|Beijing’s Media Influence Efforts
|Local Resilience & Response
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least influence) to 85 (most influence)
Report by: Ellie Young and Shiany Pérez-Cheng
- Steady influence: Beijing’s media influence in Spain remained strong during the coverage period of 2019–21, following a significant effort to strengthen relations in the wake of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s 2018 visit. Chinese state media have maintained long-standing relationships with their local mainstream counterparts while developing new ties to regional and digital outlets. Chinese diplomats were increasingly active on social media, engaging directly with news audiences and critics online.
- Varied avenues for content dissemination: Major public and private mainstream outlets republish Chinese state media content. Notably, El País regularly disseminated China Daily’s China Watch supplement and China Hoy inserts. China Global Television Network and China FM are available on national television and radio networks. The national news agency EFE, which is widely used by Spanish-speaking news consumers worldwide, shares content from the Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency.
- Limited impact and declining public opinion: Spanish media generally offer robust and critical reporting on China, and several local outlets maintain correspondents in China who provide journalistic expertise on the country. Beijing’s influence on Spanish public opinion is low. Long-standing concerns about the impact of Chinese economic activity on small local businesses, combined with pandemic-related fears, contributed to an apparent decline in Spaniards’ opinions of China.
- Media narratives focus on bilateral ties, sovereignty: Chinese state media narratives largely focus on boosting bilateral ties, specifically in investment, trade, and technological cooperation, all of which are attractive to Spanish elites. The Belt and Road Initiative is actively promoted, although Madrid does not formally participate in the framework. Both state media and diplomatic actors have repeatedly linked the situation in Hong Kong and Taiwan to the separatist movement in Catalonia, calling for solidarity against foreign interference in internal affairs.
- Successful engagement with local elites: Spanish media executives and journalists have participated in Chinese-led media cooperation initiatives such as the Belt and Road News Network and the World Media Summit. Former political leaders have praised Beijing’s COVID-19 response and contributions to global public health while offering open support for its One China principle. Influential think tanks and academic experts focus their commentary on promoting trade and engagement while apparently avoiding subjects Beijing considers sensitive, such as its repressive domestic policies or human rights violations. The local embassy has actively used press statements and social media to respond to or berate journalists, media commentators, politicians, and human rights activists who published content that Beijing deemed offensive.
- No disinformation campaigns: There was no evidence of China-linked disinformation campaigns targeting or reaching audiences in Spain. However, Chinese state media and diplomats promoted false and misleading narratives on topics like forced labor in the Xinjiang region. They also repeatedly tied Beijing’s position on Hong Kong and Taiwan to the issue of Catalan independence. Some of this content was picked up by local commentators. An Associated Press and the Oxford Internet Institute study in 2021 found that potentially inauthentic social media activity accounted for 12 percent of all engagement with Chinese diplomatic accounts in Spain.
- Strong influence in diaspora media: Spain’s Chinese expatriate and diaspora population is sizeable, numbering around 230,000. Chinese-language news outlets republish content from both Chinese and Spanish sources. Pro-Beijing editorial lines are dominant in the diaspora-facing media, which provide little critical coverage of the Chinese Communist Party or Chinese state policy. Many print and digital groups have close relationships with the local Chinese embassy, and several are members of the state-run Global Chinese Media Cooperation Union.
- Strong media and legal safeguards: The Spanish constitution has strong protections for freedoms of expression and the press. In addition, Madrid has begun to implement procedures and guidelines to combat foreign disinformation, in line with broader efforts promoted by the European Union. While no authority is specifically responsible for overseeing nonbroadcast media, foreign ownership is restricted in media and other sectors that are deemed strategic.
- Gaps and vulnerabilities: Transparency in advertising and media ownership is poor, and there are no regulations governing cross-ownership. Access to information has been increasingly challenged in recent years, and public officials have targeted journalists with criminal prosecution and abusive civil lawsuits. Other ongoing challenges to Spain’s media ecosystem include low public trust and widespread vulnerability to disinformation. Unlike some of their European counterparts, Spanish politicians have remained skeptical about the threat of coercive Chinese Communist Party influence, instead privileging the need to maintain friendly ties. Some opposition politicians have leveraged concerns about Chinese Communist Party influence to attack the ruling party.
The full Spain country report will be posted as soon as it becomes available.
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