China Disinformation Ops Target Top GOP Lawmaker

Rep. McCaul latest victim of CCP influence operations seeking to sway U.S. elections

Michael McCaul
Michael McCaul / Getty Images
October 21, 2020

China is targeting a leading Republican lawmaker who has been at the center of efforts to crack down on the Communist Party's stealth campaign to influence the 2020 election.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas), lead Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is the latest victim of a coordinated campaign by Chinese state-controlled outlets to spread disinformation and sow discord among the American public. McCaul is an outspoken critic of the CCP and, as chair of the congressional China Task Force, led efforts to expose China's deception about the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

These efforts have made McCaul a target for the Communist Party, which has used its network of English-language propaganda sites to discredit the lawmaker. CCP-controlled outlets have published nearly two dozen hit pieces on McCaul in the past several months, including a Wednesday article by the Global Times claiming McCaul's hawkish views on China could cost him his seat in Congress. McCaul is locked in a tight election with his challenger, according to polls, and the incumbent's team views China's English-language press blitz as part of an effort to ensure he loses.

China's campaign against McCaul is the latest effort by the Communist Party to peddle propaganda to American audiences and influence the 2020 election cycle and soften the American public's view toward Beijing. The U.S. intelligence community has singled out China, Russia, and Iran as seeking to influence the upcoming American elections. Using media sites, fake social media accounts, and internet bots, these countries push propaganda to American readers. Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook have struggled to contain the spread of state-backed disinformation, which routinely is presented to American readers without context or warning. The United States on Wednesday designated six Chinese media companies operating in America as CCP propaganda outlets.

At least 17 stories attacking McCaul have appeared in Chinese-controlled media outlets in recent months. The flurry of stories published in outlets such as China Daily, China Global Television Network, and the Global Times portray McCaul and other China hawks as a danger to the U.S.-China relationship. They label the China Task Force a "circus troupe" and go to great lengths to push back against accusations the Communist Party lied about the coronavirus pandemic and hid critical information from global authorities.

McCaul told the Washington Free Beacon he is not surprised to fall in the Communist Party's crosshairs. As the lead Republican author of the House China Task Force report, which exposed the country's efforts to mislead the world about coronavirus, McCaul has the power to constrain China's influence in the United States. The lawmaker also released this week a massive legislative package that contains nearly 100 bills targeting China's economic sabotage, hacking operations, and stealth influence peddling in the United States.

"I think CCP leaders are worried that policies recommended in the China Task Force report could be enacted and drastically curtail their malign global agenda for the first time in 40 years," the lawmaker said.

On Wednesday afternoon, China's Global Times highlighted McCaul on Twitter as a "high-risk" lawmaker who could lose his election. As with much of China's influence peddling on social media, the English-language tweets and articles masquerade as objective reporting, never disclosing their state-controlled media status. News articles penned by CCP-aligned outlets often make their way onto Twitter and Facebook, where they gain distribution among unwitting audiences. China's approach is similar to that of Russia, which used American social media sites to attempt to sway the 2016 election.

Leslie Shedd, the House Foreign Affairs Committee's spokeswoman, told the Free Beacon that McCaul is "a target of the CCP's election interference."

McCaul is frequently a target of Chinese propaganda reports. An hourlong television special produced in July by China Global Television Network dispelled what it claimed were factual inaccuracies in the China Task Force report. It did not mention the task force's discovery that China never initially reported the coronavirus to the World Health Organization, as the country claimed for months.

The propaganda reports have been amplified by CCP officials. In early July, China's foreign ministry spokesman spent an entire press briefing attacking McCaul and his report.

Published under: China , MIchael McCaul