President Donald Trump greenlit a clandestine campaign aimed at manipulating public sentiment in China against its government, according to former US officials familiar with the operation.

Three anonymous sources informed Reuters that the CIA established a small team tasked with spreading negative narratives about Xi Jinping's administration through fake online personas, while also leaking disparaging intelligence to foreign news outlets. This covert initiative, which commenced in 2019, has not been publicly disclosed until now.

Over the past decade, China has significantly expanded its global presence, forming military alliances, trade agreements, and business ventures with emerging nations. In response, the CIA operation sought to fuel distrust among top Chinese leaders by promoting allegations of corruption within the ruling Communist Party. The operatives also criticized China's Belt and Road Initiative, a program financing infrastructure projects in developing countries.

Although specific details of the operations were not provided by US officials, they asserted that the narratives were rooted in factual information, albeit disseminated under false identities. The aim was to provoke paranoia among Chinese officials, diverting their attention to fabricated threats in Beijing's tightly controlled online sphere.

Neither the CIA nor China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to requests for comment on the existence or impact of the influence program.

Trump's authorization of the operation, indicative of his administration's tougher stance on China, mirrored Cold War-era tactics employed against the Soviet Union. However, the initiative carried significant risks, potentially escalating tensions with China, which wields considerable economic power and could retaliate through trade measures.

While the program's exact impact remains unclear, the revelation raises concerns about its potential repercussions. China could exploit evidence of CIA interference to bolster its narrative of Western subversion, particularly in regions already skeptical of US influence. Moreover, such covert operations risk endangering dissidents, opposition groups, and independent journalists, who may be falsely accused of colluding with foreign powers.

The Trump administration's aggressive posture towards China underscores the broader geopolitical rivalry between the two superpowers, with covert influence campaigns emerging as a weapon in this ongoing confrontation. Photo by Gage Skidmore from Surprise, AZ, United States of America, Wikimedia commons.