China has ‘sophisticated influence apparatus’ but did not try to sway 2020 US election, American intelligence chief says

China did not try to influence the outcome of the 2020 US presidential election and the US has “no information to suggest” Beijing will play a “more active role” this year, a top US intelligence official told senators on Wednesday.
Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, US director of national intelligence Avril Haines said that while China had a “sophisticated influence apparatus” to exploit new technologies such as generative AI, Beijing remained concerned about potential consequences “in the event their efforts are disclosed”.

Haines highlighted that China had made important advances in its “influence operation tools,” taking advantage of recent discoveries in areas such as big data analytics and the use of deepfake technologies to generate content.


From India to China, how deepfakes are reshaping Asia politics

From India to China, how deepfakes are reshaping Asia politics

She also pointed out that although there was no evidence to date of the use of these tools in the United States, intelligence agents had identified “increasing confidence” in China’s influence capabilities. Haines emphasised that Chinese initiatives of this kind had already been detected in elections in Australia, Canada and Taiwan.

“Beijing seeks to promote support for China’s policy positions and perspectives, including in the context of specific elections, by portraying the US democratic model as chaotic, ineffective, unrepresentative and magnifying US societal divisions,” Haines said.

The director also stated that the intelligence agencies would continue to monitor Beijing’s activities and alert social media platforms if coordinated disinformation campaigns were detected. Additionally, they would collaborate with the FBI to attribute responsibility for such movements.

Despite Haines’ statement, Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, said Chinese “influence actors aggressively sought to shape the outcome of Taiwan’s election earlier this year, including promoting narratives the election had been rigged as election day approached”.

He also said the presence of the popular ByteDance social media app TikTok posed risks, “with ownership based in a country assessed to conduct election influence campaigns”.

“It is these kinds of attempts by foreign actors and adversaries to sow disinformation, undermine confidence in elections and seed discord that Americans expect their federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies to detect and defeat,” Warner said.

The risks of potential Chinese influence on this year’s US presidential election have been raised by various US officials for several months.

Last month, US President Joe Biden reportedly warned his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping against meddling in the November vote during a phone call between the two leaders. A senior administration official told reporters at a briefing before the call that the US had expressed its “continuous reinforcement of concern” about Chinese election interference.


Protests at US Congress after House passes bill that could potentially ban TikTok nationwide

Protests at US Congress after House passes bill that could potentially ban TikTok nationwide

Last year, Microsoft researchers also warned the US government that they believed “a network of fake, Chinese-controlled social media accounts” was trying to influence American voters using artificial intelligence. China’s embassy in Washington rejected the allegations, calling them “malicious speculation”.

Beijing has repeatedly said it does not interfere in US elections, based on its principle of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs.


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