The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has embarked on a campaign to shape what audiences around the world read, hear, and watch about China. This report, which is part of a series that assesses Beijing’s efforts to influence the media environments of the Mekong countries, focuses on China’s efforts targeting audiences in Vietnam.
China has had very little success shaping the media environment in Vietnam.
- Beijing faces a hostile media environment in Vietnam that makes it difficult for it to promote PRC narratives. In the words of one Vietnamese media expert, “They [China] are just not very successful in getting their messages across.”
- Government policies and regulations—in combination with a lack of public interest in PRC propaganda—significantly restrict China’s access to Vietnam’s information environment.
- Vietnamese media is highly critical of China on specific issues, likely due to a combination of official propaganda guidance and anti-China sentiment. Vietnamese journalists and editors avoid including interviews with Chinese officials.
- PRC narratives fail to resonate among audiences in Vietnam due to widespread anti-China sentiment. Historical Sino-Vietnamese conflicts and contemporary grievances make for a hostile environment for Chinese media narratives.
China’s traditional tools for shaping foreign media have had little effect in Vietnam. Nevertheless, there is evidence that China is attempting to shape the media environment in Vietnam in the following ways:
- Exporting Chinese-produced entertainment to Vietnam to bolster China’s “soft power”: Chinese TV and film appear to be popular with Vietnamese audiences. They represent the most successful aspect of China’s efforts to gain a foothold in Vietnam’s information environment. However, only apolitical Chinese TV programs and films appear to have gained popularity in Vietnam, as government censors and a China-critical public reject entertainment that touches on politically sensitive subjects.
- Producing Vietnamese-language news content: Several state-run PRC media outlets produce content in Vietnamese, including China’s official overseas broadcaster, China Radio International (CRI), and China’s official news agency, Xinhua. However, local audiences have increasingly shunned these PRC news outlets over the past decade, and they have failed to secure substantial content-sharing agreements with Vietnamese news outlets.
- Seeking channels for distribution of PRC media content: Despite their efforts to achieve greater cooperation with Vietnamese counterparts, PRC media outlets have had very limited success to date—securing only one content-sharing agreement that is limited to Englishlanguage news content.
- Hosting training and cooperation forums in an effort to influence how the Vietnamese media reports on China: Vietnamese central-level media officials have participated in Chinaled international media forums and training programs such as the Lancang-Mekong Media Cooperation Summit. However, their level of participation appears to be lower than that of officials from other Mekong countries and there has been no observable softening of Vietnamese media’s criticism of China.
The narratives that Beijing seeks to promote in Vietnam include the following:
- China and Vietnam have a shared heritage.
- China is willing to set aside its differences with Vietnam and pursue greater cooperation.
- China is a more responsible and constructive international actor than the US, including in the fight against COVID-19.
Issues to watch
As China continues to seek a presence in Vietnam’s information environment, key issues to watch for in Vietnam include the following:
- The appearance of more “Chinese voices” in Vietnamese media. Vietnamese media outlets are reluctant to publish interviews with Chinese officials. Likewise, Vietnamese media outlets publish few op-eds by Chinese officials compared to media outlets in other Mekong countries. An increase in Chinese official op-eds and interviews observed in Vietnamese media would indicate greater openness to China’s efforts to promote official narratives in the local media environment.
- Vietnamese media republishing PRC-produced content. Multiple PRC state-run media outlets have sought increased cooperation with Vietnamese state-run media outlets, but have thus far failed to achieve widespread republication of PRC media content by Vietnamese news outlets. Of note, Vietnamese media does occasionally republish PRC media content in order to criticize it. If Vietnamese media outlets begin to republish PRC-produced news content without mocking it, this could allow Chinese narratives to reach a broader audience in Vietnam.
- Indications that Chinese entertainment is increasing in popularity. Although Chinese historical dramas are popular in Vietnam, Chinese entertainment depicting contemporary political issues does not appear to be. If such Chinese entertainment were to gain popularity among local audiences, it would indicate a widening of Chinese media’s most successful inroad into Vietnam’s information environment: entertainment.
- An increase in anti-China reporting in Vietnamese media. Historically, Vietnamese authorities have managed expressions of anti-China and anti-Chinese sentiment to keep the domestic political situation and bilateral relations stable. In doing so, Vietnamese media authorities typically greenlight criticism of China on maritime territorial disputes and disputes over the Mekong River. It would be notable if Vietnamese media began to criticize China on a broader range of issues. Such a shift could suggest that the Vietnamese government had decided to take a harder-line stance against China.
- Coordinated, inauthentic pro-China messaging campaigns on social media. Even though Vietnam has enacted restrictions to online anonymity (i.e., the 2018 Cyber Security Law), Chinese entities may step up efforts to promote and amplify pro-China messaging on Vietnamese-language social media and online message boards, while attempting to conceal the Chinese origins of these campaigns.
Recommendations from experts & media professionals in the region
Vietnamese media professionals and experts offered suggestions about how the international community could help to support the development of Vietnam’s media environment and its continued resilience against PRC efforts to shape it. These included the following:
- Provide journalism and media skills training. Vietnamese media professionals and experts suggested that providing discrete skills training for journalists in partnership with the Vietnam Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) is likely the most successful strategy for helping to support Vietnam’s media. Conversely, attempts to support broader media development and/or promote Western journalistic norms would be unlikely to secure the necessary official approval.
- Coordinate with long-standing, trusted international partners. Several experts noted that Vietnamese media officials are likely to view Western-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and media training organizations with a critical eye. These experts suggested collaborating with international organizations that already have an established record of working in Vietnam as a way to improve access to the local information environment.
Distribution: Approved for public release. Unlimited distribution.
- Pages: 90
- Document Number: IIM-2020-U-026222-Final
- Publication Date: 9/1/2020