Hong Kong, China – China may portray itself as a neutral party in the war in Ukraine, but the message it conveys to its home audience tells a different story.
The state news agency Xinhua called the war a “special military operation” and a “Russia-Ukraine crisis” but did not refer to it as an invasion. CCTV, a state broadcaster, reported civilian casualties for the first time in three weeks after Russia’s occupation. Most recently, state sales outlets doubled the Russian conspiracy theory by claiming that the United States was financing the development of biological weapons in Ukraine, including migratory birds that could spread bird viruses in Russia.
How the war is structured in the Chinese state media is a reflection of the state of government.
China does not condemn Russia for invading a sovereign nation with strong economic ties, but rather talks about “legitimate security concerns” that need to be discussed “by all sides.” Despite the outrage in the West over the recent discovery of civilians allegedly killed by Russian troops in Pucha, the news was brief in the Chinese state media, despite the recent subtle change in tone to acknowledge human numbers.
Since the hostilities began a month ago, one theme has remained: America is the villain.
China’s relations with Russia have been under closer scrutiny since the two countries announced a “no limits” alliance in early February.
“As part of that, we need to understand the information,” said David Bandursky, co-director of the Chinese Media Project, noting the long-standing cooperation between Chinese state-owned outlets and Russian companies such as Sputnik and Russia Today.
As the conflict continues, the Chinese state media have provided their sites to expand the Russian campaign. The China Digital Times, a US – based bilingual news website, reports that government outlets cite Kremlin officials and Russian state media as their news sources and receive regular government orders directing their reports.
America was portrayed as the inspiration
Similarly, some Chinese journalists reporting from the ground tend to click on Russia’s favorite news lines.
As one of the few foreign journalists affiliated with the Russian military, Lu Yuuang, a Moscow correspondent for the state-affiliated broadcaster Phoenix News, interviewed Russian soldiers and separatist leader Denis Bushlin. Lu also reported from the besieged city of Mariupol, where he was wounded in a shelling attack.
Rose Luqiu, a former executive news editor at the Outlet and now an associate professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, says Lu may have used his personal contacts to gain access to privacy, given his long history with the Russian military. “I would not describe him as a professional journalist,” he added.
Lu, a former naval officer of the People’s Liberation Army, once saved his life during a Chinese talk show about the Second Chechen War. Although the union ended in divorce, he later married the soldier’s widow. “Russian blood is flowing in my body,” Lu said on the show in 2019. However, his unquestioning attitude has made him a convenient propaganda tool.
Another superficial theme of the Chinese state media is the portrayal of the United States as the trigger of the conflict, which analysts say is part of a broader story by Chinese diplomats and the government propaganda machine.
“This is one of the most consistent frames we’ve seen throughout, and the Chinese central leadership has really shown their commitment to misinformation propaganda,” Pandursky said. “This is a proxy war waged by China here. Is to subject.
Interestingly, the Chinese media is embedded with Russian troops. pic.twitter.com/kXksZt9Z9c
– OSINTtechnical (sOsinttechnical) March 8, 2022
Wu Min Hsuen, an expert on the Chinese government’s misinformation, agrees.
“They are using this crisis as a perfect opportunity to reinforce their long-standing story within China, attacking the United States and NATO,” said co-founder of the Taiwan-based Doublethink Lab.
For example, the State Tabloid Global Times has created the hashtag #UkraineCrisisInstigator to describe the United States and NATO, and accuses Washington of being a real behind-the-scenes occupier.
Curved coverage often contributed to pro-Russian domestic public discourse. “The general opinion is that even if the war is bad, we must support Russia in this war to protect China’s interests, because without Russia stabilizing the West, China will be the next target,” Hu Kings, now a media veteran in Hong Kong, told Al Jazeera.
Such a vision did not emerge in a day, but was sown over time, he stressed.
“The state media may have reported, but the public sentiment has always been there. Putin is revered by the people because he is associated with Xi Jinping. They share the same strong image and style of governance,” Hu said, acknowledging he was shocked by some of the serious comments he saw online.
In contrast, many Chinese netizens have ridiculed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zhelensky for his lack of acting background and political wisdom. The People’s Daily, the main mouthpiece of the Communist Party, did not even mention him once, despite his nightly speeches to the Ukrainian people and his regular speeches in the Western parliaments.
Where the state media quoted Zhelensky, when he criticized the West.
“They tell their own people that the Western media and government and institutions are not trustworthy. For those who believe in them, the fate of Ukraine will be the same, “said Woo, of Doubletting Labs.
Truth Verification Challenge
China is also one of the most restricted media environments in the world, and it is dominated by state-sponsored companies.
Its Internet and social media sites are monitored by a broader censorship tool that removes any information that may be considered sensitive, and it is illegal to use a VPN to measure the Great Firewall without a license. While this gives the Chinese government significant control over the information that its residents can access and consume, it does not mean that its population is always queuing up.
Wei Jing, an experienced journalist who founded China Fact Czech in the hope that people would have access to accurate international reporting to develop a rational and open-minded view of the world, says he has had unprecedented interest in their work since the conflict began.
Wei said it shows the growing awareness of misinformation among the Chinese people and the need to check what they see and read on the internet.
But there are limits to their work.
One is that as a China-based group, it must abide by the rules governing the dissemination of information. “If the verification result is against the government’s position, you will cross the red line. We have to be careful when we talk about Putin and not slander him in any way, “said Wei. “This is unfortunate, but we have done self-censorship,” he admitted.
Meanwhile, misinformation campaigns are also becoming more sophisticated. Different parties advertise versions of their events in the name of fact verification, although some meet the standards of proper verification, Wei noted.
“We work in unfavorable conditions, but if you remove every myth, there is more truth in this world,” Wee said. “The more people involved in this project, the more people you can affect.”
Similarly, Bandursky stressed the importance of acknowledging the work of some professional publications, such as the privately funded commercial edition Gigsin. Conflict more precisely.
But as alternative sources of information have dwindled in recent years, the range of state sales outlets has expanded with the help of social media sites and mechanisms to amplify their reports.
In the past, “the attack on America’s false freedom of speech may be in the editorial of the People’s Daily, but few will read it. This is a noise from the leadership, “said Pandursky. “Now it’s not. It’s viral content. It’s fundamentally different.”
“The question of greater concern is what is the long-term impact on relations between China and many other countries. This type of foreign coverage is becoming more widespread and consumed on a daily basis.”