Chinese state media rushed to its defense last week when Twitter posted a warning message on a Russian government post denying the killing of civilians in Puja, Ukraine.
“The report on #mfa_russia’s #Bucha on Twitter has been censored,” wrote Frontline, a Twitter account affiliated with CGTN, China’s official English language broadcaster.
An article in a Chinese Communist Party newspaper reported that clear photographs of bodies on the streets of Pucha, a suburb of the Ukrainian capital Kiev, provided convincing evidence that the Russians were a hoax.
Subscribe to The Morning Newsletter from the New York Times
The Shanghai Party television station said that the Ukrainian government has created a terrible schedule to gain sympathy in the West.
“Obviously, such evidence will not be admissible in court,” the statement said.
Just a month ago, the White House warned China not to exaggerate Russia’s campaign to sow misinformation about the war in Ukraine. China’s efforts have intensified anyway, contradicting and refusing the policies of NATO capitals, and Russia has again faced condemnation of the recent killings and other atrocities in Pucha.
As a result, the war created an alternative reality – not only for the consumption of Chinese citizens, but also for a global audience.
The campaign has challenged Western efforts to diplomatically isolate Russia, especially in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, which have been fertile ground for conspiracy theories and US distrust.
“Russia and China have long shared distrust and hostility towards the West,” said Brett Schaefer, an analyst who oversees misinformation for the Coalition for the Defense of Democracy, a non-profit group based in Washington. “In Ukraine, this is even more so – they have some pretty specific parrots and in some cases very distant claims from Russia.”
China’s campaign, eager to promote a peaceful solution, has further reduced the country’s efforts to present itself as a war – neutral country.
In fact, its diplomats and official journalists have become fighters in the information war to legitimize Russia’s claims and discredit international concerns that appear to be war crimes.
Since the start of the war, they have parodied the Kremlin’s Kremlin justifications, in which President Vladimir Putin said he was fighting a neo-Nazi government in Kiev. According to a database created by the Coalition for Defense, only on Twitter did they use the word “Nazi” – the most frequently used word in the first six weeks of the war. Democracy.
In an example on Wednesday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official tweeted a doctoral photo showing the Nazis holding a flag with a swastika next to the flags of Ukraine and the United States.
“Surprisingly, America stands with the neo-Nazis!” The officer, Li Yang, wrote about the film, which originally had the neo-Nazi flag instead of the American flag.
The timing and lessons of many themes that are important in the coverage of countries suggest a cohesive or at least shared view of the world and the key role of the United States in that. For example, China’s attacks on the United States and the NATO alliance are now closely linked to the Russian state media blaming the West for the war.
In some cases, even the words in English are almost identical to a global audience.
After YouTube banned two Russian television channels, RT and Sputnik, both RT and Frontline hypocritically accused the site of “minimizing or minimizing well-documented incidents of violence.” President George W. Bush. Bush used the same videos of former US officials, including President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, to mock weapons, drones and the assassination of former Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi.
On another occasion, the same accounts used a video of Joe Biden warning in 1997 that NATO’s eastern expansion had provoked a “serious and hostile” reaction from Russia, suggesting that Putin’s decision to go to war was justified.
China’s efforts have made it clear that the White House warning has had little effect on Beijing. China’s propagandists have instead intensified their efforts, expanding not only the Kremlin’s broader view of the war, but also the most blatant lies about its conduct.
“If you look at the publications, you don’t get that message,” Schaefer said. “If anything, we’ve seen them double down.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on China’s support for Russia’s misinformation.
While the extent of any direct cooperation between Russia and China in the war campaign is uncertain, the roots of cooperation in the international media go back almost a decade.
During his first foreign trip in 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised Moscow to deepen relations between the Russian and Chinese state media. Since then, numerous state media organizations in both countries have signed dozens of pledges to share content.
Sputnik alone has reached 17 deals with major Chinese media outlets. By 2021, its articles will have been shared 2,500 times by the mainstream Chinese media, says Vasily Pushkov, director of international cooperation at Spotnik’s state-owned Rosia Sekotnia.
Both have taken other notes from one another.
In mid-March, after Russia Today’s Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson’s clips began to support the idea that the United States was developing biological weapons in Ukraine, the Chinese state media also began broadcasting Carlson’s broadcasts.
On March 26, Carlson was quoted in China’s leading nightly news broadcast as saying, “Our government has been financing biologs in Ukraine for some time.” The next day, the English language channel CGTN reiterated Russia’s claim to be linking labs to the laptops of US President Hunter Biden.
The Russian and Chinese state media have increasingly attracted the views of the same group of Internet celebrities, pundits and influencers, and featured in their programs and YouTube videos. One of them is Benjamin Norton, a journalist who reported that a US-sponsored coup had taken place in Ukraine in 2014 and that US officials had appointed the leaders of the current Ukrainian government.
He first explained the conspiracy theory about RT, however it was later picked up by the Chinese state media and tweeted by accounts like Frontline. In a March interview with China’s state broadcaster Norton, CCTV, He trumpeted exclusively that the United States, not Russia, was to blame for Russia’s invasion.
“As far as the current situation in Ukraine is concerned, according to Benjamin, this is not a war waged by Russia’s occupation of Ukraine, but a war deliberately instigated by the United States in 2014,” the unnamed CCTV commentator said.
At times, China’s information campaigns seemed to contradict the country’s official diplomatic statements, undermining China’s efforts to reduce its relationship with Russia and its brutal invasion. On Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian called Pucha’s pictures “disturbing” and called on all parties to “exercise restraint and avoid unsubstantiated allegations.”
The day before, Chen Weihua, the voice and talented editor of the Chinese government-owned China Daily, appeared to have done just that. He retweeted a widely shared post saying the evidence for the massacre in Pucha was “not a drop” and accused the West of “staging atrocities to incite emotions, demonize enemies and prolong wars.”
Chen is a member of a vast network of diplomats, state-controlled media and pro-government pundits and influencers who have expanded China’s domestic story of the conflict to foreign sites such as Twitter and Facebook. At the heart of their message is that the United States and NATO are responsible for the war, not Putin.
A political cartoon shared by state media and Chinese diplomats portrayed Mama Sam as a kidnapper of the European Union and chained to a tank with a NATO flag. Another, a Chinese ambassador in St. Petersburg, Russia, pointed a spear and a hand with a sleeve of stars and wires stuffed into the back of an EU puppet.
Ahead of a tense meeting between China’s Xi and EU, other images portraying the EU as a handmaiden of the United States emerged from a number of official Chinese accounts, including Europe asking China not to break Western sanctions or support Russia’s war.
Maria Repnikova, a global communications professor at Georgia State University who studies the propaganda campaigns of China and Russia, said the two countries have a “shared view of hating the West”, which stimulates a sense of nationalism locally. At the same time, shared news resonated worldwide, especially outside the United States and Europe.
“It is not integration, but echoes of similar concerns or stances when it comes to this war,” he said of the views of Africa and the rest of the world. “China is also trying to show that it is not isolated.”
© 2022 The New York Times Institute