China’s “Cuckoo Land” & Law’s Rule of Completeness

The Communist Party of China has entered the “Gray Zone” of warfare by mobilizing their media operation against America. China’s outrageous turn-table claim that blames America for COVID-19 is the latest attack.  But China’s mass-media projectiles have been dropping for years.  These include paid ads and good news stories planted in major media that hope to lull America into terminal sleep.China_Xi

Take for example, a Chinese paid supplement in the Des Moines Register in September, 2018. The four-page propaganda piece “touted the mutual benefits of U.S.-China trade, built on concern about long-term market losses, and highlighted President Xi Jinping’s three-decades-long relationship with Iowa.”  According to David Skidmore, a political science professor at Drake University, “I think it’s trying to maximize pressure on the administration to change its trade policies toward China by attempting to show White House and Republicans that they’re going to pay a price with the mid-terms.” Aside from the politics, Chinese propaganda has the potential to destabilize democratic institutions. (Des Moines Register, Sep. 26, 2018)

In Washington DC, a TV station run by China’s Communist Party employs 180 journalists and streams to 30 million households. It serves as part of what Mr. Xi has called Beijing’s “publicity front.”  It broadcasts forced confessions to American audiences. In 2013, it broadcast the confession of Peter Humphrey, a British private investigator who was imprisoned in China and accused of illegally selling Chinese citizens’ data. Mr. Humphrey, who has since been released, said he had been drugged, chained to a chair, locked in a cage and then made to read out a statement written by the police in front of the cameras. The station avoids subjects that displease Beijing. During a 2014 visit by Mr. Xi to Greece, a clip that showed him getting off the plane with unruly hair was eradicated from broadcasts. (NY Times, Feb 28 2019 By Paul Mozur)

The sophistication of China’s media war is a fundamental step-up from previous propaganda attacks on western civilization. This is evident when we compare China’s influence operations to Nazi Germany’s battle plans against Great Britain in WWII.

Hitler, “[h]oping for a bloodless victory, yet confronted with the daunting challenge of defeating a nation separated by a formidable sea barrier, prophesied that ‘our real wars will in fact all be fought before military operations begin.  I can quite imagine that we might control Britain in this way.  Or America.’”  According to Hitler, “to produce unrest and revolt in the United States, so that these gentry will have their hands full of their own affairs…One strategy is to destroy the enemy from within, to conquer him through himself.” After the war, some reported Hitler’s strategy as “Cuckoo Land” for lack of effectiveness. (Fleming, Operation Sea Lion, 1957).

China_Hitler CuckooLand

Maybe the Nazi influence operations against Great Britain in WWII were Cuckoo.  Operations were largely visible if one was to look carefully:  pamphlets dropped behind allied lines sought to create public unrest, radio programs by German-accented personalities stirred anti-government sentiment, and the shadowy threat of ‘Fifth Column’ saboteurs sought to poke holes in Britain’s social fabric.  In hindsight, some of the Nazi tactics seem quaint, having “much the same effect which a matador’s scarlet cape has upon a wearying bull.” (Id. p. 306).

One would be remiss to not acknowledge that the Russian cyber threat, to fair elections for example, is also real and has teeth.  Yet it is the Chinese media war, embedding its propaganda campaign in established channels threatens to still the democratic pulse. China has learned from the Cuckoos of history.  Publications such as China Daily and Chinawatch ads in American newspapers exemplify China’s sophisticated propaganda campaign at its best.

China’s media war runs parallel to their logistics power projection.  The Pentagon has reported on China’s ambitions in the Arctic and the threat presented by Beijing’s media campaign.  “China conducts influence operations against cultural institutions, media organizations and the business, academic, and policy communities of the United States, other countries and international institutions to achieve outcomes favorable to its security and military strategy objectives.”


Other sources highlight the expansion of China’s extension of operations with Russia in the Arctic.  Across Latin America and Mexico, China is pouring money into port facilities which provide logistics access to America’s underbelly.  If this two-pronged north-south strategy sounds familiar, it should. China, with Russian support, much like Mussolini’s support to Hitler, has created strategic ‘fronts’ on America’s Arctic and Southern flanks.

The deadly artfulness of Chinese propaganda is evidenced by what goes unsaid.  Anti-Chinese sentiment in Taiwan, violent suppression in Hong Kong, and interference with free expression throughout the Pacific region go unreported.  Day-in-the-life good news stories, divorced from ground truth, impersonate real news.  This is what totalitarian governments do, they suppress all that is disruptive to their communist chokehold on individual liberty.  A businessman lured into their web articulated the Chinese strategy, “[to] earn [Taiwanese] trust first and then their identity.” (US News, Pro-China Groups Step up Offensive, June 25, 2019)

Why, we should ask, have so many good news economic stories out of China–even when tempered by references to the Chinese people who remain desperately poor–been replayed, open-arms, by America’s media mainstream.  Newsroom stakeholders must see China’s shell-game propaganda as contrary to American free press and more humane economic model.  Yet, the lauding of China’s economic success—tempered only for now by outrage over COVID-19–continues to mask China’s horrific domestic failures.

In American law, we have a tool to reveal evidence of China’s propaganda and respond to the threat.  In court, there is something called the “Rule of Completeness.”  This rule dates back at least to English common law.  When evidence is introduced, the other party may require the ‘whole story’ (i.e. the “rest of the story” as Paul Harvey would say) be admitted into evidence. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, this rule allows one party to admit evidence that they might not otherwise have been able to reveal.  The rule is based on fairness.

In the Chinese media war, the propaganda of ‘missing facts,’ can only be won by news editors, our gatekeepers of truth, who must rigorously apply the Rule of Completeness to their editorial decisions.  Investigative reporters must gather the whole story, tell the whole story—at the time of publication, or in legal parlance at the time of trial—contemporaneous with the propaganda of Chinese story-time.  Only in this way can China’s “Cuckoo Land” be thwarted.

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