China Joins Forces with Russia in Global Disinformation Campaign | Opinion

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February, communist China has joined forces with Moscow in its domestic and global disinformation campaigns to blame the United States for the chaos. In fact, Beijing has been waging information warfare against the U.S. for years, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Over the past several weeks, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has made every effort to churn the rumor mill and spread blatant lies to downplay Russia's aggression and war crimes.

The Chinese government's massive network—made up of state officials, state media and an army of paid Chinese netizens (sometimes called the "50 Cent Army")—has disseminated Russia's fabricated claims about its invasion and occupation of Ukraine. In addition, the Chinese government and its cohorts have cleverly repackaged Russia's lies, adding feigned nuance or depth to them, essentially making the CCP a willing conspirator of the Kremlin.

A good example is the false claim that the United States is manufacturing biological weapons in Ukraine. In March, Russian officials accused the U.S. and Ukraine of working together to produce such weapons in U.S.-funded biolabs. Zhao Lijian, spokesman for China's foreign ministry, has not only repeated Putin's lies but amplified them. Zhao falsely claimed that the "biological military activities of the US in Ukraine are merely the tip of the iceberg," and called on the U.S. government to declare "its biological military activities at home and abroad."

Soon after Zhao made his accusation, Chinese diplomats, Chinese state media and internet propagandists all added fuel to the disinformation fire. The malicious CCP even opened a new disinformation campaign with the ridiculous claim that the U.S. created the COVID-19 virus. The Global Times and China Daily, China's official mouthpieces, both published blogger Tao Wen's post claiming that U.S. biolabs in Ukraine were manufacturing bioweapon components and using bats to study coronaviruses years before the pandemic. The post also implied that American pharmaceutical and biotechnology company Moderna created the COVID-19 virus in order to sell its vaccine.

According to a report by Voice of America, although experts and fact-checkers have disproved the bioweapons claim, China continues to spread the lie through social media. Tao Wen's post went viral in China. As of March 24, the post was viewed 1.2 billion times, and as of March 31, it was being viewed up to 5.5 million times per day. At the same time, even more fake content claiming that the COVID-19 pandemic originated in the U.S. flooded the internet.

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping
Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on December 15, 2021. Mikhail METZEL / SPUTNIK / AFP/Getty Images

Encouraged by their success, Xi Jinping and his CCP regime have continued to produce and disseminate even more propaganda. A series of articles titled The U.S. 'Black Hand' Behind the Chaos, published on April 9 by Xinhua News Agency, blames the U.S. military-industrial complex for the chaos in Ukraine and other parts of the world. The CCP falsely accused American companies of starting the ongoing war to profiteer from arms sales. Parroting a Russian narrative, the articles argue that the U.S. is to be blamed for Russia's invasion of Ukraine because Washington "squeezed Russia's security space."

China has gone so far as to deny the Bucha massacre and refuse to condemn Vladimir Putin's atrocities. For example, the Global Times and other Chinese state-controlled media have downplayed the Bucha "incident" by saying Russia-Ukraine tensions have been "hyped up by the U.S." All the disinformation leads to a single message: "the hegemonic America has become the greatest cancer of human society" and that "the United States has been reduced to a 'rogue superpower.'"

Both China and Russia know these lies are ridiculous and absurd, but they follow the maxim often attributed to Nazi Party propagandist Joseph Goebbels: "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it." In the digital age, lies spread fast, with dire consequences. And in addition to fabricating lies, China's communist regime also suppresses the truth. It blocks and deletes fact-checked articles and other alternative information sourced from the free world, or created by Chinese civil society, and even launches cyberattacks against those who try to tell the truth. Our organization's media platform, which has published numerous articles criticizing Xi's policies on the pandemic and Ukraine, was paralyzed by these attacks.

We believe that China's latest disinformation campaign follows Xi's "grand strategy" of smearing the U.S. as the world's villain and portraying the CCP chairman as its savior, in order to justify Chinese world dominance and a "new world order of socialism with Chinese characteristics." In 2021, Xi stated that the United States is China's greatest threat and the source of world chaos. Following Xi's instructions, Chinese state media began to paint the U.S. as "the greatest destroyer of post-World War II international peace."

Spreading disinformation about the origins of COVID-19 can help Xi Jinping evade responsibility for mismanaging the pandemic, which has devastated both China and the world at large. Considering the hardship caused by the CCP's inhumane COVID policies—which have once again angered countless Chinese citizens during yet another outbreak of COVID-19 cases in Shanghai and across China—Xi needs to mislead the Chinese people and manipulate public opinion to secure his third term. Shifting blame to the U.S. is part of that plan. By helping Russia spread malicious lies, Xi has also signaled to Putin that China sides with Russia, and that the Sino-Russian alliance can oust the U.S. as de facto world leader.

China's latest disinformation campaign is a real threat not only to the U.S, but also to Ukraine, as it struggles to preserve its territorial integrity and defend its sovereignty. The U.S. must take every step possible, including harsh economic sanctions, to defeat China in this information war.

Lianchao Han is vice president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China. After the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, he was one of the founders of the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars. He worked in the U.S. Senate for twelve years as legislative counsel and policy director for three senators. Jianli Yang, a former political prisoner of China and a Tiananmen Massacre survivor, is founder and president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China and the author of For Us, the Living: A Journey to Shine the Light on Truth.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.