US media is reporting that China’s amplification of false Russian claims about the US and biological weapons labs in Ukraine shows that the two countries are increasingly coordinating their disinformation efforts. According to a New York Times report:
March 10, 2022 WASHINGTON — One of Russia’s most incendiary disinformation campaigns ramped up days ago, when its defense and foreign ministries issued statements falsely claiming that the Pentagon was financing biological weapons labs in Ukraine. Then Chinese diplomats and state media organizations repeated the conspiracy theory at news conferences in Beijing, in articles and on official social media accounts. Now, the Biden White House has taken the extraordinary step of calling out both countries on their coordinated propaganda campaign and saying they might be providing cover for a potential biological or chemical weapons attack on Ukrainians by the Russian military. […] The Chinese government’s promotion of Russian disinformation in the middle of the war has ignited concern among Western officials because of China’s powerful diplomatic standing and extensive cyberabilities. Analysts who study disinformation from the two nations said this was the first time they had seen this scale of amplification between Beijing and Moscow around a conspiracy theory. […] Using news conferences, state media and the social media accounts of diplomats around the world, China has been trying to inflame the situation with fiery rhetoric and conspiracy theories rooted in Russian disinformation, say current and former U.S. officials and independent researchers. […] Chinese diplomats, government agencies and state media organizations have used official accounts on Twitter and other social media platforms to spread the Ukraine labs conspiracy theory.
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The Brookings Institution, a US think tank, recently published a similar report, arguing that Russia and China are increasingly collaborating on the narratives being supplied to domestic audiences, feeding them with similar disinformation and propaganda. This, in turn, should be seen as a “broader project to reshape the global information landscape.” According to the Brookings report:
March 11, 2022 Though Russian and Chinese interests diverge in important ways, they are increasingly collaborating on the narratives being supplied to domestic audiences, feeding similar disinformation and propaganda to a citizenry increasingly cut off from the global web. In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Beijing has on the one hand avoided fully backing the incursion while on the other amplifying Kremlin propaganda on the issue. This week, for example, China’s foreign ministry repeated false Russian claims about the presence of U.S. biological weapons in Ukraine. Against the backdrop of last month’s joint statement from Xi and Putin, this collaboration should be seen as part of a broader project to reshape the global information landscape to favor the Kremlin and Beijing’s authoritarian political projects.
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Both the New York Times and Brookings report highlight that since 2015, Russia and China have promoted greater cooperation between the media organizations of the two countries. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced at a June 2019 meeting that relations between their two countries had been upgraded to a “comprehensive strategic partnership” and that cooperation on information and internet governance was a key part of the arrangement. US media recently reported that Chinese media outlets had been told to avoid posting anything unfavorable to Russia or pro-Western on their social media accounts and only use hashtags started by Chinese state media outlets.
The Kremlin’s rhetoric on Ukraine – claiming that both countries are part of the same spiritual and political sphere and that NATO meddling in the region is a security threat to Russia – has been repeatedly echoed by Chinese claims that Taiwan is an inseparable part of China and that US interference in Taiwan and East Asia is a security threat to Beijing. Like Moscow, Beijing has been using a combination of military provocations, a political disinformation campaign, economic coercion, and diplomatic maneuvering to isolate and pressure Taiwan.
The Global Influence Operations Report (GIOR) recently reported on Russian claims that the United States was developing biological weapons in a network of labs in Ukraine. These claims have not only been echoed by China but also amplified by QAnon conspiracy theorists and far-right American political figures, including Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson.
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