Research (Insikt)

Empire Dragon Accelerates Covert Information Operations, Converges with Russian Narratives

Posted: 30th August 2023
By: Insikt Group


Insikt Group has identified and analyzed a network named "Empire Dragon," which is believed to be a coordinated and inauthentic operation likely aligned with the Chinese government and based in China. This network has been active since early 2021 and appears to engage in information operations (IOs) aimed at manipulating global audiences through various languages, topics, and platforms. Over time, Empire Dragon has evolved its tactics and focus. Initially targeting Chinese interests such as the "Five Poisons," it shifted its attention to the United States and its allies after August 2022, particularly in response to geopolitical events and emerging conspiracy theories.

empire-dragon-accelerates-covert-information-operations-converges-russian-narratives-body.png Timeline of Empire Dragon operations, with an estimated number of posts (Source: Recorded Future)

Notably, there is a growing convergence between Empire Dragon's narratives and those propagated by Russian disinformation campaigns. This convergence involves amplifying narratives originating from the Russian disinformation ecosystem, indicating a wider shift in the threat landscape for covert information operations in China. Empire Dragon's use of tactics like employing "useful idiots," fringe political groups, and account impersonation further reflects this convergence.

Despite its efforts, Empire Dragon has struggled to generate organic engagement with its narratives, attributed to factors such as poor content quality, machine-translated text, and sporadic content amplification. However, improvements in multilingual large language models and image generation models are anticipated to enhance the network's ability to overcome these challenges in the future.

Looking ahead, Insikt Group predicts that Empire Dragon will continue to capitalize on current events and conspiracy theories, refining its tactics and procedures in preparation for significant events in 2024, including the Taiwanese and US presidential elections. The network is likely to attempt to influence these elections by supporting specific candidates, attacking political leaders, fostering division among voters, and discrediting critics of the Chinese government.

Overall, the narrative convergence observed in Empire Dragon's operations suggests a broader trend of convergence between Chinese and Russian influence activities, even though their geopolitical objectives differ. Content quality is likely to be improved with the advent of multilingual large language models (LLMs) and advanced image-generation models, meaning that we will almost certainly witness an improvement in Western audiences’ engagement with Chinese state-aligned IO despite linguistic and cultural barriers.

To read the entire analysis with endnotes, click here to download the report as a PDF.