The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) strategic efforts to influence the 2022 U.S. midterm elections have come to light in a detailed report by the U.S. intelligence community.
This report, disseminated by the National Intelligence Council, uncovers the CCP’s agenda to weaken candidates perceived as “anti-China” and bolster those deemed “pro-China.”
As the intelligence agencies put it, “China tacitly approved efforts to try to influence a handful of midterm races involving members of both U.S. political parties,” a conclusion drawn with “high confidence.”
Covert Operations and Expansive Goals
While the report, partly redacted, does not specify which races were targeted, it does reveal that China employed covert tactics, including using “inauthentic accounts” to disparage an unnamed Senate candidate.
FBI Director Christopher Wray’s statements in 2022 aligned with this, suggesting China’s broader ambitions for economic and political supremacy. Since 2020, CCP leaders have been intensifying efforts to sway U.S. policies and public sentiment in favor of China.
The report elaborates, “We assess that these directives gave PRC influence actors more freedom to operate ahead of the midterms than [ahead of] the presidential election in 2020, probably because PRC officials believed that Beijing was under less scrutiny during the midterms and because they did not expect the current Administration to retaliate as severely as they feared in 2020.”
Targeting Congress: A Focused Strategy
The CCP’s specific interest in the U.S. Congress, seen as a key battleground against “anti-China activity,” is a notable aspect of the report.
In a telling passage, the report notes, “In 2021, Beijing identified specific members of Congress to punish for anti-China views and to reward for their perceived support for China.”
This tactic is part of a larger strategy to depict the U.S. democratic model as chaotic and ineffective, often by highlighting social issues like abortion and gun control.
Digital Warfare and Social Media Intrigue
Microsoft’s report in September about China-based hackers mimicking U.S. voters and Meta’s disclosure of thousands of fake accounts tied to China underscore the digital dimension of this interference.
TikTok, a popular Chinese-owned platform, has been identified for its intensified messaging on U.S. politics, raising alarms about CCP’s data collection methods.
International Players in the Political Arena
While China refrained from a comprehensive campaign favoring a particular party, its cyber activities, including scanning political domains, were significant.
In contrast, Russia, Iran, and Cuba also engaged in influencing the midterms, each with unique motives and methods. Russia primarily targeted the Democratic Party, Iran aimed to increase social tension, and Cuba’s efforts were also noted.
The report’s general assessment of foreign actors’ strategies is encapsulated as, “We assess that most foreign actors now appear largely focused on amplifying authentic U.S. public narratives to try to influence electoral outcomes, increase mistrust in U.S. election processes, and stoke socio-political divisions.”