Feb 26, 2020 - World

Between the lines on Chinese strategy: "Borrowing a boat to go out on the ocean"

Illustration of Chinese strategy
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In this recurring feature from the Axios China newsletter, I'll interview an expert about a Chinese Communist Party phrase to explain the news.

This week's phrase: "Borrowing a boat to go out on the ocean." (借船出海)

What it means: Placing Chinese Communist Party messaging and approved content into media outlets abroad, either overtly or covertly.

  • Beijing has vastly expanded the global footprint of its official state media organizations, but understands that overt propaganda has limited appeal and reach among many foreign audiences.
  • The party has thus sought to "borrow" established foreign media outlets as a "boat" for amplifying and legitimizing Beijing's message.

How it works: "In its simplest form, this involves paying for Chinese propaganda supplements to appear in dozens of respected international publications such as the Washington Post," Louisa Lim and Julia Bergin wrote in The Guardian.

  • "The strategy can also take more insidious forms, such as planting content from the state-run radio station, China Radio International (CRI), on to the airwaves of ostensibly independent broadcasters across the world, from Australia to Turkey."
  • It can also mean quietly buying up news outlets abroad, as the Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV tried to do to two Los Angeles radio stations in 2013 — only to be blocked by the Treasury Department's Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

Why it matters: As Beijing seeks narrative dominance around the world, "borrowing a boat" is a key strategy it uses to influence skeptical audiences and to sidestep government scrutiny.

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