China has expanded its media influence globally to support its growing clout in the world.
Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, is also a target of Beijing media propaganda due to the former’s strategic location for China’s Belt and Road Initiatives.
China adopts the above strategies to amplify narratives in line with the Chinese Communist Party’s interests, especially in countries where Beijing has high stakes.
Indonesia is no exception and here, China is using at least three media strategies.
Expanding physical presence
Several Chinese media have established their branch offices in Indonesia in recent years, such as Hi Indo! Channel owned by China International Television Corporation (CITV) and directed at young audiences. There’s also Xinhua, China’s largest state news agency.
Some of these media also have social media accounts in Bahasa Indonesia. The most crucial example is Xinhua, which has a Twitter account in Bahasa Indonesia with 64,400 followers.
While this number of followers pales to other foreign media such as the US’ Voice of America with 324,000 followers, these Bahasa Indonesia versions of Chinese media’s social media account would allow Chinese Communist Party (CCP) narratives to be conveyed properly in Indonesia.
Xinhua’s Indonesian Twitter feeds, for example, often contain translated Xi Jinping’s speeches, narratives on how China’s Belt and Road Initiatives would benefit Indonesia, Taiwan’s unification with China and news on the visit of an Indonesian politician to Xinjiang and the positive comments he made about the place.
Inviting journalists to China and cooperating with Indonesian media
Additionally, in the past few years, China has actively invited foreign journalists to the country to supply them with its own version of information.
In 2019, the Indonesian Journalists Association attended the Belt Road Initiative Journalists Forum conference organised by CCP-affiliated All China Journalist Association (ACJA).
Supported by the China Communications University and China International Radio, the cooperation covers journalist exchange, journalist training, joint reporting and academic activities.
Upon returning, one journalist from Lombok wrote a piece on local newspaper, praising China and its press freedom.
In the same year, following increased protests on China’s repression of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, Indonesian journalists, along with leaders of the country’s Muslim organisations were invited to China on a choreographed tour to Xinjiang, in which they were taken to only limited parts of the Uyghur camps.
Besides inviting journalists to China, Chinese media entities have also established ties with their Indonesian counterparts to support its content-sharing strategies. This strategy enables Chinese state media contents to circulate widely, reaching Indonesian audiences through local media.
This has been established with The Jakarta Post, where content from Chinese media such as Xinhua and China Daily, which is owned by the CCP’s Publicity Department, are being reposted. The Post also publishes writing by Chinese ambassadors.
In addition, Xinhua has also signed a partnership agreement with Indonesia’s state news agency Antara and local broadcaster, MetroTV, which has led these two large media organisations in Indonesia to broadcast more positive and less critical coverage of China.
Research from the British Journal of Chinese Studies also confirms several Indonesian media outlets, which frequently repost Chinese media reports in recent years, often publish news with positive narratives.
China has also gradually carried out efforts to censor anti-China information in Indonesia.
In August 2020, Reuters reported that Chinese tech firm ByteDance had censored articles critical of the Chinese government on Indonesian Baca Berita (BaBe) news aggregator app, which is used by millions in Indonesia. The censorship was based on instructions from the company’s Beijing headquarters.
The restricted content reportedly included references to “Tiananmen” and “Mao Zedong,” as well as to China-Indonesia tensions over the South China Sea and a local ban on the video-sharing app TikTok, which ByteDance also owns. Conflicting reports from the company and sources cited in the article claimed that the moderation rules became less restrictive in either 2019 or mid-2020.
In early 2021, the Chinese government censorship agency also blocked Indonesian newspaper site JawaPos in several regions in China such as Beijing, Shenzhen, Inner Mongolia, and Yunnan province.
JawaPos said this was allegedly due to China’s sensitivity to criticism of the CCP. It also relates to human rights violations of the Uyghurs.
What to do
As a democratic country, Indonesia needs to ensure that Chinese media influence does not threaten its democratic freedoms.
US-based think tank Freedom House has suggested several ways to deal with China’s increasing media influence.
First, we need to encourage academic and research institutions to carry out research on China’s media tactics and common biased narratives. We then can use the findings to raise journalists’ awareness about these issues.
Local media should also realise the possible journalistic and political risks of accepting Chinese media agreements.
Equally important, journalists and media owner associations need to be cautious when signing content-sharing deals or MoUs with Chinese state media and the CCP-affiliated journalists associations.
Media also need to uphold journalistic codes of ethics by being transparent on sponsored content, writing paid for by Chinese officials, and sources of funds for journalists travelling to China that result in published news items.
Yeta Purnama, a Universitas Islam Indonesia student, contributed to this article.