China's 1 Million-Strong 'Disinformation Machine' Is Eroding U.S. Hegemony: Admiral

The commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command has warned senators China is wielding a 1 million-person "disinformation machine" to undermine American and other democratic systems, as Beijing works to divide Washington, D.C. and its Asian allies and establish hegemony in the Pacific.

Admiral Phil Davidson told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday that both China and Russia are using disinformation campaigns to erode U.S. hegemony and sow doubt about the reliability of the U.S.

"They use regular media and social media and have nearly a million people in their propaganda machine," Davidson said of China.

Beijing's goal, he added, is "to undermine U.S. interests, to capture the narrative to their own benefit and to...corrupt the environment in a way that creates doubt amongst our allies and partners in the reliability of the United States."

China has long engaged in disinformation campaigns to sow doubt in democratic systems and alliances between the U.S. and its neighbors.

But concerns about such operations have deepened in recent years as Beijing increases its media output around human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Tibet and elsewhere; trade disputes with the U.S.; territorial tensions along the border with India, in the South China Sea, and around Taiwan; and the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19, in particular, prompted a broad disinformation effort by the Chinese Communist Party, which sought to dodge blame for the pandemic's spread beyond Chinese borders and malign the efforts of its rivals, especially Europe and the U.S., to handle the virus' spread and subsequent economic dislocation.

China's disinformation efforts are an element of Beijing's plan to dominate Asia, Davidson said, displacing the American hegemony established after the Second World War. The U.S. is increasingly looking to Asia as the next theater of great power competition, with successive presidents putting more emphasis on and resources into the region.

For his part, President Joe Biden has vowed to push back on Chinese abuses. The new administration's early exchanges have rankled Beijing with their focus on the CCP's human rights abuses and territorial expansionism.

Davidson told senators the U.S. should also increase its messaging efforts "across the globe," recalling the "immense power" of the Cold War-era State Department in promoting America's democratic, capitalist ideology and combating Soviet communist propaganda.

Russia, too, has long been engaged in disinformation efforts to undermine democracies and rivals worldwide. Davidson said Moscow's tactics differ in acting "much more like a spoiler," rather than the Chinese method of both maligning rivals and lauding its own authoritarian, nominally communist system. Russia works to "deny the visions" of rivals, Davidson said.

Military officials have been sounding the alarm over future conflict with Russia and China, warning that the world is drifting into a multipolar power structure and that the U.S. will increasingly have to compete with Russia, China and others for influence.

"Disinformation is part of the new geostrategic fabric that is making the competition so difficult," Davidson told senators.

Chinese agents on guard in Beijing, China
Security personnel stand guard before the Closing Ceremony of the 4th Session of the 13th CPPCC National Committee outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 10, 2021. NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images