BEIJING // Chinese state television has launched an Arabic-language channel beamed to the Middle East and Africa as part of efforts to expand the communist government's media influence abroad. The 24-hour channel will air in 22 Arabic-speaking countries, reaching a total population of nearly 300 million people, China Central Television said in a statement. The channel "will serve as an important bridge to strengthen communication and understanding between China and Arab countries," said a CCTV vice president, Zhang Changming, in the statement. Beijing is carrying out a multibillion-dollar effort to raise the profile of its state media abroad by expanding CCTV, the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily and the official Xinhua News Agency. The effort has a budget of 45 billion yuan ($6.6 billion), according to a report last month by the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post. The Arabic channel will carry news, feature stories, entertainment and education programs and will gradually expand its offerings, CCTV said. The network already broadcasts in English, French and Spanish as well as in Mandarin. Despite rapid economic growth and rising global influence, China has retained its authoritarian one-party political system with strict limits on freedom of speech and civil and political life. The media drive echoes efforts by Russia and Qatar to influence international news coverage through their state-funded Russia Today and Al Jazeera channels. Those attempts to challenge the BBC and CNN have scored some success. CCTV announced plans last month for a Russian channel. State TV is also overhauling its domestic news broadcasts for the first time in a decade to combat a decline in viewership. China's government and party media are struggling against more dynamic competitors and rely on state subsidies or moneymaking subsidiaries.