China’s propaganda and disinformation operations actively promote pro-Russian narratives about the invasion of Ukraine, support Moscow’s positions and blame the United States for the conflict, according to the Department’s center. state involved in the attempt to counter the operations.
The department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC) leads the US government’s efforts to expose foreign propaganda efforts, including Chinese state media reports and official statements claiming that the Pentagon is developing biological and chemical weapons in Ukraine, a spokesperson told The Washington Times.
The center “leads the State Department‘s efforts to recognize and understand [Chinese] manipulation of Ukraine-related information, and we are deeply engaged with colleagues across the department as well as international and interagency partners to raise awareness of PRC propaganda and disinformation,” the spokesperson said. word.
In addition to rebutting Chinese state media claims of US bioweapons research in Ukraine, the counter-disinformation operations aimed to expose Chinese amplification of Russian propaganda ahead of the invasion in late February.
The labs located in Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia operate safely and are not involved in any bioweapons research, according to Jerry L. Mothershead, a physician directly involved with the program from 2010 to 2016. The labs are part of Pentagon Defense. Threat Reduction Agency that ran the Cooperative Biological Engagement Program to support local disease research.
“The actual amount of pathogens in these central labs that can actually do research wouldn’t even fill a broom cupboard, and there are rigorous biosafety and biosafety controls over them, including destruction if necessary,” said Dr. Mothershead.
Chinese state media, echoing Russian government claims, have regularly reported that the labs are engaged in biological weapons work. The misinformation has also been repeated by some conservative US media outlets.
Kerry Gershaneck, a former Pentagon official and author of the book “Political Warfare,” said China’s professions of neutrality in the war are being undermined by Beijing’s overt sympathy for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion motives. support shown through media warfare, psychological operations and cyber attacks.
“Beijing’s external narratives are designed to undermine NATO, [Ukraine] and the United States, and to support Moscow’s disinformation and propaganda aimed at confusing the global response to Putin’s aggression,” Gershaneck said. “Internally, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is exploiting Russia’s war to hypernationalize the Chinese people.”
U.S. officials say the lab program is typical of government programs that continue on seemingly endless autopilot under legislation passed after the collapse of the Soviet Union that requires continued funding from a percentage of annual defense expenditure.
Besides lab propaganda, Chinese disinformation efforts include backing Kremlin claims that Ukraine is a “fundamental interest” to Moscow and that the military operation was a legitimate national security interest of Russia in the face of terrorism. aggression by the United States and its NATO allies.
“The PRC’s propaganda and disinformation efforts have evolved since then and Beijing has increased its use of false Russian narratives and now also introduces its own disinformation to advance the PRC’s agenda,” the spokesperson said. GEC.
A pair of misinformation themes
The State Department center has identified what it says are two main themes of misinformation promoted in Chinese accounts. The first is the claim that the United States and NATO ignored Russian security concerns by expanding the alliance into Eastern Europe near the Russian border. This account also advances the argument that the United States is exploiting the Ukrainian conflict to suppress Russia.
The Chinese disinformation line focuses on what the spokesperson said was the baseless claim that the United States is working behind the scenes to prolong the war that has already killed thousands.
For example, a recent editorial in the Communist Party of China’s People’s Daily claimed that US “lobbyists, military corporations and Capitol Hill” raised a champagne toast to celebrate the crisis.
“Obviously, we condemn these inflammatory and baseless allegations,” the GEC spokesperson said.
To counter misinformation, the GEC helps promote the narrative that the conflict and resulting humanitarian crisis in Ukraine are the direct result of Mr. Putin’s unprovoked military aggression.
“The State Department will continue to educate its partners and allies about the PRC’s propaganda efforts and will speak out against Beijing’s attempts to shift blame as it continues to stand with Moscow and refuses to acknowledge Russian atrocities.” , said the spokesperson.
Through its information operations, the department will continue to focus its public diplomacy and related efforts to ensure that the global public obtains accurate information about Russian aggression.
The Chinese government, mainly through its Foreign Ministry spokespersons, insists that Beijing is strictly neutral on the conflict. However, the Russian view of the crisis has been consistently promoted in Chinese state media.
Chinese stories are controlled by the Ministry of Propaganda, which exercises strict control over all media in China, including newspapers, television and new online social media.
The ministry recently produced a documentary film titled “Historical Nihilism and Soviet Collapse”, which is shown to the 95 million members of the Communist Party of China, portraying Mr Putin as a hero for seeking to restore the Soviet Union and to restore the image. of the brutal Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
As the Chinese government seeks to promote the vision of Chinese neutrality and support for peace, Chinese news outlets internally create the impression that Russia is a victim of US aggression.
Chinese domestic propaganda also promotes the recently strengthened close ties between Beijing and Moscow, highlighted in the February 4 cooperation agreement, which states that relations between the two states have “no limits”. Chinese students are being indoctrinated into the “correct” view of the war in Ukraine, while state media blame Washington for the conflict, according to The New York Times, which first leaked the documentary.
“The most powerful weapon possessed by the West is, apart from nuclear weapons, the methods they use in the ideological struggle”, declares the narrator of the documentary.
The documentary was intended for internal party use, but a video and transcript of the film were circulating in China recently.
Under President Xi Jinping, who since coming to power in 2012 has pushed for a return to hardline communist policies, Chinese propaganda has claimed that the United States is covertly promoting “color revolutions” around the world aimed at a regime change in authoritarian and communist countries.
Retired Navy Captain Stu Cvrk said China was trying to have it both ways – backing Russia while offering to lead an effort to resolve the conflict. He noted that the Chinese Foreign Ministry echoed Russian claims about US labs in Ukraine.
“Official Chinese comments were propagated in pro-Russian independent media,” Capt. Cvrk said.
Chinese social media trolls on Twitter and other platforms are also engaged in promoting pro-Russian propaganda, often in conjunction with Russian allies online.
“They’ve been supporting the false story of the Ukrainian biowarfare lab as much as possible,” said Charles Smith, who closely monitors official Chinese social media activity spread by Wumao, or the “50 Cent Army” of linked propagandists. to the Chinese government.
Recently, Chinese government online agents disputed reports of Russian military war crimes in the execution of Ukrainian civilians as fake news.
Another theme of social media propaganda promoted by the Wumao is the idea that the Ukrainian government is “just Nazis”, Mr Smith said.
“Russian trolls work closely with the PLA-led Wumao and often post together,” Smith said, using the acronym for China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army.
The State Department did not provide details of the GEC’s operations to counter Chinese disinformation. However, in the past, the center has approached news media and social media companies with intelligence identifying false stories.
In many cases, social media companies will shut down disinformation social media accounts known to foreign governments in response.
The Global Engagement Center website lists several examples of Russian disinformation, but contains no public records of Chinese propaganda and disinformation operations.