China and U.S. Point Fingers at Each Other in Disinformation Blame Game

China and the United States this week accused each other of spreading disinformation about the war in Ukraine, after Washington said Beijing has been repeating Russia's narratives throughout the conflict.

Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, described the U.S. on Tuesday as the "greatest manufacturer of lies" in response to a State Department report that highlighted the ways Beijing was backing Moscow by recycling the Kremlin's propaganda.

"The U.S. accuses China of helping Russia spread disinformation. This itself is classic disinformation," said Zhao.

"China has always been the victim of the U.S.'s disinformation campaigns, from the so-called 'genocide' to the 'Wuhan virus'; from 'cyberattacks' to 'overseas military bases.' The U.S. has slung too much mud at China," he said.

Beijing's grievances, according to Zhao, have only grown since Russia's war in Ukraine began.

"We all remember when senior officials at the White House's National Security Council theorized in the media about 'China's prior knowledge [of the invasion],'" he said without naming Jake Sullivan, Joe Biden's national security advisor.

"Then an anonymous senior official claimed 'Russia had requested weapons, equipment and other assistance from China.' These 'revelations' seemed very vivid, but not one hasn't been proved false," Zhao said.

Designs on Ukraine

Sullivan told CNN in March that the Chinese leadership was aware of Vladimir Putin's designs on Ukraine, although officials in Beijing "may not have understood the full extent of it."

"Because it's very possible that Putin lied to them the same way that he lied to Europeans and others," he said.

Later in the month, Sullivan said Washington hadn't seen any indication that Beijing had responded to Russia's request for material aid, which was reported to include army field rations.

China has insisted it won't help sustain Putin's war effort, but Western officials may see this as a result of direct and unambiguous warnings to Beijing—by Sullivan, Biden and U.S. allies—about the consequences of materially assisting Moscow.

The National Security Council didn't return Newsweek's request for comment before publication.

The State Department's May 2 report on China said it was amplifying the Kremlin's voice on Ukraine by spreading Russian conspiracy theories and disinformation through its officials and state-affiliated media.

China's "uncritical amplification of Moscow's messaging demonstrates Beijing's support for Russia," it said, citing the censorship of reports on Russia's atrocities in Ukraine and attempts to blame NATO and the U.S. for triggering the conflict.

In February, China dismissed U.S. warnings about imminent hostilities as a disinformation campaign. Since then, its choice of language has leaned favorably toward Russia by refusing to use terms such as "war" or "invasion," the State Department said.

According to the report, Chinese officials at the foreign ministry peddled Russian propaganda in March about American biological weapons facilities in Ukraine, helping the Kremlin create disinformation loops by repeating its conspiracies and then being quoted in Russia's state media the next day.

Last month, China's diplomats downplayed evidence of Russia's involvement in the Bucha killings and the missile strike on the Kramatorsk railway station with an "all sides" response to calls for an investigation. Meanwhile, state-backed pundits claimed the attacks were staged by Ukraine.

On Wednesday, China's embassy in Washington responded to the State Department report by calling for an international probe into U.S. biolabs in Ukraine, actively sharing the conspiracy for the first time.

"When it comes to spreading disinformation, the U.S. side should seriously reflect on itself," an embassy spokesperson said.

China, U.S. Accused of Spreading Fake News
China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian attends a daily press briefing in Beijing on April 8, 2020. Zhao accused the United States of spreading disinformation on May 5, 2022, after a State Department report on May 2 said Beijing was amplifying the Kremlin’s narratives about the war in Ukraine. GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images