In January this year, executives from the state-run China Daily newspaper took the stage with top propaganda officials from southwest Yunnan province to launch a new regional media network meant to strengthen Chinese state narratives and agendas in Southeast Asia. The formation of the South and Southeast Asian Media Network is the latest move in a broader effort by China’s leadership to mobilize media and propaganda resources at the provincial level to achieve more effective regional and international messaging.

Addressing the gathering, Yunnan’s top propaganda official, Zeng Yan (曾艳), said the purpose of the network was to build “a platform and mechanisms for dialogue and practical cooperation between media of various countries” in the region. Yunnan shares borders with Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam, and has strong and growing economic and development ties across Southeast Asia.

Zeng Yan, the head of the Provincial Propaganda Office of the Yunnan Provincial Committee of the CCP.

According to a report by the official Xinhua News Agency published in the CCP’s flagship People’s Daily newspaper on February 1, the South and Southeast Asian Media Network (南亚东南亚媒体联盟) has been formed as a joint initiative of China Daily and the Yunnan International Communication Center for South and Southeast Asia (云南省南亚东南亚区域国际传播中心), an office under the provincial propaganda department launched in May 2022.

As CMP has detailed in previous research over the past year, provincial-level international communication centers, or ICCs, are spearheading efforts promoted by the leadership since 2018, and accelerating over the past two years, to “innovate” foreign-directed propaganda under a new province-focused strategy. In June 2023, provincial and city-level ICCs in China created a mutual association to better coordinate work nationwide. The process of integrating the ICCs both horizontally and vertically, including with central state media, has begun to emerge as a core strategy in the CCP’s remaking of its overall propaganda matrix.

The cooperation between China Daily and Yunnan’s provincial-level ICC should be viewed as a concrete effort to establish vertical links between central-level media and the broadly defined goals of what the CCP terms “external propaganda” (外宣) — explicitly linked by Xi Jinping in 2013 to the notion of “telling China’s story well” — and regional media and propaganda resources. Published by the State Council Information Office, the chief information arm of the Chinese government and the same office essentially as the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department, the China Daily’s chief role is to reach overseas audiences with Chinese government messaging.

The cooperation between China Daily and Yunnan’s provincial-level ICC should be viewed as a concrete effort to establish vertical links between central-level media and regional media and propaganda resources.

In this case, the cooperation and vertical integration will focus on South Asia and Southeast Asia, drawing on Yunnan’s geographic, trade, and cultural links to countries to its south. In recent years, Yunnan has sought to expand its media cooperation and presence in neighboring Southeast Asian countries in particular and has published several bilingual magazines since 2016, including Khmer (高棉) in Cambodia, Champa (占芭) in Laos, and Mekong River (湄公河) in Thailand.

Though he offered few specifics, Qu Yingpu (曲莹璞), the president and editor-in-chief of the China Daily, said — according to a report in the newspaper he heads — that the establishment of the network had received "a positive response from mainstream media in South Asia and Southeast Asia, and will certainly create a new model of media cooperation in Asia.”

Yunnan province is an important part of this new model. In a policy statement released on January 31 just as the China Daily cooperation was being announced in Beijing, the Yunnan provincial government laid out its approach to international communication in line with Xi Jinping's demands. Its actions in recent years in terms of “system building” (建体系) and “platform construction” (搭平台), it said, offered new insights for what it termed "local international communication" (地方国际传播).


"What Does It Mean to Understand China?" / January 4, 2024

"Desert Power, Discourse Power" / November 2, 2023

"Reading China's Media Counter-Attack" /October 5, 2023

"Gilding the Panda" / September 20, 2023

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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