France

Resilient
Beijing’s Media Influence Efforts
High
36 85
Local Resilience & Response
Very High
63 85
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least influence) to 85 (most influence)

header1 Key findings

Report by: Angeli Datt and Anonymous

 

  • Increased influence efforts: Beijing’s media influence efforts in France increased during the coverage period (2019–21). Chinese diplomats and state-linked influencers tried to shape media narratives on the COVID-19 pandemic, including attacking France’s response to the pandemic or French journalists and commentators, while also pushing propaganda about China on social media.
  • Limited public opinion impact: Despite increased influence efforts and the large physical presence of Chinese state media publishing French-language content, Beijing’s narratives have mainly provoked political and media elites into investigating and exposing Chinese government’s activities. The Chinese government’s “Wolf Warrior” diplomatic social media strategy, exemplified by the combative Chinese ambassador to France Lu Shaye, has largely backfired by creating a public debate in France about Chinese Communist Party influence in the media and other sectors and pushing the French government to speak out publicly in defence of those under attack. Public opinion polls show an increase in unfavorable opinions towards the Chinese government. (See Impact)
  • Official accounts on social media: Social media has been one avenue to inject Chinese propaganda directly into French discourse. However, Chinese state media accounts appear to be inauthentically inflated by fake accounts. Influencers on social media, several of whom are China Global Television Network Français journalists or otherwise have links to Chinese state media, have hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook. (See Propaganda)
  • Paid content in local French outlets: A major dissemination strategy of Chinese state media is paid content in local outlets, with major outlets across the political spectrum publishing state media content including L’Opinion, Le Figaro, Jeune Afrique, Le Parisien, Le Monde, and Les Echos during the coverage period. TV channel TV5Monde has had a content promotion agreement with CCTV since 2014 and is a member of the Belt and Road News Network. (See Propaganda)
  • Generalized disinformation: Chinese officials used their online presence to promote conspiracy theories and falsehoods, and on occasion to amplify information from fake accounts. (See Propaganda, Disinformation campaigns)
  • Censorship efforts towards French media: There have been public efforts by the Chinese embassy to harass and attack French journalists and commentators online, many of whom are subjected to trolling, an escalation from earlier efforts to quietly pressure media to censor coverage the embassy deemed unfavorable. Most major French media outlets are blocked in China. Journalists in France and regionally based correspondents covering China have faced physical and online harassment. (See Censorship)
  • Dominant influence on Chinese diaspora media in France and across Europe: Chinese-language media in France is dominated by pro-Beijing outlets who partner with propaganda departments in China, though public radio broadcaster Radio France Internationale broadcasts in Mandarin about French, Chinese, and global issues. France is a major hub in Europe for pro-Beijing Chinese-language media distributed in other European countries. Nouvelles d’Europe (欧洲时报) is the oldest Chinese-language news outlet in France and is owned by a company controlled by the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department. (See Diaspora media)
  • Pushback from French media: Despite several French media outlets publishing paid inserts from Chinese state media, most have labeled or discontinued them, possibly due to reputational damage. Mainstream French media continues to conduct in-depth, independent, and critical investigative reporting on China-related issues in France and globally, including reports by Asia-based correspondents and coverage in Africa and the Middle East. (See Resilience and response)
  • Government awakening to Chinese Communist Party influence: During the coverage period, the French government stands out for having twice summoned the Chinese ambassador in response to his and the Chinese embassy’s threats and public attacks on French media, lawmakers, and commentators. (See Resilience and response)
  • Legal and regulatory gaps and need for more attention from civil society: France does not have laws that could limit lawsuits against reporting related to China or other topics that are in the public interest. Huawei, a China-based company with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party and a record of building censorship and surveillance systems in China and abroad, filed a defamation lawsuit against a researcher in March 2019 for her comments about the company. There are no civil society organizations comprehensively tracking and exposing Chinese state-linked disinformation campaigns, social media presence, or influence operations in France and such research is done on an ad hoc basis by media or researchers. (See Resilience and response)

header2 Background

The French political system features vibrant democratic processes and generally strong protections for civil liberties and political rights. France has a status of Free in Freedom in the World 2022, the latest edition of Freedom House’s annual report on political rights and civil liberties;1 and a status of Free in Freedom on the Net 2021, the latest edition of Freedom House’s annual report on internet freedom.2 The media generally operate freely and represents a wide range of political opinions.

Diplomatic relations between France and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) were established on January 27, 1964.3 Relations have largely been friendly for decades though France has regularly spoken out about human rights issues in China, which notably elevated tensions in 2008.4 France is a member of the PRC-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the “Pakistan & East Africa Connecting Europe (PEACE) Cable,” which is part of the Digital Silk Road of the Belt and Road Initiative, terminates in France.5 French political and business elites have mingled closely with their Chinese counterparts, and some high level ex-officials, such as former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, have cultivated extremely close ties to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders.6 France pushes for China-related issues to be considered by the European Union (EU), but generally takes a quieter approach to bilateral relations than English-speaking Western nations.7 It is one of two European countries taking part in freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.8 In March 2021, France as a part of the EU adopted sanctions on four Chinese officials in response to human rights abuses in Xinjiang, the first time the EU has sanctioned Chinese officials since the Tiananmen Massacre of 1989.9 The Chinese government responded with sanctions on several European politicians, including French Member of the European Parliament Raphaël Glucksmann.10 In May 2021, France’s Senate passed a resolution supporting Taiwan’s participation in multilateral institutions,11 and in January 2022 the French parliament recognized the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghurs as a genocide.12

The Chinese expatriate and diaspora population in France is approximately 540,000—about one percent of the total national population—and is considered one of the largest and oldest in Europe.13 Earlier Chinese immigrants largely kept their Chinese nationality, but the younger generation are French nationals. Since 2016, a series of racist attacks and robberies on ethnically Chinese people and the police killing of a Chinese man resulted in increased engagement by the Chinese embassy on security issues,14 including outreach to French nationals of Chinese descent. The embassy now even proposes to finance some of the Franco-Chinese associations led by Chinese-French people.15 There are approximately 47,000 international students from China studying in France, the highest number from any country.16 According to French media, there are approximately 500 to 1,000 Uyghurs in France, one of the largest European Uyghur communities after Turkey, Germany, and Belgium.17 Small communities of Tibetan refugees and Falun Gong practitioners reside in Paris and other cities.18

header3 Beijing’s Media Influence Efforts

Propaganda and promotion of favored narratives

 

Key narratives

For years, Chinese state media and diplomatic narratives in France had focused on promoting a positive image of China and the CCP, including its potential economic benefits to France and Europe, as a part of the CCP’s long-term propaganda strategy to “tell China’s story well.” In 2020, Chinese propaganda in France started to adopt a new, aggressive tone in 2020. State media or officials would try to tie narratives to France or engage French commentators to give a veneer of credibility to propaganda. In many cases, Chinese propaganda crossed into outright falsehoods, which then received further attention among French media and commentators.

Chinese state-linked actors promoted a narrative of China’s successful response to the COVID-19 pandemic and touted China’s role as an “indispensable partner.”1 But it also took a negative tone in April 2020, when the Chinese Embassy criticized France’s handling of the pandemic and accused health professionals of having “abandoned their posts overnight … leaving their residents to die of hunger and disease” in a series of five anonymous articles posted on the embassy website.2 China’s ambassador to France Lu Shaye was summoned by the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs following the publication of these articles. The articles also received widespread and critical media coverage in France. The Chinese government then shifted its narrative to denounce claims that China downplayed the severity of the outbreak in Wuhan and then spread false narratives on the origins of the novel coronavirus, denying that it first appeared in China and claiming it had instead first appeared in Europe or the United States (US).3

Accelerating in 2021, state media began a French version of its global propaganda campaign that attempted to justify its policies in Xinjiang, the Uyghur homeland and location of atrocity crimes against ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, as part of a “people’s war on terror” while simultaneously projecting the narrative of a “beautiful and prosperous Xinjiang.”4 This narrative attempted to use international commentators to push out Chinese state propaganda, using a mix of fake and real foreign influencers.5 In March 2021, CCP mouthpiece People’s Daily and later the Chinese foreign minister praised a book written by a retired French ergonomist, called “Uyghurs: Putting an End to Fake News” that claimed to “refute” fake news coming from Western journalists.6 The same month, Chinese state media outlet China Global Television Network published an article by a mysterious French journalist called “Laurène Beaumond,” who allegedly lived in China for seven years and visited Xinjiang several times. She claimed to want to tell the story of “[her] Xinjiang” which portrayed a glowing endorsement of Chinese government policies, and a direct contrast to the reports of human rights atrocities she claimed were from “individuals who have never set foot in this region of the world.”7 “Laurène Beaumond” was later exposed as the pseudonym used by a former French CCTV presenter.8 Since this article was highlighted, this pseudonym has not been used to publish any other articles.

Other false or misleading content came directly from Chinese diplomats or the embassy, written in French and attempting to defend the CCP’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, atrocities in Xinjiang, and attacks on freedoms in Hong Kong. This diplomatic content was then amplified by state media. Beginning in March 2020, the Chinese embassy in France promoted disinformation on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, falsely suggesting it came from the US.9 In April, the embassy claimed Taiwanese officials, supported by French parliamentarians, had made racist statements towards the head of the World Health Organization.10 These statements caused outrage in France among the political elite and the media. The original article appears to have been taken down,11 but a statement from the embassy’s spokesperson defending the article accused French media of distorting the reports and denigrating China, claiming “to prevent the French population from being disoriented by these media” it needed to respond.12

In a March 2020 interview with a Chinese television station, Chinese ambassador Lu Shaye also accused French media of using “propaganda” to “brainwash” Western public opinion.13 The Chinese embassy also tweeted a link to the infamous CGTN Laurène Beaumond article, but notably the tweet only gained six retweets, demonstrating the low local engagement with the state accounts.14 The Director of the People’s Daily Online French edition, He Qian, often tweets or retweets Chinese disinformation about Xinjiang.15

Narratives that have found some traction in France are those criticizing the United States. This has less to do with local support for China than with the fact that anti-US hegemony narratives have long found support—particularly in the far left-wing of French politics. The Chinese embassy has also criticized some French media for their framing of Beijing’s human rights abuses as veering into anti-Chinese racism, particularly since the growth of the Stop Anti-Asian Hate movement that exploded following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.16 Campaigns denouncing language or imagery that is racist against Chinese and Asian people have been manipulated by the CCP. 17 Chinese state media and officials point to these campaigns to distract from its human rights abuses.18

Key avenues of content dissemination

Chinese state media is available in French and outlets have a strong local presence in the country. CGTN Français is available on local television stations and most state media outlets have French-language websites, though local consumption of such content is not strong. Nearly all major state media outlets, even smaller state-owned provincial or municipality papers, and pro-Beijing Hong Kong outlets have a physical presence in France through bureaus or correspondents.19 China Radio International also broadcasts programs in French, though francophone Africa is their main target. A state-affiliated publishing house also produces the monthly Dialogue Chine-France magazine.20 It is difficult to determine precise circulation figures for these outlets.

Nearly 70 percent of French people get their news from television or online, either the websites of print outlets or social media.21 Nearly 40 percent of online social media users get their news from Facebook.22 CGTN Français, Quotidien du Peuple (People’s Daily), Chine Radio Internationale (CRI), and China.org.cn French all have millions of followers on Facebook. The accounts target French speakers globally including in Africa, the Middle East, and Canada, though France has the highest population of French speakers. French media and civil society investigations concluded the numbers are likely inflated with inauthentic followers, as these pages generate very low traffic or engagement.23 They compared traffic on the websites of major French news websites to Chinese state media outlets in French, and found a striking disparity, determining that Chinese state media social media channels are likely inauthentic. For example, Le Monde’s web traffic ranged from 85 million and 140 million visits per month, compared to CGTN Français’s 250,000 to single peak of 1.5 million.24 CGTN Français is the fourth most followed French-language page in the world, yet it had minimal views and comments/links. Researchers assessed one reason for the low engagement, aside from fake followers, is a lack of content that engages French audiences.25 CGTN Français only bought two ads targeting French Facebook users during the coverage period, further indicating the page does not target French people.26

In practice, the most common avenues through which Chinese state media content reaches local consumers are via social media accounts from diplomatic officials, paid inserts in local media from the Chinese Embassy, and French opinion makers parroting pro-Beijing talking points.

“Wolf Warrior” diplomacy and ambassadorial outreach: China’s ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, who has been in his post since 2019, exemplifies the aggressive “Wolf Warrior” diplomatic image of China that took hold under Xi Jinping’s leadership and expanded during China’s propaganda response to the coronavirus pandemic.27 Under Lu, the embassy has attacked French researchers, lawmakers, and journalists on Twitter—hurling insults or calling them liars—and has spread disinformation about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.28 This tactic has conversely led to a greater French awareness of some Chinese propaganda narratives and influence tactics.29 The “Wolf Warrior” approach is often used to try to intimidate countries into not criticizing Chinese government actions or to signal to domestic audiences that the diplomats are defending China.

The Chinese Embassy in Paris has a Twitter account (@AmbassadeChine), followed by 39,000 people.30 The Embassy also has a Facebook account (AmbassadeChine), followed by 18,000 people.31 China’s consulates in Lyon and Strasbourg both have Twitter accounts with 2,100 and 1,900 followers, respectively.32 Between 12-14 percent of the embassy and consulates’ Tweets during an seven-month period from June 2020 to February 2021 were found to have been retweeted by fake accounts that Twitter later suspended, according to a joint investigation by the Oxford Internet Institute and the Associated Press (AP).33

Since early 2020, content from the embassy has regularly gone viral due to its provocative and antagonistic nature. The embassy has posted propaganda videos produced in French denouncing attacks on China, though they tend to generate more controversy than likes.34 In late 2021, the Chinese embassy in France also released a propaganda video attacking the United States during a global summit on democracy, cementing its role as one of the most combative diplomatic outposts.35

Ambassador Lu Shaye has had at least two op-eds published in French media during the coverage period, in L’Opinion on July 30, 2021 and December 1, 2019.36 He has also on occasion had his comments published in or aired by local media outlets. He has been featured in interviews published by L’Opinion on June 17, 2021 and April 29, 2020,37 and interviewed by television channel France 24.38 During the initial outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, from February to April 2020 Lu gave four interviews to BFM TV channel defending China’s approach to COVID-19.39

Growth of state-linked social media influencers: While direct engagement with official state media accounts appears relatively low, Chinese state-linked influencers or influencers pushing pro-Beijing narratives appear to be on the rise. A report from October 2020 found a new group of young, female Chinese influencers have been gaining popularity on their French-language pages.40 The nine Facebook accounts are all still active as of writing and boast follower ranges of 10,000 to 1.1 million, and six out of the nine accounts have over 100,000 followers.41 All of the accounts are labelled as Chinese state-owned media and many of the women either worked for or were promoted by Chinese state media. Their posts tended to cover cultural or lifestyle issues that attempt to present a benign and friendly perspective on China, but also included news reports from state media, or veer into promoting misleading or false information on the COVID-19 pandemic, or propaganda about Chinese company Huawei.42 The Chinese government has also increasingly turned to foreign influencers based in China to whitewash propaganda, particularly about human rights abuses in Xinjiang or the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. The commentators rarely disclose the support they get from the Chinese government—which grants them access to areas off-limits to independent reporters, amplifies their content on state media and diplomatic social media accounts, and in some cases, gives them free hotels and payment.43 Some popular YouTube influencers work for Chinese state media, but their accounts are not labeled as being government-linked, obscuring their ties to state propaganda organs.

Paid content or news exchanges in French media: Chinese state media entities have signed cooperation agreements with print and broadcast media in France, though the extent to which some of them are currently active is unclear. Chinese state media content is generally found in French media through paid advertorial inserts. L’Opinion,44 Le Figaro,45 Jeune Afrique,46 Le Parisien, Le Monde, and Les Echos47 all have published at least one paid advertorial insert from a Chinese state-run news outlet since 2019, with Jeune Afrique and L’Opinion doing so relatively frequently. Center-right daily newspaper Le Figaro, the oldest national newspaper in France with the largest circulation in the country at 347,000 subscribers,48 published China Daily’s “China Watch” supplement until 2020 and continues to regularly publish branded Xinhua content.49 Most Xinhua articles published by Le Figaro focus on France-China economic, cultural, environmental, and scientific topics and have a disclaimer at the end of the articles: “Content designed and offered by XINHUA NEWS. The editorial staff of Le Figaro did not participate in the production of this article.” 50 Jeune Afrique, a French-language weekly magazine focused on African news with an editorial staff based in France and circulation around 53,000,51 has published content from People’s Daily mainly focused on China-Africa relations. While it is labeled as “People’s Daily Online” content, the outlet described it as “China's largest newspaper” and failed to mention it is owned and operated by the Chinese Communist Party.

These inserts have been utilized during large, global CCP propaganda campaigns. For example, between March 5 and March 11, 2021, People’s Daily touted its successful efforts in placing propaganda pieces about Xi Jinping’s antipoverty campaign in newspapers around the globe during China’s annual legislative meetings. The paper claimed it had placed over 750 articles in 12 languages in nearly 200 media outlets from over 40 countries.52 Two advertorial articles were published in France’s L’Opinion, a liberal pro-business and pro-European daily newspaper.53 A full-page ad in this publication would normally cost around €18,000-30,000 (US$19,000-32,000), though it is unknown how much People’s Daily paid.54

TV channel TV5Monde signed a “content promotion agreement” with CCTV in 2014,55 and is also a Member of the Belt and Road News Network.56 Xinhua and French news wire Agence France-Presse (AFP) have had an exchange agreement since 1957—one of dozens of partnerships that AFP has—and in December 2018 agreed to further enhance cooperation on video and new media content.57 Xinhua wire content can be more attractive to some media than AFP content.58 An anonymous former editorial director at a French media house remarked in an interview in 2019, “At first, the copy intended for foreigners was of poor quality. To improve the level, they used the pool of unemployed journalists. Today, the newsrooms of CCTV or Xinhua are full of highly paid Westerners. The commercial strategy is very aggressive, with very low prices.”59

Altice Group-owned BFM Business, whose 24-hour news channel BFM TV is France’s most watched news television channel, publishes content produced by China Radio International (CRI). Content from the second half of 2021 began to display the label “editorial staff of BFM Business did not participate in the production of this content” but earlier pieces did not carry that warning.60 BFM Business also airs a short daily television program called “Chine Eco,”61 which focuses on economic affairs and investing in China, and is partly produced by CRI.62 According to the editorial director at the time the partnership was signed, CRI approached them about sponsoring a program where they “talk about business in China” though CRI remains in control over content.63

Adoption of Chinese state media narratives by French opinion makers: Some French politicians and academics known to be relatively friendly toward Beijing have echoed CCP talking points, and they have at times been quoted in Chinese state media, creating the appearance of French support for Chinese government positions. Pro-Beijing content may enter French mainstream media through friendly political or cultural elites making statements to the media that parrot Beijing’s lines. For example, on October 19, 2021, French MP and presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon said in an interview with BFMTV that “the Chinese have no intention of invading Taiwan but if Taiwan declares itself independent then it is possible that China, rightly, finds that a red line has been crossed.”64 Former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who Xi Jinping named a “friend of China” in 2019, has repeatedly paraphrased CCP propaganda talking points, including on international affairs, using terms like “community of shared destiny,” and has promoted the Belt and Road Initiative. However, his comments are more likely to be found in Chinese state media than in mainstream French outlets and his close ties to Chinese authorities have been the subject of several investigations by French media.65

Chinese state media recognizes the propaganda significance of being located in the heart of Paris and amplifying seeming support from local elites.66 In December 2019, CGTN launched a new documentary series about China at the prestigious Paris venue Carrousel du Louvre, which was attended by a former government spokesman Jean-François Copé and other prominent attendees from French art, television, and Franco-Chinese relations.67

Disinformation campaigns

During the coverage period—from January 2019 to December 2021—at least two disinformation campaigns reached news consumers in France. For the purposes of this report, disinformation is defined as the purposeful dissemination of false or misleading content, especially through inauthentic activity—via fake accounts, for example—on global social media platforms. In June 2020, the EU accused the Chinese government of being behind “targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns” in the EU and globally, and such narratives are covered in the Propaganda section.68 There appears to be little evidence of Chinese state-linked inauthentic networks pushing false or misleading information on domestic political issues, though Chinese state media amplifies narratives on anti-Asian racism or the gilet jaunes “yellow vest” protests in order to sow local divisions.69

A February 2021 research report from Graphika found that the Chinese embassy in France’s Twitter account had amplified posts from a fake account that was part of a network called “Spamouflage.”70 The engagement with this fake account marked the period when the network began to break out of its “echo chamber” of only being retweeted by fellow fake accounts. The account called “He Jingrun” was retweeted 18 times by the Chinese Embassy in France’s account and quote-tweeted nine times. Some of the content seemed innocuous, such as quote tweeting a video of refrigeration techniques in Mongolia and translating the caption into French. That account also repeatedly amplified posts from the Chinese Embassy in France. The researchers said there is no evidence the diplomats knew they were boosting fake accounts. A 2021 investigation from the Oxford Internet Institute and AP found that 12-14 percent of the retweets of posts from Chinese embassy and consulates’ in France Twitter accounts during an seven-month period in 2020-2021 were from fake accounts that Twitter later suspended.71

Censorship and intimidation

French journalists and media in China have been subjected to censorship and harassment for their reporting. Inside France, there have been very public efforts by the Chinese embassy to attack journalists for their reporting, an escalation of earlier efforts to quietly pressure media on coverage the embassy deemed unfavorable. For example, on October 24, 2021, the Chinese embassy in France posted several messages on Twitter as well as on its website targeting Le Figaro journalist Sébastien Falletti after he published an article on whether the Taiwan issue could trigger World War III. 72 According to the Chinese Embassy’s website, these articles are “puffed up with lies and ramblings and seriously mislead the public.”73 In an earlier incident, in December 2018 the Chinese embassy unsuccessfully tried to block the broadcast of a documentary titled “The World According to Xi Jinping” on Arte.tv by contacting the channel and the French foreign ministry privately, but the channel aired the documentary despite the pressure.74 The Consul General of China in Strasbourg, headquarters of Arte, also tried to meet the directors of the Franco-German channel the day after the broadcast.

The websites of mainstream French outlets Le Monde, Libération, and Radio France Internationale have been blocked in China for several years.75 Their coverage is usually critical of the Chinese government, and Le Monde was blocked in 2014 following the publication of an “Offshore Leaks” investigation about the hidden wealth of Chinese officials.76 In 2015, French journalist Ursula Gauthier was expelled from China for criticizing Beijing’s policies against Uyghurs in Xinjiang.77 French journalists have faced harassment for trying to report from China. For instance, on October 20, 2021, France 2 correspondent Arnauld Miguet was blocked by the Chinese police from reporting on the preparations of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in Hebei’s Chongli district.78

There have been no documented instances of physical attacks on journalists in France, media owners suppressing critical coverage of China, or advertisers avoiding or dropping ads based on coverage. However, local journalists and commentators critical of the Chinese government reported being intimidated or verbally abused online by CCP-aligned trolls.79 For example, in March 2021, the Chinese ambassador used verbal insults on Twitter to attack French researcher Antoine Bondaz, calling him a “small-time thug” and a “mad hyena” for his Twitter comments.80 The insults led to widespread criticism and the second time Ambassador Lu Shaye was summoned by the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs.

Powerful state-linked actor Huawei filed a defamation suit against French researcher Valérie Niquet in March 2019 after she said on TV that “Huawei is directly under the control of the State and the CCP.” These comments were made on a France5 TV show called “C dans l’air” on February 7 as well as similar comments a few days earlier on TF1. 81 Huawei also reportedly filed a lawsuit against the presenter of “C dans l’air” and the production company. At the time of writing, the case is ongoing.

Control over content distribution infrastructure

Chinese companies do not control any of France’s digital or cable television infrastructure. TikTok, a global subsidiary of the Beijing-based social media company ByteDance, was the most downloaded app in France in 2020. It is widely used by French media, with Le Monde, Le Figaro, France TV, and TF1 all operating TikTok accounts. Several journalists also have personal accounts on TikTok.82 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.83 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.84 WeChat, owned by PRC-based technology company Tencent which has close ties to the CCP, is a popular app among tourists and members of the diaspora in France. Several French cultural and transport institutions have official WeChat accounts.85 Official accounts can only be registered as Chinese accounts, subjecting them to Chinese government censorship and surveillance rules.

Two telecoms operators (Bouygues Telecom and SFR) use Huawei antennas for their 5G network. However, a law passed by the French parliament in 2020 requires that these antennas be removed by 2028.86 In the second half of 2021, Xiaomi held a 30% share of France’s mobile phone market.87 Xiaomi is a PRC-based company whose mobile phone devices are sold globally. In 2021, a security audit by the Lithuanian government found latent censorship blacklists in Chinese and English containing terms that might be sensitive to the CCP, as well as broader terms related to human rights, religion, and democracy; the lists were periodically updated but not active at the time of the investigation.88 Huawei also used to have a significant share (over 10%) of the smartphone market in France, but due to US sanctions, the firm now holds less than 5% of the market share.

Dissemination of CCP media norms, tactics, or governance models

There was no evidence during the coverage period that French media professionals or government officials received trainings aimed at disseminating Beijing’s information-control tactics and norms or were otherwise convinced to adopt CCP-style media governance models.

Chinese diaspora media

Chinese diaspora media in France is dominated by pro-Beijing content, giving the country’s estimated 540,000 Chinese speakers limited access to local independent media. Public radio broadcaster Radio France Internationale (RFI) broadcasts in Mandarin about French, Chinese, and global issues, and has both Simplified and Traditional Chinese versions of its website.89 Epoch Times, a newspaper started by Falun Gong practitioners that follows an anti-CCP editorial line, is available in French and Chinese, though its popularity is unknown.90 France is a major hub for pro-Beijing Chinese-language media distributed in other European countries.

A number of Chinese-language media in France were highlighted at the 2019 World Chinese Media Forum, including the president of Guang Hua Cultures et Média, representatives of Nouvelles d’Europe, Mandarin TV, France-China Net, and Europe Business News (details on these outlets below).91 The summit—jointly organized by the State Council Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, the Hebei Provincial People’s Government, and state news agency China News Service— aimed to convene Chinese-language press groups from around the world and encourage them to use their “advantage” of being integrated in foreign countries “to tell China’s story.”92

  • Print media: Nouvelles d’Europe (欧洲时报) is the oldest Chinese-language news outlet in France and is owned by Guang Hua Cultures et Média company.93 Opened in 1983, it is headquartered in Paris with 22 branches across Europe. It publishes daily in France as well as weekly editions in the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain-Portugal, and Central-Eastern Europe.94 It initially published in Traditional Chinese but in 1992 switched to Simplified to attract readers from the mainland.95 According to a report on its corporate filings from Czech research group Sinopsis, Nouvelles d’Europe’s parent company Guang Hua is 90% owned by the CCP’s United Front Work Department.96 Guang Hua also publishes a French weekly called Life Weekly (生活周刊) and launched a French monthly magazine titled Le 9 in 2017.97 Guang Hua plays a central role in French and European diaspora media groups, founding the Association of Overseas Chinese Media in Europe (欧洲华人媒体协会) in 1997. Nouvelles d’Europe’s Paris headquarters is the permanent secretariat of the association.98 According to the association’s website, it has over 60 members in Europe.99 Nouvelles d’Europe content mainly praises the CCP or positively covers Chinese affairs and reproduces Chinese state media; one academic content analysis found less than 10% of its news was about the Chinese diaspora and even less about French news.100 It’s WeChat account mainly publishes pro-Beijing content including French-specific content, such as an interview with French writer Maxime Vivas, the author of "Uyghurs: Putting an End to Fake News” which backs the Chinese government’s stance on its human rights abuses against Uyghurs. Another publication, Europe Business News (欧盟商报) (also translated as EC News) has not updated its website since July 2020. It is unclear if the paper, which launched in 2011, is still operating. Its WeChat account last published content in December 21, 2021. The outlet’s content mainly republished state media or pushed pro-Beijing narratives.101 Originally founded by Hong Kong Global Business Media Center, it published a free print edition of 20,000 copies daily in 100 locations in Paris, Paris Region, and Lyon in 2017. Its target audience was businesspeople in the Chinese diaspora in France and covered French news, European news, and Chinese news. It had a cooperation agreement with Hong Kong state-owned Wei Wen Po and Hong Kong Commercial Daily, as well as Guangdong outlets.102 Europe Business News also published a monthly French magazine Vision Chine, which is a French version of the state-run China News Week (中国新闻周刊).103
  • Television: The 24-hour bilingual Mandarin TV (欧视 and 法国华人卫视) has operated since 2014, when it received its license from France’s Supreme Audiovisual Council (CSA).104 It was founded by Chen Shiming (陈世明), a Chinese immigrant from Wenzhou who arrived in France in 1980.105 Mandarin TV is available free on three French cable networks and throughout Europe on satellite. Content focuses on international and French news, documentaries, and lifestyle issues.106 It is operated by C-MEDIA (欧洲中谊文化传媒公司), a company based in France with business in television, online media, TV program production, public relations consulting services, and advertising marketing.107 Mandarin TV has partnerships with the State Council Information Office, CCTV, China Radio International, Shanghai TV, Wenzhou TV, Zhejiang Satellite TV, Shandong TV, and others. Chen Shiming told CGTN that his intention in starting the channel was so “the French people could get to know the real China.”108 In 2019, along with the State Council’s China International Cultural Communication Center, Mandarin TV cohosted a gala to celebrate the 55th anniversary of diplomatic relations.109 Former French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin delivered a speech, and the event was highlighted during the Tenth Forum on Global Chinese Language Media as a successful case of overseas Chinese-language media connecting China with the local country of residence.
  • Radio: Launched in 2014, Radio Mandarin d’Europe (欧洲华语广播电台) is a 24-hour bilingual French-Chinese radio station certified by broadcast regulator CSA and a member of Syndicat National Des Radios Libres.110 It is available through wireless broadcast in the Paris region, or more widely online. According to its website, it has cooperation agreements with the propaganda departments of Beijing, Zhejiang, Guangdong and state media radio stations.111 It also closely coordinates with the Chinese embassy. The station operates WeChat and Weibo accounts, in addition to other social media. According to a Freedom House review of its WeChat account, the channel occasionally diverges from Beijing’s preferred narratives. For example, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the channel published information about a Russian journalist’s on-air protest and some speeches by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
  • Digital: Xineurope.com (新欧洲) is an online forum primarily focused on business, culture, and tourism. It launched in 2003 and is based in France. It is operated by E.Can Inc. (易能传媒), which claims Xineurope.com has over one million registered users and is the largest Chinese website in Europe. According to a 2019 study of over 400 overseas Chinese media by People’s Daily Overseas Edition Online Data Research Center, Xineurope.com was the 11th most visited overseas Chinese-language media website in the world. The People’s Daily’s report praised such websites for “actively conveying China's attitude and China's attitude to the world during major events and important meetings.”112 It has the fifth most influential overseas Chinese-language WeChat account, according to the report. Its WeChat account publishes pro-Beijing content through a more tabloid style of reporting.

France-China Net (法中网) (formerly Intuitive China 直观中国) is a digital site founded by Chinese businesswoman Wen Fei (文菲) that operates an official WeChat account. Wen has a close relationship to the Chinese government and has lived in France for years. She is the chief representative of the Hunan Provincial Commercial Representative Office in France. According to state media, in 2016 France-China Net had readers in 143 countries and had set up representative offices in French-speaking parts of Switzerland, Belgium, Canada, and West Africa.113 The website, www.chineendirect.com, appears to no longer be active.

Online forum Huarenjie.com, which also operates a small print publishing company Huarenjie Bao, is one of the most popular media outlets for Chinese immigrants in France. 114 It mainly focuses on lifestyle and cultural issues and practical exchanges like job ads, housing searches, and acts as a social hub.115 About 90 percent of its content is focused on diaspora issues, with a limited amount of news from China. It was established in 2006 by immigrants from Wenzhou under the company Sinocom SARL, which has a branch in Italy, Germany, and Wenzhou, China.116 It operates on WeChat and through its own app, which had over 400,000 downloads as of 2017.117 Another web forum is France Overseas Chinese News (法国侨报), which also operates a WeChat channel and mainly publishes articles about China though with some coverage of local French news date back to 2019.118

header4 Resilience + response

Underlying media resilience

 

  • Guarantee of press freedom: The French constitution expressly protects press freedom and access to information and guarantees freedom of speech and the protection of journalists.1 France is a member state of the EU, and French citizens are also guaranteed freedoms of expression and information under Article 11 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.2 France has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
  • Investigative reporting and media ethics: France’s media sector is pluralistic and mostly privately owned. The most influential news outlets in France all conduct investigative reporting, both on French domestic issues and on international issues. France has an independent press counsel to allow mediation and arbitration between outlets, editorial staff, and their audiences.3 France also has an independent media regulatory body which regulates broadcast media.4
  • Regulatory provisions on media ownership and content infrastructure: French laws govern radio, broadcast, and print media ownership by foreign entities, transparency of ownership, and restrict cross-ownership.5 Foreign nationals and companies cannot own more than 20 percent of a media outlet. Under a controversial new 2018 law on fake news, the media regulator can suspend media “owned,” “controlled”, or “placed under the influence” of a foreign state if it “undermines the fundamental interests of the Nation” especially by propagating fake news.6 Foreign entities wishing to invest in the media sector or electronic communications infrastructure require prior authorization.7 In 2019, the French Parliament passed a law on mobile radio networks (known as the “anti-Huawei law”) to reinforce existing legal provisions against foreign investment in this sector.8 Afterwards, Huawei was denied authorization to invest in the French 5G network and the State Council rejected complaints from telecoms companies that had already installed Huawei equipment.9
  • Civil society and government initiatives on disinformation: There are civil society and governmental initiatives to protect press freedom and counter disinformation. Independent NGOs such as Reporters Without Borders monitor and advocate for media freedom in France and track China-linked disinformation.10 In October 2021, the French government launched a new national agency, VIGINUM, to fight against foreign information manipulation.11 Its mission is to “monitor, detect, and characterize foreign digital interference operations manipulating information on social networks” with its remit only on publicly open platforms—not private messaging systems. In 2020, the European Union External Action disinformation center EUvsDisinfo added Chinese government disinformation to its topics of interest. The center was originally in founded in 2015 to monitor Russian disinformation.12

China-specific resilience

  • Growth in critical media investigations into the CCP: For many years, media coverage about China in France had been limited, but during the coverage period—particularly after the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic—reporting has greatly expanded. There are more print articles, often reproductions of AFP/Reuters dispatches but also original reporting, and more reports broadcast on television. French media expertise on Chinese issues had been relatively weak except for a few journalists from the most influential national print and TV outlets with the resources to station foreign correspondents in China. Media cover Chinese political, economic, and social issues, and do not refrain from publishing articles that are critical of the CCP.13 Major media have reported or featured stories critical of Beijing, including on issues such as the persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang,14 CCP influence in France,15 the plight of Tibetan refugees,16 the persecution of Falun Gong,17 the Chinese government’s increasing disinformation campaigns,18 and CGTN Francais’s suspicious social media presence.19 Reporting critical of Beijing has appeared in politically and geographically diverse French-language outlets. The response to the Beaumond case was viewed with suspicion by French media commentators who saw such efforts as obvious propaganda and had the unintended consequence of raising awareness of Chinese propaganda in France.
  • Discontinued paid inserts over reputational risk: Some French media have started to discontinue paid inserts, recognizing the reputational risk. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, newspaper Le Figaro stopped publishing China Daily’s “China Watch” supplement.20 In March 2021, Jeune Afrique, which has a content agreement with People’s Daily, published a piece by He Qian, director of the People's Daily Online in Paris, promoting a book by a French intellectual supporting the Chinese government’s crackdown on Uyghurs. After being called out on Twitter, the article was taken down, suggesting Jeune Afrique removed the article due to criticism.21 According to interviews conducted with sales managers at some French media outlets who requested anonymity, some of them stopped partnerships due to public criticism.22 Others considered the inserts to be advertising and argued they are no different from those published by other countries, including authoritarian Gulf countries.23 These paid advertorial inserts are also openly criticized by many journalists at these outlets, but the reporters and editors have limited impact on the decision making of sales departments.24

In general, there is little evidence of local French-language media producing pro-Beijing content, which is instead mainly found in Chinese-language media with links to the party-state. One daily publication from Marseille, La Provence, is part of the Belt and Road News Network (BRNN) and participated in a forum organized by People’s Daily, the Secretariat of BRNN, in Beijing in April 2019.25 Despite this relationship, La Provence has not adopted a pro-Beijing stance.

  • French government response to CCP influence: During the coverage period, an awakening began in Chinese political circles of CCP influence in France, bringing broader concerns about CCP authoritarianism. The French government started to respond to the covert, corrupting, or coercive incidents of Chinese government media influence starting in 2020 after the Chinese embassy began attacking the country’s pandemic response. The French foreign ministry has summoned China’s ambassador twice over his comments once in April 2020 and again in March 2021.26 French politicians have expressed support publicly for those insulted and harassed online by Chinese officials.27 The parliament also held a hearing on wider Chinese influence in the country, including in academia, and members of civil society were consulted.28
  • Media support and solidarity to censorship and attacks: French media and journalists have demonstrated solidarity when responding to attacks by Chinese party-state actors or their proxies. For example, in October 2021 several French journalists spoke in solidarity with Le Figaro’s correspondent to China, Sébastien Falletti, after he was insulted on Twitter by the Chinese Embassy in France, who accused him of “lying” and “rambling.” For instance, Le Point correspondent to Asia, who is based in Hong Kong, expressed his support for Falletti, whom he called a “model.”29
  • Independent expertise informs debate: Independent expertise regarding China and the CCP can be found in the media, academia, and in think tanks. France has several independent international relations think tanks which all have experts on China-related issues. These experts regularly feature in both print and broadcast media and publish reports on China. In September 2021, two researchers affiliated with IRSEM, France’s military college, released a massive 650-page report on Chinese influence globally, likely the most detailed French-language analysis of CCP influence ever published, though its impact on public debate or policy remains to be seen.30 In February 2022, influential weekly publication Franc Tireur published a special cover page report entitled "L'influence made in China.”31
  • Regulatory control over CGTN European broadcasts: Following the February 2021 decision by the UK regulator Office of Communications (Ofcom) to remove CGTN’s broadcasting license in the UK,32 its re-admittance to European airwaves fell under French jurisdiction because CGTN has been broadcasting in Europe from the satellite of French operator Eutelsat since 2016. France’s Superior Audiovisual Council (CSA) issued an automatic decision granting CGTN a license but warned the broadcaster that its compliance with French laws would be under scrutiny.33 Attention should be paid to whether CSA acts on complaints, or if CGTN broadcasts violate French laws.

header5 Vulnerabilities

  • Legal and regulatory gaps: France does not have anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) laws in place that could limit lawsuits against reporting related to China or other topics that are in the public interest. As mentioned in the Censorship section, Huawei filed a defamation lawsuit against a researcher for her comments about the company.1 The case is still pending at the time of writing, and it is unclear if this is a limited case or a signal of further aggressive action by the company or Chinese state-linked actors against critics in France.
  • Better support for civil society and media literacy programs: The limited number of formal NGOs or groups tracking and exposing Chinese state-linked disinformation, social media presence, or influence operations in France means such work is done on an ad hoc basis by media outlets or researchers. A more active civil society sector could generate formal complaints to the French regulatory system to take action on Chinese state-owned media pushing disinformation, for example. Media literacy programs for the general public have had some success in other democracies, for example Taiwan, in countering disinformation from the CCP. The French government and civil society could learn from such examples in tackling CCP influence efforts.
  • Lack of engagement from private sector: France’s private sector has had little engagement with the debate on CCP media influence. There are also no examples of businesses based in France consciously taking action to avoid advertising or investing in Chinese state-run or CCP-linked media. International social media platforms have labelled several accounts as being government-linked but not all of them, and have otherwise taken little action regarding the high number of fake followers of French-language state media accounts.

header6 Impact and Public Opinion

CCP influence efforts have in France have created a growing awareness of Chinese government activities during the coverage period. The deterioration of China’s image in France is partly a result of the aggressive strategy it has pursued on social media. The Chinese Embassy in France has engaged in “Wolf Warrior diplomacy” on Twitter, resulting in several incidents that ultimately proved counter-productive to China’s efforts to project a positive image of itself.1 The start of the public debate about relations with China, largely in 2020, was enough to limit the impact of CCP influence efforts in the media.

Perceptions of China are largely negative and deteriorated after the COVID-19 pandemic began, though some views became slightly less negative between 2020-2021. According to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey, in 2020 70 percent of French people had an unfavorable view of the Chinese government, up from 62 percent in 2019.2 The results almost reached the highest point of negative public opinion in 2008, when French protests during the Beijing Summer Olympic torch relay and then-President Nicolas Sarkozy’s meeting with the Dalai Lama caused severe strain in the bilateral relationship. However, that unfavorable view dropped to 66 percent in 2021. Another survey from 2020 found that 52.6 percent of the respondents said their feelings towards China had “worsened” in the past three years.3

According to the same 2021 Pew survey, in 2020 54 percent of French people said China “has done a bad job dealing with the coronavirus outbreak” which shrunk to 39 percent the next year, while those saying China had done a “good” job rose from 44 percent in 2020 to 54 percent in 2021.4 The change may be due to the fact that following China’s initial bungled response to the pandemic it led to a more comprehensive approach that did largely suppress the virus as it raged in other countries, rather than necessarily the success of CCP propaganda.

A Pew opinion poll also found that only 18 percent of French people surveyed had confidence in Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2021, a drop from 23 percent in 2019. The poll showed 77 percent had no confidence in 2021, a rise from the 69 percent in 2019.5 In 2021, 83 percent of French surveyed in the poll said the Chinese government does not respect the personal freedoms of its people.6

header7 Future trajectory

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

  • Chinese embassy in Paris communication strategy: The years of the “Wolf Warrior” strategy to aggressively promote Beijing’s interests and attack critics in France has, to date, largely proven counterproductive.1 Whether or not the embassy continues down that path could ultimately depend on if Lu Shaye is replaced as the ambassador, and if he is, on who is selected to replace him. A change in strategy could reduce tensions.
  • State media audience in France: Chinese state media has a very small audience in France because they largely focus on content that is of no interest to French people. However, Chinese state media such as CGTN Français have the financial resources to transform themselves and could adopt a strategy closer to the practices of Russian media such as RT or Sputnik.2 Russia’s strategy had been quite successful in amplifying contested domestic issues, for example the role RT played during the gilet juanes “yellow vests” protests in 2018-2019.3 However, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Europe’s decision to ban Russian state media in 2022,4 Chinese state media will likely continue to focus largely on pro-CCP narratives for the time being.5
  • New resilience measures to counter Beijing’s influence: The publication in September 2021 of a report from the Institut de Recherche Stratégique de l'Ecole Militaire (IRSEM)6 on the scale and reach of Beijing’s influence operations across the globe points to the need to track and monitor disinformation campaigns more systematically and comprehensively. Academia, think tanks, and civil society have a role to play in launching initiatives to track Beijing’s attempts at disinformation, and media literacy programs could be adopted. Political and legal efforts to prevent defamation lawsuits against researchers can also be strengthened, and regulation on disinformation from foreign governments more robustly enforced.

On France

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