Compared with their Russian counterparts, Chinese intelligence officers historically have pursued their country’s foreign policy objectives by cultivating long-term relationships rather than through disinformation. Russian operations tend to heighten political divisions to drive a wedge in the target society: Russia-linked bots pushed both pro- and anti-vaccination information in the United States between 2014 and 2017, and a Russian agency with ties to the Kremlin bought Facebook ads about divisive issues such as race, abortion and gender equality ahead of the 2016 election. Chinese operations aim instead to cultivate common interests with powerful actors.

China’s and Russia’s influence techniques differ because their strategic goals do. Both governments may want to weaken the United States and its alliances, but Beijing seems more intent than Moscow on bending institutions to meet its interests: Perhaps it hopes to supplant the current international order, but not by completely disrupting it. For example, Chinese officials have proposed new rules for governing cyberspace, arguing that each country should be able to regulate its internet, free of outside intervention.