March 26, 2024

Classic Cleavages in a New Light: Chinese Informational Influence in the Baltics

Raimond Klavins/Unsplash

Institutions and organisations researching and monitoring the informational policies of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are observing a dramatic increase and expansion in the regime’s efforts to shape and influence the global information space. This trend is followed by a careful and expanding effort to understand the tactics used by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which vary from propaganda and misinformation and the suppression of critical voices to the promotion of digital authoritarianism, utilising aggressive means such as intimidation and diplomatic pressure as well as gaining control over media and information technologies.

The report is based on nationwide surveys conducted by the Eastern Europe Studies Centre (EESC) (Lithuania) in partnership with the Latvian Institute of International Affairs (LIIA) and ICDS in summer 2023 and is aimed at assessing the susceptibility and resilience of the societies of the three Baltic states to the Chinese influence in the information domain. It provides in-depth country profiles as well as a summary of the comparative results in three areas – economic, normative, and geopolitical – and concludes with some policy recommendations.

The survey results demonstrate a high level of sensitivity to the economic narratives in all three societies. The respondents see China as an economic power that is contributing to the development of small countries, like the Baltics. At the same time, the respondents tend to identify China as a political threat to international order. This may indicate both a tendency to separate economic questions from political issues; while at the same time, it could be a sign of pragmatism, with the respondents seeing China as an important, even indispensable, source of wealth generation for the stagnant or low-growth economies of the West. The study showcases the need to focus strategic communication on China’s tactics of economic entrapment and coercion and its intent to compromise democratic processes.

In the normative and geopolitical dimensions, the views are influenced mostly by the image of small states as unable to influence global political processes, with the highest agreement across all three Baltic states (at the level of 63-73%) occurring in response to the statement that their country should not interfere in China’s affairs. A mix of economic pragmatism, a small state mindset, distrust in one’s government, socio-economic insecurity and socio-political conservatism are the major drivers in adopting a stance that favours China-friendly narratives in all three Baltic states.

The report recommends strengthening the monitoring and analysis of China’s information agenda in the Baltic states and studying this agenda in the context of China’s employment of other instruments of ‘sharp power’. It urges policy stakeholders to enhance strategic communication exposing China’s long-term geopolitical motives, means and ways of influence, and benefits it draws from Russia’s disinformation activities. Special attention should be devoted to societal groups most vulnerable to disinformation as well as on the issues where the public lacks clear opinion. The report also calls for strengthening resilience of the Baltic states’ societies to economic coercion and, most importantly, their self-confidence in the ability of small democratic states to protect their fundamental values and interests through coalition-building and active foreign policymaking.

Download and read: Classic Cleavages in a New Light: Chinese Informational Influence in the Baltics (PDF)