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  • Writer's pictureXiaodong Fang

The malicious intentions behind China's disinformation campaigns

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of new and highly active official social media accounts representing the Chinese government, from "Wolf Warriors" diplomats to the "Keyboard Army," have drawn on millions of citizens to monitor the internet and influence public opinion on a massive scale online. The disinformation tactics have two obvious goals: to damage democracies and to boost China's authoritarian regime.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Disinformation campaigns are not new to China. The authoritarian regime has long utilized censorship and disinformation domestically to control the public opinion at home, as well as to interfere the elections in democracies close to the mainland, such as Taiwan and Hong Kong. In recent years, the operations have expanded to the global level. According to a BBC's investigation, for years, China uses its state-run broadcaster, like China's Global Times and CGTN, to broadly criticize Western outlets for reports on affairs like Xinjiang, and the latest attacks on Western media are a clear escalation.


Here let's take a look at two prominent examples of China's recent disinformation tactics:


Misinformation 1: Failures of democracies over COVID-19


Beijing uses its state-owned media, diplomats, and large numbers of fake social media accounts to push its messages to praise the authoritarian regime and attack democracies.


Despite the fact that the outbreak of COVID-19 started in Wuhan, China keeps spreading the conspiracy theory that the virus originated in the U.S. Without evidence, China's state-owned media CGTN suggested the virus originated at a military base in Maryland in the US and was brought to China by American soldiers during an athletics competition.


China's disinformation campaigns have also targeted many democratic countries and their leaders, including the U.S., Australia, France, and the U.K, and promoted Beijing as a global leader - a message that will come through even more strongly if China produces the first effective COVID-19 vaccine. According to a report from the Council on Foreign Relations, "Beijing reportedly claimed that health-care workers in Europe left sick people to die and that President Donald J. Trump planned to lock down the entire United States, among other falsehoods."


Misinformation 2: Inciting racial hatred in democracies


Diverting public attention from COVID-19, the genocide in Xinjiang, the suppression of human rights, and so many domestic issues in China's "Orwellian state," Beijing has spread disinformation about issues unrelated to China, including promoting skewed stories about the U.S. protests over racial injustice.


During the first face-to-face meetings between U.S. Secretary of State Blinken and China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi, Yang diverted Blinken's focus on China's human rights issues by highlighting the U.S. domestic turmoil over racism and violence.

Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

The same tactic has also been used in other issues. To avoid the accusation of the Chinese government's mishandling of COVID-19 in the early stage, China has sought to provoke racism in the U.S. on social media platforms. A report in April 2020 indicates that "Elsewhere, there had been 110 million views of posts tagged # chinese_coronavirus on the Chinese-owned app TikTok as of Saturday (April 18, 2020). Some videos lamented the use of such terms as a subtle form of racism. Others, however, included a clip of a man with chopsticks in his hair and pulling his eyes back to audio of U.S. President Donald Trump explaining why he called COVID-19 the 'Chinese virus'."


What is accompanied by the disinformation campaign is a 28-page report issued in March 2021 by the Chinese government to bashes the U.S. over racism, inequality, and pandemic response. Apparently, the Chinese government seeks to counter U.S. accusations of human rights abuses by China's ruling Communist Party.


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To mitigate the negative effects caused by China's disinformation campaign, we should keep the hard line against the wrongdoings of China's authoritarian regime, and defeat its aggression of global expansion.







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