China’s state media and officials are increasingly echoing Russian propaganda about the war in Ukraine. This is undermining diplomatic efforts by the U.S., Europe, and even after the massacre in Bucha.
China’s state media quickly defended Twitter’s warning message that was posted atop a Russian government posting denying civilian deaths in Bucha, Ukraine last week. Frontline, a twitter account associated with China’s English-language broadcaster CGTN, wrote: “On Twitter @mfa_russia’s statement on #Bucha was censored.”
An article in a Chinese Communist Party newspaper stated that Russians had provided definitive evidence to support the lurid photos showing bodies in Bucha, a suburb near Kyiv, as a hoax.
Party television in Shanghai reported that the Ukrainian government had made the grisly tableaux in order to gain sympathy from the West. The report stated that such evidence “would not be admissible at court.”
The White House warned China to stop spreading disinformation about Russia’s war in Ukraine a month ago. Despite intensifying their efforts to contradict and dispute the policies of NATO capitals and countering them, China’s actions have been more aggressive than ever, even as Russia was again condemned for the atrocities in Bucha and others in recent days.
It has created an alternate reality to the war, for consumption by Chinese citizens and for a global audience.
This propaganda has undermined Western diplomatic efforts to isolate Russia, especially in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. These areas have been fertile ground of conspiracy theories and distrust towards the United States.
Bret Schafer, an analyst for the Alliance for Securing Democracy in Washington, stated that Russia and China have a long history of distrust and animosity towards the West. “On Ukraine it’s a higher level than that — just how far they have repeated some very specific and sometimes quite absurd claims from Russia.”
China’s campaign has undermined the country’s efforts to be neutral in the conflict and promote peaceful resolution.
It is true that its diplomats and journalists have been made combatants in the informational warfare to legitimize Russia’s claims and discredit international concerns over what appears to be war crimes.
They have recited the Kremlin’s justifications for the war, including President Vladimir V. Putin’s assertion that he was fighting a neoNazi government in Kyiv. According to , a databasecreated and maintained by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, they have used “Nazi” — a Russian rallying cry — more than six times on Twitter.
On Wednesday, a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs official tweeted a Photoshopped photo that appeared to show Nazis holding a flag bearing a swastika beside flags of Ukraine or the United States. Li Yang wrote that the US stood with the neo-Nazis in the photo, which was originally a neo-Nazi banner.
Many of the topics and timing of coverage by the countries suggest coordination, or at the very least, a common view of the world and America’s preeminent role. For example, China’s attacks against the United States and NATO alliance are closely aligned with those made by Russian state media, which blame the West for the war.
Sometimes, the English language for global audiences is nearly identical to the original wording.
After YouTube banRT and Sputnik were banned for their content “minimizing or trivializing well documented violent events”, both RT as Frontline denounced the platform’s hypocrisy. The same videos were used by former American officials including President George W. Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton. They joked about drones, weapons and the death of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi.
Another example is a video of Joseph R. Biden Jr. warning, in 1997 when he was senator, that NATO’s eastward expansion could trigger a “vigorous, hostile” response from Russia. This suggests that Mr. Putin’s decision not to go to war was justified.
China’s efforts have shown that the White House’s warning didn’t do much to change Beijing’s behavior. Instead, China’s propagandists intensified their efforts to amplify the Kremlin’s broad views on the war and some of its most outrageous lies.
Mr. Schafer stated, “If you only look at the outputs then that message didn’t get through.” “Instead, we have seen them double down,” he said.
The White House didn’t respond to a request to comment on China’s support for Russian disinformation.
Although it is not clear if there was any collusion between Russians and Chinese in war propaganda, the roots of international cooperation go back almost a decade.
China’s leader, Xi Jinping promised to strengthen ties between Russian state media and China during his first overseas trip to Moscow in 2013. The various state media organs of both countries have made dozens of promises to share content since then.
Sputnik has signed 17 agreements with Chinese media outlets, and these articles were shared more than 2,500 times by 2021 according to Vasily V. Pukov, international cooperation director at Rossiya Segodnya (the state company that owns Sputnik).
They have also taken cues from one another.
After Russia Today used clips from Tucker Carlson, Fox News’ host, to support the notion that the United States was creating bioweapons for Ukraine, the Chinese state media began to broadcast Mr. Carlson’s broadcasts.
On March 26, Mr. Carlson was interviewed on China’s top nightly news broadcast. He stated that “it turns out our Government has for some time funded Biolabs in Ukraine.” On the next day, CGTN repeated a Russian claim linking the labs to Hunter Biden’s laptops.
The opinions of the same internet celebrities, pundits, and influencers are increasingly being used by the Russian and Chinese state media. They appear on their shows, as well as on YouTube videos. Benjamin Norton is one of these journalists. He claimed that the United States sponsored a coup in Ukraine in 2014. The U.S. officials then installed the leaders of the current Ukrainian government.
The conspiracy theory was first presented by him on RT. However, it was later picked-up by Chinese state media and tweet by accounts such as Frontline. He stated that Russia was responsible for the invasion of Ukraine in a March interview which China’s state broadcaster proclaimed as an exclusive.
“Regarding Ukraine’s current situation, Benjamin stated that it is not a war brought on by Russia’s invasion, but rather a war planned by the United States starting in 2014,” a unnamed CCTV narrator stated.
China’s information campaigns sometimes seem to contradict China’s diplomatic statements. This undermines China’s attempts to minimize the link between Russia’s brutal invasion and its relationship with Russia. Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the images of Bucha “disturbing” on Wednesday and asked that all parties “exercise restraint to avoid making unfounded accusations.”
Chen Weihua was a prolific and vocal editor at China Daily. The Chinese government owns it. He retweeted an article that was widely shared and said there wasn’t “one iota of evidence of massacre in Bucha.” He also accused the West “of staging atrocities to jack emotions, demonize enemies and prolong wars.”
Mr. Chen is one strand of a sprawling network of diplomats, government-controlled media, and state-backed pundits and influencers who have extended China’s domestic narrative about the conflict to overseas platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Their message is that it was not Putin but the United States and NATO who are responsible for the war.
Chinese diplomats and state media shared a political cartoon depicting the European Union being kidnapped and tied to a tank by Uncle Sam. A Chinese diplomat in St. Petersburg (Russia) showed another cartoon that featured an arm covered with stars-and-stripes sleeves and a European Union puppet holding a spear.
Another image depicting the European Union being a pawn of the United States was taken from a variety of official Chinese accounts during the period leading up to , a tense meeting of Mr. Xi with the European Union in which Europe urged China to not subvert Western sanctions and support Russia’s war.
Maria Repnikova is a professor of global communications at Georgia State University. She studies China and Russia information campaigns. Repnikova said that the two countries shared a “shared vision of resenting America” that drove nationalistic sentiments at home. The shared messages resonated worldwide, particularly outside of Europe and the United States.
She said that there were echoes of similar concerns and stances in Africa and elsewhere. China is also trying to show that it is not isolated.”