increase in violence against Chilean journalists since the beginning of antigovernment protests in 2019, including threats and attacks from police officers and the military.11 Police officers and the military have also used surveillance and public pushback to intimidate journalists producing unfavorable coverage.12
  • Financial issues in the media: Many Chilean media outlets struggle financially, and funding challenges have been exacerbated by the ongoing economic crisis. For example, one of the country’s largest papers, La Tercera, faced difficulties that led it to cease publishing its print edition.13 An editor of a Chilean outlet interviewed for this report said that funding challenges were so significant that sometimes it seemed that the newspaper’s commercial department would accept any advertorial content so long as it was not illegal, and “would even sell their soul” to bring in money.14

header6 Impact and Public Opinion

There is a public opinion majority in Chile broadly in favor of cooperation with China but Chinese state media influence has not stifled pushback against the CCP’s social governance model nor growing concern about its aggressive behavior. A 2019 poll by the research group Cadem found that 51 percent of Chileans believed that their country should focus on deepening trade relations with China, while only 25 percent said that Chile should prioritize deepening trade relations with the United States. Fifteen percent supported increasing trade with China and the United States equally. The same study found that 77 percent of Chileans have an overall positive impression of China, which is in line with previous years.1 However, a survey from May 2020 revealed that Chileans associated China with more negative than positive descriptors—compared to France, Italy, Japan, or the United States.2 A separate survey from May 2021 found that 50 percent of Chileans felt “very positive” or “positive” about the fact that Chinese companies have been among the largest investors in Latin American in the past 10 years, whereas only 25 percent felt “negative” or “very negative.”3

A 2020 Latinobarometer survey measuring Chilean perspectives on the Chinese government revealed that less than 5 percent of Chileans had a positive impression of Xi Jinping.4 Although not precisely comparable, this could indicate a worsening of perceptions from 2018, when a Pew survey showed that 20 percent of Chileans “[had] confidence” in Xi.5

header7 Future Trajectory

The following are potential developments related to Beijing’s media influence in Chile that should be closely monitored in the coming years.

  • Expanding media collaborations: In December 2021, CGTN launched the China-Latin America Media Action project, aimed at promoting greater collaboration between Latin American media organizations and CGTN.1 How this—and the continued collaboration with Radio Cooperativa—play out should be of note, especially considering the financial challenges facing the Chilean media sector.
  • Impact of greater academic collaboration: Academic cooperation with Chinese entities is expanding, and should be monitored to ensure it does not impact academic freedom. In December 2018, Tsinghua University launched its Latin America center in Santiago.2 There are currently three Confucius Institutes in Chile. Top-ranked Pontificia Universidad Católica has a Confucius Institute and has developed other ties with Chinese institutions, including involvement with Chinese studies.3 Universidad Santo Tomás hosts a Confucius Institute and also houses the Chinese institution that coordinates the Confucius Centers in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Universidad de La Frontera (UFRO) hosts a Confucius Institute as well.4 Other universities, such as the University of Chile, the University of Santiago, and Andrés Bello University, have growing China studies centers. How these institutions navigate the challenge of developing independent perspectives on China and their role in shaping media discourse will be critical.
  • Economic crisis facing media: Chile’s economic crisis is impacting a media sphere that was already heavily concentrated and vulnerable.5 Monitoring media ownership transfers and changes will be key to understanding potential shifts in editorial lines as well as greater vulnerabilities to partisan influence—both domestic and foreign—that could undermine citizens’ rights to access to information and freedom of speech.
  • Monitoring and reporting on future disinformation efforts: Journalists and editors interviewed for this report warn that there is a lack of understanding among academics, civil society, and policymakers on how state-sponsored disinformation online works as well as efforts to identify and counter malign behavior.6 Recent studies have investigated links between Venezuelan, Russian, and Chinese interactions and profiled state-linked media accounts’ follower volume, narratives, and the evolving use of these channels during the COVID-19 pandemic. Such efforts represent only a beginning.7 Researchers should also study and monitor future behavior on video-sharing channels, which are more difficult to target with text-based analysis.

On Chile

See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.

See More
  • Global Freedom Score

    94 100 free