WASHINGTON — Russia launched one of its most incendiary disinformation campaign days ago. Its defense and foreign ministries made statements falsely claiming the Pentagon was funding biological weapons labs in Ukraine.
Chinese diplomats and state media repeated conspiracy theories at Beijing news conferences, articles, and on official social media accounts.
The Biden White House took the unusual step of calling out both Russia and Ukraine for their coordinated propaganda campaign. They are now being accused of providing cover for the Russian military to launch a possible biological or chemical weapon attack against the Ukrainians.
“Now that Russia made these false claims and China seems to have endorsed it propaganda, we should all look out for Russia possibly using chemical or biological weapons or to create false flag operations using them,” Jen Psaki wrote on Twitter Wednesday evening. It’s a clear pattern.
She called the allegations “preposterous” and stated that the United States does not possess or develop such weapons in any country. The State Department also said that the claims were “total nonsense” because Ukraine does not have biological weapons laboratories. These points were reiterated by top intelligence officials from the United States in a Senate hearing Thursday.
As President Vladimir V. Putin continues his military assault in Ukraine, the Biden administration and its European allies and Asian allies are engaged in an information war with Russia and China.
Because of China’s strong diplomatic standing and vast cyberabilities, the Chinese government promoted Russian disinformation during the conflict. This has raised concerns among Western officials. Analysts from both countries who study disinformation said that this was the first time they’d seen such amplification of conspiracy theories between Beijing and Moscow.
Bret Schafer, a senior fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy in Washington, said that “I can’t imagine another active Russian propaganda campaign that has gotten such a boost from China.” “I have not seen this volume about something like this.”
This is the latest example of the close ties between Beijing and Moscow. The two countries stated that they had “no limits” when Mr. Putin met President Xi Jinping in Beijing on February 4. According to an intelligence report from Western countries, around that time, senior Chinese officials urged senior Russian officials to refrain from invading Ukraine before the conclusion of the Winter Olympics at Beijing.
In quiet talks , American officials met with Chinese officials, including the ambassador to Washington and the foreign ministry, to discuss intelligence indicating Mr. Putin’s troop buildup in order to persuade China to not launch a war. However, they were rejected, U.S. officials stated.
William J. Burns is the C.I.A. director. The director of the C.I.A., William J. Burns, stated Thursday at the Senate hearing that he believes Mr. Xi is “unsettled,” and did not appear to have been informed by his intelligence services about what would happen.
Chinese officials have publicly supported Russia during the war. They denounced the United States and highlighted Mr. Putin’s concerns about NATO enlargement. According to a Chinese readout, Mr. Xi reiterated China’s usual talking points about the war in a video conference with leaders from France and Germany. However, he said that China was “deeply disturbed by the outbreak of war again upon the European continent.” He didn’t say that Russia started the fighting.
China is trying to ignite the situation using news conferences, state media, and social media accounts of diplomats from around the globe. Current and former U.S. officials, as well as independent researchers, claim that China uses fiery rhetoric and conspiracy theories rooted within Russian disinformation. On Tuesday, Mr. Xi was speaking to European leaders. Zhao Lijian (a Foreign Ministry spokesman) who many Chinese consider a patriotic “wolf fighter” diplomat raised the topic of biochemical weapons in Ukraine during a news conference held in Beijing. He stated that “Russia discovered during its military operations that these facilities are used by the U.S. to conduct bio-military planning.”
He stated that the U.S. Department of Defense had complete control over 26 bio-labs in Ukraine and related facilities. All dangerous pathogens found in Ukraine must be kept in these laboratories and all research activities conducted by the U.S.
To deflect criticism of China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, Mr. Zhao spread anti-U.S. conspiracy theory. He also raised questions about the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s research. In March 2020, he suggested that the U.S. military may have brought the virus into Wuhan, and that research at Fort Detrick (Md.) might have been the cause. On Thursday, he again mentioned Fort Detrick.
Official Twitter accounts have been used by Chinese diplomats, state media organisations, and government agencies to spread the conspiracy theory about Ukraine’s labs. Cao Yi, a diplomat at China’s Embassy in Beirut posted the theory in Arabic as well as English.
According to Mr. Schafer, the more than 235 tweets were split roughly equally between Chinese state media accounts as well diplomatic or government nonmedia accounts. You can find many more posts at the lab theory about Chinese social media platforms.
Telesur, Venezuela’s state television network has also amplified Russia’s lab theory, but this activity is small compared to what China has been doing.
He stated that “now that American tech platforms have taken actions against Russian state media,” the Chinese state media were filling the gap. “They mirror the Kremlin talking points.”
In recent weeks a variety of the lab conspiracy theory has been circulated by far right American political figures and groups including Tucker Carlson (Fox News host); and QAnon acolytes. Glenn Greenwald, a journalist who has been critical of American security agencies and military power, said that the theory could actually be true. Ai Weiwei (the Chinese dissident artist) has reposted this theory on Twitter.
The Institute for the Study of War in Washington, a think tank that monitors the Ukraine conflict, warned Wednesday that the Russian statements may be part of an effort by Moscow to set the stage for its own chemical or biological attack. It stated that Russia could conduct or fabricate an attack on Ukraine, and then blame NATO and Ukraine to justify further aggression against Ukraine.
The Chinese state media has repeated all official Russian statements regarding the Ukraine war, including the false assertion that Ukraine is full neo-Nazis and arguments that the United States is an empire of lies pulling the strings of Kyiv.
Global Times, a newspaper of the Communist Party that is nationalistic, published a article Tuesday. It stated that the U.S. government wanted to inflame anger at China over the Ukraine conflict by publishing stories in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, as well as Voice of America. Another story in Chinese state media claimed that Ukraine used civilians as human defenses. This is a Kremlin talking-point, but it did not mention civilian deaths attributable to the Russian military.
Weibo and other Chinese social-media companies have removed pro-Ukraine content from their platforms.
In 2015, Mr. Xi began to promote greater cooperation among the media organizations of both countries. Since then, the two governments have held an annual conference to try and ” define the map for the international discourse.” Chinese media executives praise RT and Sputnik for their ability to communicate messages on a global level.
In the 1950s, both nations were bound together by a Communist ideology. However, they split over foreign and political policy. Nixon used that historic 1972 visit to Beijing to normalize diplomatic relations between the United States and China. In recent years, however, Mr. Xi has strengthened the ties between their countries, largely due to a common perception of America as a threat and a desire for American global dominance to be undermined.
In a lengthy section of the Feb. 4 joint declaration, the two countries stated that they would lead the way in the establishment of true democracy around the globe.
Maria Repnikova is a professor at Georgia State University and a researcher on China and Russia.
She said that there was a strong undercurrent anti-Western sentiment in many of these narratives. “They are questioning the legitimacy of the U.S., using conspiracy theories.”
She said that there was a convergence of Russian and Chinese propaganda regarding the Ukraine war.
However, some Russian news articles and commentary on Thursday raised questions about China’s commitment towards Russia. News agencies reported that China had refused to send parts to the country. After the imposition of sanctions by the European Union, Boeing and Airbus severed ties with Russian airlines.
To avoid jeopardizing their global trade, large Chinese companies will likely comply. China and the United States are more important trade partners than Russia.