NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
China is influencing Hollywood studios and using American films to promote communist propaganda as part of a grand strategy seeking global hegemony, according to a report by two Army officers.
Hollywood has established financial ties with the Chinese film industry, one of the world’s largest movie markets. Once a financial relationship is established, the studios are beholden to the wishes of the party that controls all filmmaking operations in China, the report said.
“The resulting financial influence has given Chinese film studios the placement and access necessary to change the content of American films, while forcing American film studios to self-censor to appease Beijing‘s sensibilities,” states the report written by Maj. Morgan A. Martin and Maj. Clinton J. Williamson and published by the Naval Postgraduate School.
The China-Hollywood financial ties allow China‘s ruling Communist Party to exercise a large degree of influence over American studios in terms of content in their movies.
“Disney, for example, worked closely with the China Film Group Corp. during the production of the live-action 2020 ‘Mulan’ remake, going as far as to get the script approved by the Central Propaganda Department,” the report said.
Other films were modified by removing elements that clashed with Chinese soft-power ambitions.
Chinese diplomats forced Sony Pictures to make drastic changes to the 2014 remake of “Robocop,” as well as the 2012 film “Red Dawn.” Filmmakers for “Red Dawn” altered the script to turn an invading Chinese army into North Korean troops.
A third case mentioned in the report examined emails showing an American film executive arguing with Chinese officials over what was allowed or unacceptable to the Chinese government, such as whether or not the 2015 animated film “Pixels” could show the destruction of the Great Wall.
The report lists 147 films made with studios linked to the Chinese government between 2003 and 2021, either through direct investment or co-production. Thirty-three of the films contained China elements skewed to support Beijing‘s official line, the report said, hoping to influence American film audiences into adopting the Chinese viewpoint.
“Propagandists can take advantage of an audience’s lack of resistance while watching a film by obfuscating influential messaging within the film’s narrative,” the report said. “In this way, the narrative serves as a proverbial Trojan Horse that a propagandist can use to infiltrate the ‘defensive structures’ of the viewer’s resistance.”
“Given Americans’ overwhelmingly negative view of the PRC, any attempts [to] cultivate soft power by overtly disseminating pro-China messaging in films would be rejected by American audiences outright,” the report said. “Surreptitiously obfuscating pro-China messages in films’ narratives would likely be more successful.”
The goal is to improve Americans’ perceptions of China through soft power and for achieving “national rejuvenation,” the report said, concluding that the U.S. government should take steps to mitigate Chinese influence over the entertainment industry.
Film studios should be required to post a disclaimer in the opening credits of all films revealing that a movie was funded in part by a company with ties to the Chinese Communist Party. The report also endorses legislation first introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, that would limit U.S. government financial or technical assistance for all films shown in China. The report urges adding fines based on a percentage of profits for films promoting Chinese propaganda.
China hearing on communism’s myths
A former White House deputy national security adviser testified before the new House select panel on China this week and revealed new details of Chinese communist ideology and operations.
Before making his spoken remarks, Matthew Pottinger presented a video to dispel what he said were several myths about the ruling Chinese Communist Party, such as the idea that the party is communist in name only.
Mr. Pottinger spoke Tuesday night on Capitol Hill at the inaugural hearing of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party. The subject was the CCP threat to the United States.
The video included rare footage of Chinese President Xi Jinping leading a swearing-in ceremony for newly minted party members on June 18, 2021, in Beijing. Standing before a group of around 60 civilian and military officials — all with fists raised, Mr. Xi asked those assembled to declare, “It is my will to join the Communist Party of China, guard party secrets, [and] fight for communism throughout my life.”
The video then quotes from a secret speech given by Mr. Xi to the Central Committee, a top governing body, in January 2013 when the Chinese leader declared that “capitalism will inevitably perish and socialism will inevitably triumph.”
The video highlighted what it argued was another myth — that Beijing is not seeking to spread its autocratic system worldwide or to undermine the current U.S.-led democratic order.
The film then shows Mr. Xi making a speech in 2018 marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx, telling a large audience that “Marxism is not to be kept hidden in books.”
Marxist ideology “was created in order to change the destiny of human history,” he added. “To adhere to the beliefs and ideals of communists just like Marx, we must struggle for communism our entire lives.”
An official Chinese text on “Xi Jinping thought,” the latest iteration of Marxism-Leninism in China, says that a new world order is under construction by the CCP that will surpass the Westphalian nation-state system now in place in the world.
The video also challenges Chinese assertions that Beijing rejects “zero-sum competition” with democratic states and a new Cold War with the West.
A recent Chinese state television broadcast quoted in the video says communist-style modernization “breaks the myth” that nations must adopt Western democracy and values in order to modernize. Chinese communism expands choices for developing countries to modernize, while providing a “Chinese solution” for human beings to explore a better social system, the CCTV broadcast states.
The video also quotes a 2018 speech by Mr. Xi at China‘s National Defense University arguing that China‘s communist ideology and social system are “fundamentally incompatible with the West.”
“This determines that our struggle and contest with Western countries is irreconcilable, so it will inevitably be long, complicated and sometimes even very sharp,” Mr. Xi says.
The video cites from a CCP publication, “Strategic Support for Achieving the Great Chinese Rejuvenation,” that says the use of war to protect core national interests does not contradict the path of peaceful development. “Moreover, it is a manifestation of the Marxist view of warfare,” the publication states.
Mr. Pottinger’s video concludes with a blunt warning from Mr. Xi in 2021 that China will never allow any foreign force to “bully, oppress or subjugate us.”
“Anyone who attempts to do so will bash their heads bloody on a great wall of steel forged with the flesh and blood of over 1.4 billion Chinese people,” Mr. Xi said.
Mr. Pottinger said in his testimony that some of the video footage came from once-secret speeches by the Chinese leader.
“If any of the Xi Jinping quotations I just displayed in that three-minute film surprised you, you are far from alone,” he said. “That’s because China‘s supreme leader and the party he commands are masters at disguising their true intentions. They are masters at presenting an illusory image to the outside world while speaking, planning and acting in very different ways behind closed doors.”
The CCP’s ability to hide its true goals and intentions and appear as a normal, non-threatening state is “one of the great magic tricks of the modern era,” Mr. Pottinger told the committee, noting that propaganda organs in China refer to the use of such “magic weapons.”
“You could say the CCP is the Harry Houdini of Marxist-Leninist regimes, the David Copperfield of communism, the Chris Angel of autocracy,” he said.
Pentagon counterspies battling tech theft
The director of the Pentagon’s Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency says the agency is working to block foreign intelligence threats from stealing technology and breaking into U.S. supply chains.
“We see it every day,” said William K. Lietzau, the director, said in a recent speech, of attempts by foreign actors to breach supply chain systems.
Mr. Lietzau said the agency is working to counter foreign intelligence agencies that attempt to break into defense contractors’ computers to steal secrets.
“We find we’re getting about 35% of it from Asia, and East Asia, we get about 23% or so I think from the Near East,” he said.
China is a particular problem. Beijing‘s techniques include targeting academia by recruiting research assistants and placing agents in place as scholars. Some 317,000 Chinese students now at universities in science and technology areas could be used by the government to obtain information, he said.
“China has laws that allow, that not only allow but require any Chinese company to share with government intelligence entities the technologies they develop and the information they glean,” Mr. Lietzau said.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter @BilGertz.