Report by: Ellie Young and Mohammad J. alYousef
- Limited but growing influence: Chinese diplomats and state media have increased their efforts to shape public opinion in Kuwait, building on long-standing ties with the state news agency and deepening relationships with political and media elites. During the coverage period of 2019–21, Chinese diplomats expanded their social media footprint and more intensely engaged with local media executives. During the coverage period, a local mainstream outlet agreed to publish a column that served as a vehicle for CCP propaganda.
- Promoting shared strategic priorities: Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Kuwait in 2022, Chinese diplomats and state media highlighted the potential for further alignment, citing the Belt and Road Initiative and the Kuwaiti national development plan, Vision 2035. Chinese propaganda repeatedly stressed Beijing’s commitment to maintaining state sovereignty, security, and peaceful development around the world while emphasizing opportunities to deepen cooperation in technology, trade, health care, and green development.
- Local government support for preferred media narratives: Chinese diplomats tailored their messaging to local audiences, presenting Beijing’s position on the Palestine issue and responding to local reports about forced labor in Chinese-backed projects in Kuwait. Diplomats actively promoted Beijing’s preferred narratives on controversial topics such as its repressive policy regarding the Xinjiang region and its position on Taiwanese independence. A narrative framework focusing on poverty and terrorism was employed to justify Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang. Notwithstanding some civil society and parliamentary pushback, Kuwait City has supported Beijing’s position on human rights and territorial sovereignty. In at least one incident, the Kuwaiti foreign ministry helped to censor commentary in a local outlet that was disfavored by Beijing.
- Low knowledge and impact: A 2019 opinion poll found that 49 percent of Kuwaitis supported stronger economic ties with China. However, respondents also demonstrated a low level of knowledge on China, despite Kuwait having one of the Persian Gulf region’s strongest trade and diplomatic links with China.
- No disinformation campaigns: There were no documented disinformation campaigns originating in China that targeted or reached Kuwaiti audiences during the coverage period. However, Chinese state media and diplomats actively pushed false or misleading narratives that sought to: obfuscate Beijing’s role in the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, legitimize the persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang, and promote alternative definitions of democracy and human rights.
- Small diaspora media environment: The Chinese expatriate and diaspora population in Kuwait is small, likely numbering in the thousands. A limited diaspora media ecosystem appears to consist primarily of digital news sources. Individuals may rely on WeChat or other mainland-based applications for news content that is subject to Beijing’s domestic censorship regime.
- Civil society and independent media as sources of resilience: Civil society and some media outlets have supported diaspora Uyghur groups in their attempts to raise awareness on the Chinese party-state’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Privately owned outlets have also reported on Beijing’s aggressive stance toward Taiwan and other subjects that are sensitive to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), sometimes relying on international wire services to do so. Sitting lawmakers have publicly questioned the Kuwaiti government’s support for Chinese policies in Xinjiang.
- Low media resilience and active state control: The Kuwaiti state actively controls the country’s media environment and provides few legal or political safeguards for independent, critical journalism. Newer digital outlets operating in a regulatory gray zone have a higher degree of independence and offer relatively diverse news content. However, strict media licensing regulations have hindered the development of smaller independent and digital outlets. A 2016 cybercrime law, along with other censorship rules, forbids media coverage that could hurt foreign relations. Journalists’ access to information and freedom of expression remain restricted, although the media environment is relatively freer than in other Persian Gulf countries.
The full Kuwait country report will be posted as soon as it becomes available.
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Global Freedom Score37 100 partly free