Photo/IllutrationA bicyclist near the China Central Television building in Beijing, March 1, 2017. China Central Television, the state-owned broadcaster better known as CCTV, spreads Chinese-government propaganda through Facebook. (Gilles Sabrie/ © 2017 The New York Times)

HONG KONG--China does not allow its people to gain access to Facebook, a powerful tool for disseminating information and influencing opinion.

As if to demonstrate the platform’s effectiveness, outside its borders China uses it to spread state-produced propaganda around the world, including the United States. So much do China’s government and companies value Facebook that the country is Facebook’s biggest advertising market in Asia, even as it is the only major country in the region that blocks the social network.

A look at the Facebook pages of China Central Television, the leading state-owned broadcast network better known as CCTV, and Xinhua, China’s official news agency, reveals hundreds of English-language posts intended for an English-speaking audience.

Each quarter China’s government, through its state media agencies, spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy Facebook ads, according to a person with knowledge of those deals, who was unauthorized to talk publicly about the company’s revenue streams.

China’s propaganda efforts are in the spotlight with President Donald Trump visiting the country and American lawmakers investigating foreign powers’ use of technology to sway voters in the United States.

Last week, executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter were grilled in Washington about Russia’s use of American social media platforms to influence the 2016 presidential election.

During Facebook’s time in the congressional hot seat last week, Sen. John Neely Kennedy, R-La., asked whether China had also run ads to affect the U.S. election. Facebook’s general counsel replied that to his knowledge it had not.

There is no indication that China meddled in the U.S. election, but the Communist government’s use of Facebook is ironic given its apparent fear of the platform. It also hasn’t been reluctant to use it as a soapbox where China’s relationship with the United States is concerned.

China has been a major priority for Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s founder, has spent years courting it. Facebook executives even set up a page to show CCTV, one of Beijing’s chief propaganda outlets, how to use the platform during President Xi Jinping’s 2015 trip to the United States.

While China’s propaganda channels on Facebook are not nearly as subtle as Russian groups when it comes to influencing opinion, their techniques are nonetheless instructive.

Rather than divisive advertisements, many of the Chinese Facebook posts replicate the sort of news propaganda delivered at home: articles stressing China’s stability and prosperity mixed with posts highlighting chaos and violence in the rest of the world.

A similar blend of stories--pandas and idyllic Chinese landscapes next to heavy coverage of the mass shooting in Texas--has proliferated across China’s official Facebook channels in the lead-up to President Donald Trump’s visit to Beijing, which began Wednesday.

While much of it is unlikely to sway the average American’s mind, such posts reach people across the world, many of whom are newer to the internet and may have a less sophisticated understanding of media. China’s state media has Facebook channels dedicated to Africa and other regions of the world, and it seems evident that it is offering itself as an alternative to the Western media for a more global audience.

Recently, for example, Xinhua posted an article titled “China’s IP protection system works well, says U.S. professional”--a rebuke of a congressional investigation into Chinese trade policies that critics say encourage intellectual property theft.

A more anodyne post offered a ham-handed attempt to find common ground between China and the United States, pointing to the basketball player Yao Ming, pandas and American students making dumplings as examples of the countries’ close relationship.

A video posted by Xinhua, which already has about 100,000 views, presents a series of man-on-the-street interviews with Chinese people talking about the United States. It begins on a positive note, with questions about Trump and what they like about the United States.

About halfway through the video, however, the tone changes and people are asked to describe the problems they see with the United States.

At that point, the interviewees get critical. “U.S.A. interferes with others’ lives arrogantly,” says one woman. “Every person and nation has its own culture and customs, no need to interfere.”

Another woman addresses America directly: “Don’t be so self-important and arrogant.”

Even children are asked about the relationship between the United States and China. “Sometimes they went too far in bullying others,” one says of the Americans. “They don’t respect China and use South Korea to spy on China,” says another. “They also sent weapons to South Korea.”

When asked what advice he would give Trump, one man says: “Let him learn from China.”

(Nov. 8, 2017)