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China Spreads Kremlin War Lies, Bristles When Called Out

China Spreads Kremlin War Lies, Bristles When Called Out
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Video producer Nik Yarst

Wang Wenbin

Wang Wenbin

Spokesman, Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry

“Accusing China of spreading disinformation related to Ukraine is in itself disinformation.”


On March 23, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg expressed concern that China could provide “material support” to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Stoltenberg noted China had already “provided Russia with political support, including by spreading blatant lies and misinformation.”

On March 24, the one-month anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a journalist with Agence France-Presse asked Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin about Stoltenberg’s comments.

Wang said “accusing China of spreading misinformation related to Ukraine is in itself disinformation.”

That is false.

Wang went on to take veiled jabs at the United States and NATO, warning against adding “fuel to the fire” or using “pressure” and “coercion.”

Chinese officials have used similar language to criticize the United States for helping to arm Ukraine and sanctioning Russia for its invasion, but they have not criticized Russia for unilaterally launching a war of aggression.

“What is needed to achieve lasting peace and stability is efforts to accommodate the legitimate security concerns of all parties, not moves to seek bloc confrontation and absolute security,” Wang said.

“China’s position is in line with the wishes of most countries. Time will prove that China’s position is on the right side of history, and all groundless accusations and suspicions against China are indefensible and will simply collapse.”

In fact, China has clearly spread Russian disinformation about the war. In the run-up to the war, Chinese state media accidentally released Communist Party directives telling journalists how to cover the war. They were told not to post content that was pro-Western or portrayed Russia in a negative light.

The Associated Press reported that a letter criticizing Russia for its invasion, and signed by five professors from leading Chinese universities, was deleted from social media.

Two days before Russia invaded Ukraine, Chinese state media repeated the long-debunked Kremlin talking point that “America made the promise to Russia against the eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.” That is false.

Once the war began, China’s Xinhua news agency uncritically reported on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authorization of a so-called “special military operation.” Russian regulators have required news media to use that euphemism instead of “war” or “invasion.”

Xinhua cited Putin as saying Russia would "respond immediately” to “external interference in the situation in Ukraine,” without noting that Russia’s invasion is a blatant act of aggression and external interference.

China has been in lockstep with Russia in refusing to call the unilateral invasion of Ukraine a war, using instead the terms “situation,” “crisis” or “conflict” or Putin’s own words, “special military operation.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying sidestepped the issue when asked whether she would call Russia’s invasion of Ukraine an invasion.

“Regarding the definition of an invasion, I think we should go back to how to view the current situation in Ukraine,” Hua said. “The Ukrainian issue has [a] very complicated historical background that has continued to today.”

A CNN report analyzing Chinese media and social media posts concluded that Beijing had largely adopted Russia’s talking points.

Chinese media have reported on Russia’s war victories but not its defeats, and on aid delivered by Russia’s military, while avoiding discussion of Russia’s indiscriminate bombardment of civilian areas.

The CNN report noted that a false report about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy fleeing Kyiv, first shared by Russian media and almost immediately picked up by Chinese media, received 510 million views on the Chinese social media platform Weibo.

As previously reported, Chinese state media have even attacked the United States for not protecting Ukraine against an invasion, even though they will not call it an invasion.

Referring to the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, CGTN’s First Voice falsely accused the United States of ignoring its commitments to provide security for Ukraine in exchange for it handing over its nuclear arsenal.

Under the agreement, the United States and Russia, among other countries, gave Ukraine security assurances, which do not trigger legally binding responses to specific scenarios, such as an invasion.

That “First Voice” article does not mention Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, or Russia’s repeated violations of its commitments to Ukraine’s security and territorial integrity.

These violations include Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, escalation of its eight-year proxy war in eastern Ukraine by backing pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, and now its launch of a full-scale invasion while placing its nuclear forces “on high alert.”

When Putin called the United States an “empire of lies” in response to Western sanctions imposed for Russia’s invasion, Chinese state media adopted the phrase.

When Russia began spreading the false claim that the United States is working with Ukrainian labs to develop biological weapons – including those that “can selectively affect various ethnic groups of the population” – China followed suit.

Another Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, falsely said the United States was engaged in “biological military activities” in Ukraine and elsewhere under the pretext of reducing “biological safety risks and strengthening global public health.”

As previously noted, none of the biolabs in Ukraine are run or controlled by the U.S. The legitimate research laboratories in Ukraine are not secret, and do not conduct “biological military activities.”

China’s distortions of the war in Ukraine have affected the Chinese public’s perception of what is happening there.

The New York Times noted that one Weibo user wrote: “If I only browsed Weibo … I would have believed that it was the United States that had invaded Ukraine.”

Still, according to The Associated Press, public opinion is harder to measure in a country where the internet is heavily censored and state media dominates.

Online surveys suggest Chinese may hold more nuanced positions.

Polls on several Chinese websites found that some 40 percent of Chinese people are neutral about the war, 30 percent support Russia and 20 percent support Ukraine, according to The Diplomat, a Washington, D.C. news magazine.

Meantime, while Wang claimed China’s position on Ukraine is in line “with the wishes of most countries,” 142 countries adopted a resolution demanding that Russia immediately cease its use of force against Ukraine and withdraw its military.

Only five countries, including Russia, voted against the resolution. China abstained.

The United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) also rejected Russia’s assertion that it is halting genocide in its war to “de-nazify” Ukraine. In that 13-2 ruling, only Russia and China voted no. The ruling says Moscow must “immediately suspend the military operations that it commenced [in Ukraine].”