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Beijing ‘Increasingly Confident’ in Its Ability to Influence Elections Globally: Director of National Intelligence

Beijing is “growing increasingly confident” in its ability to influence elections in the United States and globally, according to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

The Chinese authorities have perfected their influence operations tools through artificial intelligence (AI) and big data analytics, she told lawmakers at a May 15 Senate hearing on foreign threats to the 2024 elections.

“Their tactics globally include bankrolling candidates, they prefer using deepfake technologies to generate content, collecting polling data to determine targets for them, conducting social media influence operations,” she said, adding that China’s armed forces, known as the People’s Liberation Army, operate social media accounts on multiple social media platforms.

Beijing has sought to not only target congressional candidates to meddle with U.S. elections, but also exert influence in elections in Taiwan, Australia, and Canada, she said.

The aggressive Chinese efforts to sway election results in their favor were on display in January in mainland China’s island neighbor Taiwan.

During the election season, AI-generated texts, videos, and audio clips swarmed the internet, with one distorting public talks from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party candidate Lai Ching-te, who eventually won, to make it appear that he was praising his political opponents. On YouTube and TikTok, Chinese influence operatives also drove other false claims suggesting that the Democratic Progressive Party, which is more critical of Beijing, had used “special ink and ballot boxes with secret openings” to boost vote counts, and that the United States will help them “cheat the election.”Related StoriesInside China’s Long Game to Infiltrate US Politics10/10/2023Inside China’s Long Game to Infiltrate US PoliticsUS ‘Would Be Naive’ to Assume CCP Won’t Attempt Election Interference: House China Committee Leader2/5/2024US ‘Would Be Naive’ to Assume CCP Won’t Attempt Election Interference: House China Committee LeaderIn Canada, a government commission on foreign interference in early May identified China as the “most persistent and sophisticated foreign interference threat” to the country.In playing a long-term game to produce friendlier policies for Beijing, the Chinese regime deploys incentives such as “paid trips, business opportunities, prestigious invitations, or political support” as well as disincentives—visa denials, harassment, and intimidation—to retaliate against anyone who refuses to align with its goals, whether they are in China or abroad, according to the commission’s report.

With the U.S. presidential election drawing near, concerns have been growing about the Chinese regime’s attempts to play a role.

“I think we would be naive [to think] that either the CCP or CCP-aligned actors would not attempt to use some of this technology here in the U.S.,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), ranking member of the Select Committee on the CCP, said in a Feb. 5 panel as he cited the regime’s use of deepfake content in Taiwan.Taiwanese President-elect Lai Ching-te (L) gestures beside his running mate Hsiao Bi-khim during a rally outside the headquarters of the Democratic Progressive Party in Taipei on Jan. 13, 2024. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images)Taiwanese President-elect Lai Ching-te (L) gestures beside his running mate Hsiao Bi-khim during a rally outside the headquarters of the Democratic Progressive Party in Taipei on Jan. 13, 2024. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images)

Both President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have expressed such concerns during their recent talks with Chinese officials.

“We have seen, generally speaking, evidence of attempts to influence and arguably interfere, and we want to make sure that that’s cut off as quickly as possible,” Mr. Blinken said in a media interview in Beijing. After the U.S.–China summit in November 2023, President Biden said he had warned China’s top communist leader he “didn’t expect any interference, any at all.”In a substantially redacted report released in December 2023, the National Intelligence Council said that senior Chinese leaders had issued “broad directives to intensify efforts” to influence U.S. policies and public opinion since 2020. According to the report, Chinese hackers scanned more than 100 U.S. state-level political party domains, and the Chinese leaders in 2021 had a list of specific members of Congress to “punish for anti-China views and to reward for their perceived support for China.”Xiong Yan (2nd R), one of the 21 "most-wanted" Tiananmen Square protesters from 1989, speaks with local pro-democracy leaders before taking part in a demonstration on the streets of Hong Kong on May 31, 2009. (Samantha Sin/AFP via Getty Images)Xiong Yan (2nd R), one of the 21 “most-wanted” Tiananmen Square protesters from 1989, speaks with local pro-democracy leaders before taking part in a demonstration on the streets of Hong Kong on May 31, 2009. (Samantha Sin/AFP via Getty Images)U.S. Army officer Xiong Yan, who ran as a U.S. congressional candidate to represent New York’s Long Island in 2022, was one victim of an attempted Chinese smear campaign, according to the Department of Justice.

At the May 15 hearing, Ms. Haines named China as among “the most significant foreign actors who engage in foreign influence activity directed at the United States in relation to our elections.”

Beijing, she said, has continued to “engage in efforts to promote politicians at all levels who are taking positions favorable to China on key issues.”

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