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On Ukraine, China and Russia Sing in Disinformation Chorus 

People stand by TV screens broadcasting the news of Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Hong Kong, Feb. 24, 2022. (AP/Vincent Yu)
People stand by TV screens broadcasting the news of Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Hong Kong, Feb. 24, 2022. (AP/Vincent Yu)

On February 23, Wang Yi, China’s top foreign policy official, visited Russia and met with President Vladimir Putin, who will soon welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping in Moscow.

Meanwhile, Xi has yet to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, let alone visit Kyiv and meet with him, despite Zelenskyy’s repeated invitations.

Beijing claims “neutrality” on Russia’s war in Ukraine, yet has provided rhetorical and diplomatic support for Russia since the Kremlin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine a year ago.

China has avoided calling Russia’s aggression an “invasion” and has refused to condemn Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, the United Nations Charter and international law.

Beijing also has abstained on all United Nations resolutions that support Ukraine.

Moreover, Chinese officials and state media have either endorsed or uncritically amplified Kremlin propaganda, conspiracy theories and disinformation justifying Russia’s actions and blaming the West for its war, while insisting that “accusing China of spreading disinformation related to Ukraine is in itself disinformation.”

Below are examples of anti-Western, pro-Russian war propaganda disseminated through Chinese government officials, state media and state-controlled manipulation of trending social media hashtags.

Russia ‘had to’ invade because of NATO

According to one long-running official Chinese narrative, Russia is the victim of U.S.-led NATO enlargement and defending itself against Western security threats.

In sync with the Kremlin, China’s Foreign Ministry and official media have repeatedly called the U.S. the Ukraine war’s "leading instigator" and “culprit.”

On February 24, 2022, the day Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, China’s assistant Foreign Minister Hua Chunying accused the U.S. of having pushed “NATO expansion eastward all the way to Russia’s doorstep” and “a big country to the wall.”

In September 2022, the Chinese Communist Party’s No. 3 official, Li Zhanshu, said in Moscow that “the United States and NATO directly forced their way onto Russia's doorstep” and that Russia counterattacked to “safeguard” its core interests.

Chinese state media and officials also have repeated Russia’s claim that the U.S broke a promise not to expand NATO eastward.

On January 30, China’s Foreign Ministry accused the U.S. of starting and fueling “the Ukraine crisis.”

Read our fact-checks to see how these claims are either misleading or false.

While Putin Trumpets Imperial Designs on Ukraine, China Falsely Blames the West for War

China Falsely Blames U.S. on Eve of Russia’s Ukraine Invasion

Beijing Boosts Kremlin Disinformation That US Caused War in Ukraine

Chinese Blogger Misquotes U.S. General to Falsify NATO Goals in Ukraine

Bioweapons labs in Ukraine

After Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian officials and state media repeatedly and falsely claimed that Russian forces had discovered U.S.-run bioweapon labs in Ukraine.

China, which pushed its own bioweapon conspiracy theory that the virus causing COVID-19 was engineered in a U.S. army lab, repeated Russia’s baseless claims about bioweapon labs.

For example, Chinese officials claimed in March 2022 that the Pentagon had absolute control over “26 bio-labs and other related facilities in Ukraine,” and that those were "merely the tip of the iceberg.”

In fact, the U.S.-funded, anything-but-secret biological research labs in Ukraine are not developing bioweapons, and are owned and operated by the Ukrainian government.

In July 2022, Chinese state media accounts and nationalistic influencers on Weibo, China’s Twitter, disseminated a video regurgitating baseless Russian claims about alleged U.S. bioweapons activities:

“Russia recently released new details of U.S. bioweapon activities in Ukraine,” the video stated, claiming they showed the U.S. “not only conducted experiments on patients at a psychiatric ward in Kharkiv but also collected and sorted out cholera pathogens in Mariupol…”

Both claims are false. Read our fact-checks:

China Dishes Up Russian Lies About U.S. Bioweapons in Ukraine

How China Spread Kremlin’s False Biolab Claims

Betraying international treaties

On January 25, Jun Wu Ji, a popular military blogger on Weibo, echoed Russia’s long-held distorted grievance about the Minsk Agreements:

“Ukraine formally proposed to Belarus a non-aggression pact while preparing for war near the Belarus-Ukraine border, seeming to repeat the scene where they deceived Russia with the Minsk Agreements.”

That claim ignored the fact it was Russia that ignited the 2014 eastern Ukraine conflict, which the Minsk Agreements sought to end.

Read our fact-check on the peace accord here:

Chinese Blogger Parrots Kremlin’s Distorted Tale about Minsk Agreements

In March 2022, China’s state-run broadcaster CGTN accused the U.S. of betraying the Budapest Memorandum, under which, it said, “the U.S. offered security guarantees to Ukraine in exchange for the country giving up its nuclear arsenal”:

“When push came to shove, the U.S. ignored this commitment, and emphasized that Ukraine was not an official NATO member and therefore was on its own — without nuclear weapons to defend itself.”

Notwithstanding the glaring irony that Beijing has been the loudest critic of U.S. military aid to Ukraine and has accused the U.S. of “fueling” the war, that characterization of the Budapest Memorandum is false. The historic pact offered Ukraine security assurances – not guarantees – after the Soviet Union broke up. In return, Ukraine gave up nuclear arms.

Read our fact-check about the Budapest Memorandum:

China Falsely Accuses U.S. of Betraying Historic Ukraine Security Pact

Censoring ‘truthful’ reporting about the Ukraine war

On May 17, 2022, Global Information, a media account managed by state-run China National Radio, posted a video on Weibo about, in its words, “[i]ndependent journalists from many countries fired for truthfully covering the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.”

In fact, some of the “independent journalists” profiled in the video had a track record of regurgitating Kremlin talking points, including falsehoods seeking to blame Ukraine for the carnage caused by Russian forces. There is no evidence that any of them were fired or exiled, though some of their work has been disputed and flagged as disinformation.

Read our fact-check here:

China Trumpets Sham Russian Claims About War Coverage

China also has echoed Kremlin talking points on Putin’s annexation of Crimea, unsubstantiated rumors about the Nord Stream pipeline attack, the global food insecurity exacerbated by Russia’s war, and the Ukrainian armed forces’ performance.

Will of the Crimean People? How a Chinese Think Tank Distorted Russia’s Annexation of Crimea

China Lets Nord Stream Sabotage Gossip Run Wild

China Ludicrously Accuses US of ‘Weaponizing Food’

Russia, Then China, Distort Canadian Sniper’s Ukraine War Tale