Intelbrief / IntelBrief: Chinese Disinformation Seeks to Support Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine
AP Photo/COMMENT HWEE YOUNG, swimming pool
Since the start of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine more than a month ago, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has walked a tightrope, careful to publicly avoid choosing sides. . In mid-March, however, reports surfaced that Russia had requested military aid from the PRC. While China has provided humanitarian aid to Ukraine, US and European intelligence services have warned that Beijing has been open to providing Russia with military and economic aid. Russia and China have denied this information. On March 18, President Biden warned President Xi that there would be “consequences,” including potential secondary sanctions, if China provided aid to Russia for the war in Ukraine. At a meeting of NATO leaders last week, the alliance released a statement calling on “all states, including the People’s Republic of China…to refrain from supporting Russia’s war effort.” in any way, and to refrain from any action that helps Russia evade sanctions.” Nevertheless, China’s disinformation tactics at home and abroad reveal that Beijing is apparently aligning itself with Moscow in the space of information warfare.
The blatant efforts of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) censorship and propaganda apparatus to silence anti-war voices and amplify Russian narratives about Ukraine in China have been well documented by experts and journalists. For example, a directive leaked on March 3 from the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) appears to tell major Chinese social media platforms and online news portals how to regulate content related to the war in Ukraine. The PRC’s disinformation efforts on Ukraine also extend beyond China’s borders. Chinese state-backed media have amplified Russian conspiracy theories to spread war disinformation to a global audience, reproducing fake Russian narratives to appease certain CCP political goals. On March 8, a PRC Foreign Ministry spokesperson claimed that the United States was storing viruses in biological laboratories in Ukraine, echoing the statement by Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova (baseless claims that the White House has categorically refuted). These claims were quickly picked up by well-known PRC-backed English-language disinformation outlets, such as the world times. The misrepresentation about biolabs is not just a recycling of China’s disinformation playbook during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also support for a likely Russian-backed disinformation campaign that has escalated from the start. of the invasion of Russia on February 24. US biolabs in Ukraine have been proven to resonate with fringe US audiences, primarily because they play to already existing misinformation narratives, primarily among QAnon adherents, anti-government extremists and COVID-19 conspiracy theorists. 19.
The PRC has apparently also sought to amplify Russian narratives surrounding the prevalence of neo-Nazis among Ukrainian fighting forces, including unsubstantiated claims that the Ukrainian Azov Battalion is suspected of “involvement in a number of terrorist attacks and incidents of separatist incitement in various countries and regions, including the riots in China’s Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in 2019.” False claims also include that US intelligence agencies are cooperating with the Azov Battalion “to encourage extremist forces in Eastern Europe against Russia”. Artifacts online have pushed conspiracy theories that members of the Azov Battalion traveled to Hong Kong and brought with them COVID-19 as a bio-weapon planted by the United States. Several stories propagating these false narratives have historically prompted pro-China propaganda, related to both Xinjiang and the origins of COVID-19. These misinformation stories, like most effective stories, contain a kernel of truth. The Azov Battalion has always been criticized for its extremism, and credible reports have placed Ukrainian extremists on the ground in Hong Kong in 2019. But these incidents have been exaggerated and used to fit the CCP’s own political agenda while s Simultaneously pressing the ‘de – ‘Nazification’ misinformation narrative.
That China is trying to take advantage of an existing Russian disinformation campaign is not surprising. In the case of the war in Ukraine, it shows that Russia’s and China’s international influence operations to shape the narratives of the war are aligned and sometimes mutually reinforcing. It is evident that China is likely aligning itself with Russia in the information environment, and the PRC’s disinformation tactics provide insight into the CCP’s true allegiances. This realization has important implications for US national security and foreign policy, as well as for future strategic competition between the US and the PRC. It is not unfathomable that China can justify its overt or covert military aid to Putin’s destructive war against Ukraine on the basis of false narratives seeded by the Kremlin and amplified by the PRC, including narratives touting the presence of “extremists” in Ukraine who sought to undermine the sovereignty of the PRC and were trained by the United States. Moreover, these narratives pushed by PRC government officials, state-backed media, as well as likely online disinformation networks, take an explicitly anti-US and anti-NATO stance. Such disinformation narratives could be adopted and adapted to influence sentiment in the Indo-Pacific theater in the future in the event of tensions between the US and the PRC, for example over the status of Taiwan.