China Central Television (CCTV) was founded 65 years ago, in 1958, holding a unique position as the PRC’s only authorized national broadcaster. Currently, the CCTV runs over 40 channels and generates 300000 hours of annual programming.
CCTV’s influence extends beyond its programming, as it maintains close ties with the various units of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Therefore, the party-state determines the type of information and news accessible to the PRC’s 1.4 billion citizens through CCTV.
The current president of Central Television, Shen Haixiong, is not only a member of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) but also holds the position of an alternate member of the Central Committee. Prior to his current role, he headed the propaganda department in Guangdong Province.
Consequently, it is not surprising that CCTV is the most influential news and propaganda organization, not only voicing the CCP’s viewpoints but also incorporating “investigative” shows that still serve the party’s interests while heavily influencing public opinion.
CCTV is known for many problematic reasons, and particularly noteworthy is the series of public confessions. The CCTV is famous for airing confessions from suspects in high-profile cases, often before any formal charges or arrests. These televised confessions have effectively halted public discussions critical of government officials and influential business figures. According to Fu Hualing, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, this pattern reflects a strategy to silence debates by swiftly declaring an influential person’s guilt through CCTV, especially when public sentiment is divided and online discussions are closely monitored. For instance, in 2013, CCTV depicted the admission of guilt by Chen Yongzhou, a 27-year-old reporter forthe News Express in Guangzhou. He asserted that due to greed and fame, he took bribes and prepared alarming stories about the misconduct related to the PRC’s second-largest heavy equipment manufacturer, Zoomlion.
An important component of CCTV, airtime goes to anti-Western propaganda, rumors and disinformation. Accordingly, all TV stations under its control actively serve this purpose. This became especially visible from the prism of the Russia-Ukraine war and Covid-19. For instance, the PRC’s state broadcaster, CCTV, has been promoting the Russian government’s allegations that the United States is supporting the development of biological weapons in Ukraine. According to the bioweapons lab conspiracy theory used by the PRC and Russia, the US and Ukraine are working together to attack Russia.
The same propaganda narratives were aired during the COVID-19 crisis. CCTV website claimed in 2020 that the U.S. military-operated biological laboratories that conduct covert development of biological weapons span the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Africa and extend across 27 former Soviet republics, including Georgia and Ukraine. More precisely, based on their article, the U.S. possesses a research network comprising 15 biological laboratories in Ukraine alone, in addition to 3 laboratories and 11 smaller institutes in Georgia.
Hence, the collaboration between any Georgian TV channel and China Central Television (CCTV), the principal propaganda apparatus of the CCP, is entirely inappropriate. This partnership raises concerns as it could potentially expose the local media outlets to disinformation, inadvertently contribute to the dissemination of fake news, and consequently pose a threat not only to the national security of the country but also jeopardize its foreign policy objectives of aligning with Western alliances.
In Washington DC, on December 1, 2023, the National Endowment for Democracy and the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center organise the event, Georgia’s Path to Europe.
Tinatin Khidasheli, the Chairperson of Civic IDEA is one of the speakers on the panel at this event.
The European Commission’s November recommendation that EU candidacy status be granted to Georgia is the latest in a string of hard-won victories the Georgian people have achieved in recent months. In March, hundreds of thousands of Georgians took to the streets and forced the government to abandon a draconian Russian-style NGO law. In October, a controversial partisan gambit to impeach President Salome Zurabishvili failed after vocal opposition both in the parliament and throughout civil society. The loudest voices pushing back against democratic decline in the country belong to youth, civil society, and parliamentarians such as the women on this panel. Women from different political parties are coming together to highlight the importance of expanding political participation and keeping European integration the nation’s top priority.
Senior researcher of Civic IDEA, Ani Kintsurashvili has been featured on the website of the university center for journalism education of the University of Strasbourg, discussing the presence of the notorious Chinese companies in Georgia’s infrastructure sector and their shady dealings with the Georgian business and political elites. She highlighted that Georgia’s 2024 elections will also be decisive. “If the government stays in power, the Chinese companies will continue to flood in and win contracts.”
The sanctions imposed by the U.S. on the Georgian judges, Mikheil Chinchaladze, Levan Murusidze, and Irakli Shengelia; a former judge, Valerian Tsertsvadze; and the former Chief Prosecutor, Otar Partskhaladze, have not been followed by effective steps on the part of the Georgian authorities. On the contrary, since the moment of sanctioning, the authorities have been actively defending the interests of those sanctioned, disregarding the legislation and trying to downplay the negative consequences caused by the sanctions by conducting anti-Western propaganda.
We believe that both cases of sanctioning took place for alarming reasons. The Georgian society has been talking about the existence of corruption and political interests in Georgia’s judicial system for many years. The sanctioning of judges by the U.S. State Department due to their involvement in corrupt activities is one more piece of important evidence in this regard. In addition, the public was aware of Otar Partskhaladze’s informal influences on Georga’s political and business circles. The lenient attitude of law enforcement agencies towards him was bewildering. For years, his name was associated with a number of criminal acts, although he was not held responsible in any of the cases. And in the statement released by the U.S. Treasury on September 14, the accusation of activities for the benefit of Russian special services was added to all this. The law enforcement agencies have not provided an effective response to this issue; moreover, they allowed Otar Partskhaladze to leave the country.
Not only is that the sanctions imposed by the U.S. were not followed by a response; the acting President of the National Bank of Georgia, Natia Turnava, tailored the rule of enforcement of sanctions to the former Chief Prosecutor accused of cooperation with Russian special services, which is one more concrete example of state capture manifested in action.
We think that the Georgian authorities are apparently protecting the persons sanctioned by the U.S. Naturally, such an approach causes further damage to the country’s reputation and to the trust of international partners towards the Georgian authorities.
We call on the Georgian authorities to stop protecting the interests of the sanctioned persons and distancing the country from the Western space by doing so, provide an adequate response, and take concrete steps to redress the damage caused to the country by the fact of sanctioning.
Transparency International Georgia (TI Georgia)
Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA)
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)
Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI)
Social Justice Center (SJC)
Human Rights Center (HRC)
Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSGF)
Georgian Court Watch
Democracy Research Institute (DRI)
Europe-Georgia Institute (EGI)
Economic Policy Research Center (EPRC)
Media Development Foundation (MDF)
Society and Banks
Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI)
Atlantic Council of Georgia
Georgia’s Future Academy
Reforms and Research Group
Institute of Democracy
Research Institute Gnomon Wise
Civic Engagement and Activism Center (CEAC)
Kvemo Kartli Media
Association Deserving Old Age
Civic Movement for Freedom
Media and Communication Educational-Research Center “Media Voice”
This week’s Global Gateway Forum offers the EU a chance to show global leaders how a focus on democratic values and transparency distinguishes it from China’s Belt and Road. To succeed, this focus should be established from the start, write Sam van der Staak and Paul Maassen.
On 25 October, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will host global leaders for the EU’s first Global Gateway Forum. The 300-billion-euro investment fund aims to be not only more effective but also more democratic than China’s competing Belt and Road initiative. However, to outperform China and win the hearts and minds of citizens globally, Global Gateway needs to better underscore its commitment to democratic principles. The EU’s Global Gateway initiative promises to invest 300 billion euros in digital, energy, and transport sectors and strengthen health, education, and research systems across the world. This week’s Global Gateway Forum offers the EU an opportunity to show global leaders how a focus on values distinguishes it from China’s Belt and Road. Since its launch in 2013, China’s flagship investment vehicle has left a trail of corruption scandals and human rights violations.
One study found that 35% of Belt and Road projects suffered from corruption scandals, labour violations, environmental hazards, and public protests. By contrast, Global Gateway aims to be more democratic and ‘work for people and planet’. The Global Gateway website presents democratic values as the first of its underlying principles. EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell has even called Global Gateway’s twin aims “to promote trusted connectivity and democratic values worldwide”. EU external action is typically most effective when it combines investing in trade or security with investing in foundational values it stands for like democracy and good governance. It has excelled in value-heavy policies such as the war in Ukraine, the Green Deal, digital rules, and COVID-vaccine solidarity. Conversely, it encounters challenges when promoting interests that clash with its principles, as evident in its historical energy dependence on Russia, the 2020 investment agreement with China, and the recent migration deal with Tunisia. Yet, despite its ambitions, Global Gateway’s democratic impact is not self-evident. In fact, Global Gateway partner countries constitute a poor reflection of democracy.
According to the Global State of Democracy Indices, only 2 out of 46 partner countries, Costa Rica and Chile, are high-performing in the fields of representation, rule of law, rights and participation. Only eight countries are high-performing in one, two or three of these categories. 25 partner countries 54% score in the low range on the absence of corruption. The combination of autocratic leadership and poor transparency is a dangerous mix when billions of euros are at stake. If done well, investing in infrastructure can deliver much more than roads and cables. It can create opportunities for citizens to shape or oversee decisions that will impact their lives. It can be a lever for combating corruption. It can help create a more vibrant level-playing field for the private sector. And it can contribute to building trust in society that democracies deliver for all, not just the powerful elites. Therefore, if it is to make its economic goals succeed, Global Gateway’s declared focus on democratic values and transparency should be established from the start. The EU can do so in at least four ways. First, the EU can build a level of conditionality into its investments, by awarding more democratic countries such as Zambia and Nepal higher shares of funds than autocratic and hybrid ones. Partner countries would be rewarded with additional investments when their democracy expands, and reverse conditionality when their democracy backslides. Second, the EU should avoid the Chinese opaque model, whereby infrastructure projects result from deals with powerful individuals instead of all-of-society investment agreements. In weak democracies, to guarantee that money is well spent and citizen rights ensured, the EU should tie its initiatives to support parliamentary oversight, auditing capacity (including proven citizen audits like the ones in the Philippines and Nigeria), and media and civic scrutiny. Evidence shows that collaboration between government and civil society is positively correlated with reforms that are more ambitious and have stronger outcomes. The EU can use the opportunity of the current review of its NDICI global funding instrument to increase the share going to democracy support.
Third, Global Gateway can link investments to democracy at regional and global levels. It can offer partner countries and civil society a seat at the table when designing EU digital rules or climate plans that have a global ripple effect. Large-scale spending is notoriously prone to waste and corruption, so it is crucial that the EU fosters legitimacy in its investments. It can establish an EU-Global South Technology and Democracy Alliance to support the human-centric use of tech in partner countries. Lastly, the EU should build the operational capacity to deliver Global Gateway’s democratic ambitions. It should include a democracy lens from the start of each project, instead of as an afterthought. It should develop democratic guidelines on transparency, accountability, and participation for EU Delegation staff dealing with infrastructure and energy projects. The EU should appoint a democracy coordinator within each Global Gateway project. It should set up an independent screening initiative to audit Global Gateway projects for open and responsive procedures from concept to realization. If the EU is serious about linking investments to democracy under Global Gateway, as it has regularly mentioned, it has options to implement this successfully. Doing so will not only ensure this massive investment pays off long term for people and the planet but also make it stand out from China’s opaque practices that have enraged citizens from Kenya to Cambodia. Most importantly, the values-driven approach will win the hearts and minds of its global partners, which the EU so sorely needs in an increasingly multipolar world.
Sam van der Staak is the director for Europe at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA). Paul Maassen is the chief country support and secretary-general for Europe at the Open Government Partnership (OGP).
On October 15-17, 2023 chairperson of Civic IDEA, Tinatin Khidasheli attended the “Forum 2000” held in Prague, where she participated as a speaker in two discussions.
On October 16 she participated in a panel called, “Claiming the Center in Georgia “. This panel highlights women politicians in Georgia addressing political polarization by promoting centrist parties and parliamentary collaboration. Empowering women is vital for overcoming personal rivalries and restoring democratic reform and European integration. While the Georgian population favors European integration, the government builds ties with Russia and China. Recent polarization between the UNM and GD overshadowed smaller center parties, limiting political representation. The October 2024 elections offer a chance for change with new collaboration-friendly rules. Young women leaders such as those on this panel can renew Georgian politics through cooperation and representing new voices.
On October 17 Tinatin Khidasheli participated in a panel called, ,, Is the Chinese World Replacing Russkiy Mir in Central Asia and the Caucasus?’’ While the Kremlin may pretend Russia is still a global power capable of imposing its will on its neighbours, in reality, Russia’s capacity to project real power is weakening and will continue to wane. Meanwhile, China is systematically penetrating Central Asia and the Caucasus, regions previously thought to be ”Russian turff” and filling the vacuum. Even Russia is increasingly dependent on China. Europe, as usual, is behind the curve. With so much of Europe’s attention to Ukraine, this encroachment by China into the Caucasus and Central Asia has been overlooked. What is the current state of affairs? What can be done to draw attention to the risks of growing Chinese influence in the region? Alongside participation in the panel, Tinatin Khidasheli leads the Forum 2000 China working group.
On October 6-7, Civic IDEA hosted the fourth high-rank international conference – “Small States in the Changing World Order: Democratization – Key to Successful Resilience-Building” You can find more information about the conference by visiting the following link:
In July this year, Georgian experts and the political community were surprised when, during the visit of Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili to China, the two sides issued a joint statement on the establishment of a Strategic Partnership. The document has been criticised by experts for its perceived imbalance between Chinese and Georgian interests and concerns.
This month, Prime Minister Garibashvili announced visa-free travel for Chinese citizens and the government’s intention to increase the number of direct flights to China to “further facilitate tourism.” This was followed by statements from Georgian officials that they would welcome Chinese investment in the strategically important infrastructure project for Georgia, the Anaklia deep-sea port. Indeed, today the Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development, Levan Davitashvili, revealed that the Sino-Singaporean consortium has been selected as one of the two finalists in the selection process for the Anaklia port private partnership.
Against the backdrop of ambivalent relations with Georgia’s strategic partners – the EU and the US – these developments raise concerns and question marks. What does it all mean, and what are the implications for Georgia’s established foreign policy priorities?
Armed with these questions, we turned to Tinatin (Tina) Khidasheli, chair of the Georgian think-tank Civic Idea, which studies Sino-Georgian relations. Tina Khidasheli is a former Georgian Defense Minister and former Member of Parliament.
Civil.ge:Georgia recently announced a visa-free regime for Chinese citizens “to boost trade, investment, and tourism” alongside the establishment of a “Strategic Partnership” with China. While this move has been met with both praise and criticism, what is your assessment? What potential benefits and risks do you see for Georgia in this decision, especially considering the country’s aspirations for NATO and EU integration?
For a country like Georgia, which has a very flexible visa policy, the “boosting trade, investment and tourism” argument is pure speculation. The visa regime has never prevented Chinese investors from coming to Georgia, as the process is very easy, cheap and hassle-free. It is more of a political statement than a practical step.
After issuing a statement on strategic cooperation, the Georgian government felt the need to act and, without looking at the actual consequences of the action, came up with this idea as a first step with a political flavor, almost similar to the announcement of the first Chinese-run World Trade Expo on 23-25 September. We will see many initiatives in the coming weeks leading up to the Silk Road Forum at the end of October.
The bigger problem with all these decisions, including the establishment of a visa-free regime, is that even in dealing with a country like China, the Georgian government has no concrete medium- or long-term plan, development strategy or risk assessment documents. We do not see any planning for medium- or long-term goals and outcomes that the government wants to achieve, but a very concrete domestic agenda goal to sell increased Sino-Georgian cooperation as a counterbalance to the government’s total failure on the Western front, be it with the EU or the US.
Civil.ge:Given the commitment made by the government of Georgia in its agreement with China, particularly regarding adherence to the ‘one-China principle,’ support for initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Global Development Initiative (GDI), Global Security Initiative (GSI), and Global Civilization Initiative (GCI) and considering other European countries’ decisions to withdraw from initiatives like the BRI what is your perspective on the potential implications of such a commitment?
Again, these are all political decisions so far, without any particular substance or understanding of what the actual results will be for Georgia. I do not expect these principles to have any immediate practical effect on the Sino-Georgian affair, nor do I expect any immediate reactions from the West. The fact that the Georgian government, without any consultation with the Parliament or the Commander-in-Chief (President of Georgia), took the liberty of joining the GSI, which was created and delivered as an anti-US and anti-NATO strategic statement, says a lot.
The GSI recognizes, approves and promotes the idea of the UN as the one and only institution guaranteeing world peace and prosperity. It denies the importance of other institutions and recognizes the legitimate interests of countries in self-defense in cases and decisions that are absolutely outside the jurisdiction, territory or legitimacy of any particular country. To make the case easier, we need to remember simple facts. The GSI was launched and presented after Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine. Accordingly, it is seen as the PRC’s response to the invasion. It accepts the legitimacy of Russia’s claim that NATO’s enlargement threatens Russia and declares it a strategic concern in Russia’s case. It does not explicitly legitimize Russia’s aggression, but it declares these legitimate concerns to be grounds for serious consideration. Georgia has unilaterally recognized the GSI and pledged to abide by its principles, notwithstanding its clear confrontation with our most important long-term strategic partner in defense and security.
It is difficult now to predict exactly what the consequences for Georgia will be, but it is fair to say that the language of the strategic declaration, as well as its release so close to a historic decision on EU candidate status, is a pure provocation by the government. It fits in perfectly with the rhetoric we have recently heard from the mayor of Tbilisi, Kaladze, about NATO.
Civil.ge:The term “strategic partnership” often implies the possibility of military cooperation and intelligence-sharing. How do you view the potential for such cooperation between Georgia and China, and what implications might this have for the region and Georgia’s Western alliances?
So far, there is no visible sign of any planned military/defence cooperation. We have only had two attempts to bring the Chinese into the defense sector: the Motor Sich case and a promise of a military training exchange that never materialized, mainly due to the intervention of Covid.
To some extent, as long as Georgia sticks to the NATO agenda (also for PR purposes), I do not really see the possibility of official Sino-Georgian military cooperation. China does not usually start by moving its military officers or personnel around. Another obstacle is Sino-Russian defense cooperation and joint military training, where again it would be absolutely suicidal for the Georgian government to participate.
As for intelligence sharing, in a sense, we are already doing it by keeping Chinese Nuchtech on our borders. So, making it official in treaties will depend totally on the turn Georgia will make after the 2024 elections.
Civil.ge:It has been suggested that China uses strategic partnerships with small states to exert influence and secure support for its global initiatives. What role do you see Georgia playing in the broader context of China’s Initiatives and its ambitions in the South Caucasus and Central Asia?
It is absolutely clear that the main interests of the PRC lie in Central Asia and the resources of the Caspian Sea. Georgia, by virtue of its geographical and political position, is an integral part of the whole scheme. As I see it, the July 2023 statement on strategic partnership was not so much about the materialization of the huge amount of concrete plans as it was about locking in Georgia as a sphere of interest. I call it the PRC’s master plan to replace “Russki Mir” with Confucius World for the time when all the above principles and plans will be activated.
It should also be mentioned that the statement on strategic partnership goes even deeper and provides that Georgia will coordinate its activities with the PRC at the level of an international organization. Therefore, we should not be surprised if one day Georgia will start voting with the Chinese voice instead of the EU or the US in the UN or other organizations.
Civil.ge:As Civic IDEA closely monitors the ongoing developments in Georgia’s cooperation with China and continues to investigate potential risks and misconduct in various sectors, including infrastructure, economics, and education, could you elaborate on the specific concerns and irregularities that your organization has uncovered during its five years of research? Additionally, what recommendations or measures do you propose for Georgia to address these concerns, enhance transparency, and promote accountability in its relationship with China?
This is a very big question, and you can find all the answers in our reports. Each report has a summary of problems demonstrating the magnitude of misconduct or risks to the country, including corruption risks.
Civil.ge:Given the evolving dynamic in which Russia and China appear to be united in challenging the Western liberal democratic world order, especially as evidenced by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and their joint efforts to forge multilateral institutions, and given China’s role in financing Russia’s actions and blocking sanctions against Russia, what strategies or safeguards can Georgia implement to protect its interests and maintain its relations with both China and the West?
We believe in cooperation, so there is nothing in our policy paper recommendations against Sino-Georgian cooperation. There’s always room to do more, and the Georgian government could have successfully worked on mutually beneficial treaties and agreements. The problem with the 31 July statement is that it is absolutely one-sided, and represents the whole spectrum of issues that the PRC is concerned about, but none of them reflect the interests of Georgia. So our recommendation is simple: at least work with the principles of reciprocity in mind when drafting these documents.
But if we look at the bigger picture, it is absolutely clear that Georgia has a chance to become stronger and have more influence with the major regional players only if and when it is supported by the Western alliances and allies. Close cooperation with the EU and the Americans has always helped Georgia to get maximum results from all cooperation agreements with third countries, and this is no different in the case of the PRC. Obviously, we are slowly but surely losing the power and influence that we have steadily gained through our firm commitment to EU and NATO membership and the transformation of the country into a European-style liberal democracy.
Georgia’s only competitive advantage in this volatile region is its firm European aspirations, its democratisation and its setting an example of democratic success for the region, and I do not mean just the post-Soviet space. This is what makes transit through Georgia attractive and an obvious choice from Russia or Iran. We seem to be losing this competitive advantage.
Civil.ge: And finally, how would you comment to the today’s announcement by the Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development Levan Davitashvili who revealed that one of the two finalists in the Anaklia Deep Sea Port private partnership selection competition is a Chinese-Singaporean consortium, without naming it though?
The Sino-Singaporean consortium, or even the Swiss-Luxembourg consortium, does not tell us much because where the company is registered does not tell us much about it. The biggest problem at the moment is that the information is completely classified. There is no reason why the government should not publish a list of companies interested in the bid, or why it should talk to citizens in riddles, but unfortunately this has become a very common practice. In the meantime, it prevents us from doing due diligence, and until that happens, there should be public scrutiny.
Civic IDEA’s partner experts, Danila Bekturganov and Abbos Bobokhonov, implemented research on “Chinese growing technological impact in Central Asia”, overviewing the main activities of Chinese technology companies in the two largest countries of the Central Asian region – Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The authors considered the opportunities available for Chinese technology companies to access the personal and biometric data of users – citizens of Central Asian countries. Moreover, they studied the prospects for cooperation between Chinese technology companies and the authorities of the Central Asian countries and provided conclusions and main recommendations on the areas of advocacy activities both on the regional and international levels.
The material has been prepared with the support of a DTL (Doublethink Lab) grant – CITW fund.