According to new reports, China took a much more aggressive role in trying to shape the outcome of specific races. This development, highlighted in an assessment from U.S. intelligence agencies released yesterday, signals a significant escalation in Beijing’s efforts to influence American politics and exploit societal divisions.
The intelligence report shed light on the strategies employed by China, which were distinct from those of other countries involved in the election meddling, such as Russia, Iran, and Cuba. Unlike previous interventions where the focus might have been broader, the 2022 midterms saw China meticulously targeting races where they could either support candidates perceived as favorable to Chinese interests or counter those deemed “anti-China.” This tactic reflects a strategic shift in Beijing’s approach towards shaping U.S. policy and public opinion, a stark contrast to their previous, more cautious stance.
The roots of this new approach can be traced back to post-2020, when senior Chinese leaders issued directives to intensify efforts in influencing U.S. policies. The intelligence community’s assessment suggests that Beijing felt it was under less scrutiny during the midterm elections compared to the presidential elections, providing them with more leeway to operate. This change in tactics is perceived as a response to what China considers an intensified U.S. effort to promote democracy at its expense.
In contrast to China’s targeted approach, Russia’s intervention aimed at affecting the overall election dynamics. Moscow’s efforts were primarily directed at undermining the Democratic Party and weakening political support for Ukraine. This was part of a larger strategy to denigrate the U.S. electoral process and sow distrust among the American populace.
Iran and Cuba also engaged in their own styles of election interference. Their activities, however, differed in scale and impact, with each nation pursuing its unique set of goals and strategies. While the report did not detail these as extensively as those of China and Russia, their involvement adds to the complex tapestry of foreign influence in U.S. elections.
One of the most striking aspects of the 2022 midterm interference was the method of execution. Unlike the significant cyberattacks on election infrastructure witnessed in 2016, there was no sign of similar attempts in the recent elections. Instead, the primary tactics involved the covert use of social media accounts, payments to influencers, and employing public relations firms. These methods indicate a shift towards subtler forms of influence, focusing more on shaping public perception and deepening societal divisions rather than direct tampering with voting processes.
Tech firms played a crucial role in uncovering these influence operations. Companies like Microsoft and Meta observed an uptick in activities by suspected Chinese operatives, including the use of AI-generated images to mimic American voters and stir up divisive issues online. This digital dimension of election interference represents a new frontier in the tactics used by foreign actors.
Google’s cybersecurity team, Mandiant, identified a specific pro-Chinese government influence operation, dubbed “Dragonbridge,” which aggressively targeted the U.S. This operation sought not only to discredit the U.S. democratic process but also to discourage Americans from voting, indicating a significant escalation in both the tactics and rhetoric employed by Beijing.
While the direct tampering of election infrastructure was not uncovered in the 2022 midterms, the focus has evidently shifted towards influencing public opinion and exacerbating divisions within the society. As the United States continues to grapple with these external challenges, understanding and effectively countering such foreign influence campaigns remain imperative to preserve the integrity and trust in its democratic processes.
China’s efforts in the U.S., Taiwan and around the world have become more obvious and notorious in recent years as it become clear that Xi has the goal of world dominance. They need to be stopped.