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 a possible model for Chile to emulate. Some politicians and media commentators have expressed skepticism about China’s aggressive diplomacy, its handling of human rights, and economic investment in Chile.
- 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.
- 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 Economia, 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. The private television network Mega also worked with China Media Group to coproduce a series focused on Chinese culture.
- 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.
- 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.
- Strong influence on diaspora media: The Chinese 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.
- 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.
- 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 anti-government 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
- 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.
The full Chile country report will be posted as soon as it becomes available.
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