China, Russia step up co-operation on spreading coronavirus disinformation

Pakistan Forward and AFP


An engineer looks at a test on an experimental vaccine for the COVID-19 coronavirus inside a lab in Beijing on April 29. One of the narratives Beijing is pushing characterises it as benevolent actor in this pandemic. [Nicolas Asfouri/AFP]

The Chinese and Russian regimes are stepping up co-operation to spread false narratives over the coronavirus pandemic, with Beijing increasingly adopting techniques honed by Moscow, say social media observers.

"Even before the COVID-19 crisis we assessed a certain level of co-ordination between Russia and the People's Republic of China in the realm of propaganda," said Lea Gabrielle, co-ordinator of the US State Department's Global Engagement Centre, which tracks foreign propaganda.

"But with this pandemic the co-operation has accelerated rapidly," she told reporters Friday (May 8) according to AFP.

"We see this convergence as a result of what we consider to be pragmatism between the two actors who want to shape public understanding of the COVID pandemic for their own purposes," she said.

The Global Engagement Centre earlier said that thousands of Russian-linked social media accounts were spreading conspiracy theories about the pandemic, including one charging that the virus first detected last year in Wuhan, China, was an American creation.

The European Union (EU) in March accused Moscow of putting lives at risk by mounting what it said was a "significant campaign" to spread false or misleading information about the deadly virus.

Mimicking Moscow

Beijing on the other hand is actively attempting to deflect criticism of its role in the coronavirus pandemic by promoting conspiracy theories.

The spread of these malign conspiracy theories is coming from the highest echelons of the Chinese government.

The Chinese regime outraged the United States when a Foreign Ministry spokesman tweeted a conspiracy theory claiming that the US military brought the virus to Wuhan.

According to the Global Engagement Centre, the Chinese regime has again intensified its online campaign to defend its handling of the pandemic, which has killed some 270,000 people worldwide, and to criticise the United States.

"Beijing is adapting in real time and increasingly using techniques that have long been employed by Moscow," Gabrielle said.

Beijing has increasingly used bot networks to amplify its message, Gabrielle said.

Official Chinese diplomatic accounts suddenly witnessed a surge in late March, going from adding about 30 new followers daily to more than 720, often from freshly created accounts, she said.

Beijing was first observed using such online methods to "sow political discord" in its autonomous territory of Hong Kong, which has witnessed major pro-democracy demonstrations, said Gabrielle.

Beijing is now actively engaged in trying to cover up its missteps during the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, with some evidence pointing to the deliberate destruction of evidence.

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.The United States Should Not Align With Russia Against China Authoritarians make bad allies and Washington already has the stable and democratic friends it needs. The fact is The growing Russian and Chinese strategic relationship is worrying. The two autocratic powers have cooperated on major energy deals, including a blockbuster $55 billion arrangement to pipe Siberian natural gas into China. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have met in several high-level summits, and Xi even declared Putin “his best friend and colleague.” Perhaps most troubling, Beijing and Moscow have participated in joint military exercises in both Europe and Asia. If they were to coordinate and conduct simultaneous military attacks on the U.S. alliance system in Eastern Europe and the Indo-Pacific, for example, the United States and its allies could be overwhelmed.