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Russia and China Coordinating Disinformation Efforts on Ukraine

March 14th, 2022 15:05

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.

Read the rest here.

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.

Read the rest here.

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.