Unleash the Dragon: China’s Strategic Narrative during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Speaker: Mark Bryan Manantan (Pacific Forum and Asia Society Policy Institute)
Seminar of the Institute of Cyber Security for Society (iCSS)

Abstract: This talk argues that the disruption of the coronavirus was a critical opportunity among states to draw compelling narratives and consequently negotiate their power status and level of influence based on their management of the outbreak. This argument will be explored through the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at the height of the pandemic. The article investigates the evolution of the CCP’s information warfare as an asymmetric capability from its early days of technological inferiority towards its ascendancy to great power status. It highlights the breakthrough of Chinese app TikTok in the US-dominated social media landscape and its potential impact in expanding China’s strategic narrative. Using the proposed analytical tools—assets, tactics, and narratives—this article examines the whole of CCP approach aimed to shape the narrative in China’s favor following the global outcry from its lack of transparency during the early stages of the pandemic set against the backdrop of its deepening strategic rivalry with the US. It concludes that the CCP will continue to capitalize on information warfare to promote the superiority of the Chinese model amid the eruption of unexpected global crises while depicting the decline of the Western-centric order.

Bio: Mark Bryan Manantan is the resident Vasey fellow at Pacific Forum, Hawai’i and the AI research and policy consultant at the Asia Society Policy Institute in Washington D.C. Concurrently he is also a research fellow at the AI Asia Pacific Institute in Singapore and a non-resident fellow at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the National Chengchi University in Taiwan. Prior to that, he also held fellowships in Tokyo, Taipei, and Washington D.C. His current research examines the nexus of cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and critical technologies in the Indo-Pacific. Mr. Manantan’s research and policy-relevant work has been published by the Australian Journal of International Affairs, the Cyber Defense Review, Asian Politics and Policy, Issues and Studies, the East Asia Forum, the Diplomat, the Asia Pacific Bulletin, and the Philippine Star. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts (magna cum laude) in Broadcast Communication under the Presidential Scholarship at the University of the Philippines. A recipient of the Australia Awards Scholarship, he also holds a Master of International Relations (Advanced) with Honours from the Australian National University.

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