China has launched a widespread COVID-19 disinformation campaign through news and social media aimed at advancing a conspiracy theory that the US created and released sticking as a bio weapon, according to a new investigation.
A nine-month investigation published Monday by the Associated Press details how the communist government has spread the malevolent lie as a separate virus.
On January 26, 2020, less than a week after the first case of coronavirus was diagnosed on American soil, a man from China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region posted a video on the Chinese Kuaishou app claiming that the then new virus had been created from the US, according to the study.
The video was deleted and its creator was arrested, banned for 10 days and fined for circulating the false confession.
But within weeks, the same theory was being advanced by Chinese diplomats around the globe, as well as the country’s extensive state media network.
The wrong direction came as China was under intense scrutiny for its early treatment of the coronavirus which had escaped the country’s quarantine and had gone international and was faced with a similar theory that the outbreak began in a Chinese laboratory, which it was then considered “extremely impossible” by international health experts.
On February 22, the People’s Daily, an internationally circulated newspaper serving as a spokesman for the Chinese Communist Party, opened fire, directing a report based on speculation that the U.S. military introduced the coronavirus to China, according to the AP report.
That report not only resonated at home, but also gained global traction, appearing in introductions to the New Zealand Herald and Finland’s Helsinki Times.
On March 9, an essay claiming that the U.S. military created the virus in a lab in Fort Detrick, Maryland and released it at the World Military Games athletics competition held in October 2019 in Wuhan, China, from which the virus that circulated on WeChat, another Chinese social media platform.
The next day, an anonymous online petition appeared in the White House on the “We the People” page demanding that the U.S. government respond to the Fort Detrick theory, according to the AP.
Although the petition garnered less than 2 percent of the 100,000 signatures needed to get a response from the White House, the very fact that it was filed was widely covered in the Chinese media.
Days later, Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, issued a wave of tweets adding to the strange theory presented in the essay.
“When did zero patients start in the US?” Zhao wrote to hundreds of thousands of his followers. How many people are infected? What are hospitals called? It may be the US military that brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make your details public! We owe the US [sic] give us an explanation!
Twitter later hit the post with a fact-checking warning, according to the AP but only in English, leaving the Mandarin version of the tweet intact.
All of the stories, 11 tweets that Zhao shot on March 12 and 13 were quoted more than 99,000 times in at least 54 languages over the next six weeks, according to the Atlantic Council Digital Legal Research Laboratory, which collaborated with the AP on investigation.
On the other hand, the accounts that referenced those tweets have nearly 275 million followers, according to the AP, which notes that this amount almost definitely includes a degree of overlap.
Ironically, tweets critical of Zhao’s conspiracy theory, such as the broad pages by Donald Trump Jr., spread the premise to a wider audience, the AP observed.
Dozens of accounts linked to Chinese diplomats, set up in locations from France to Panama, also echoed the theory, exposing European and Latin American audiences to the plot.
Accounts linked to the Saudi royal family also gave weight to the fraud, as did state media in Russia and Iran, the investigation found.
The spread created a self-sustaining cycle, where leaders in Russia and Iran weighing on the plot created by China made news back in China, further fueling speculation.
Did the US government deliberately hide the reality of COVID-19 with the flu? was the key question asked in a March 22 issue of China Radio International. Why was the U.S. Army Infectious Diseases Medical Research Institute in Ft. Detrick in Maryland, the largest biochemical testing base, closed in July 2019?
Within days, that piece was reprinted more than 350 times across the globe, mostly in Chinese, but also in English, Arabic, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish, according to the AP.
Accounts promoting options across various social media platforms reached a whopping 817 million followers, total, again, almost certain to include some redundant accounts, an audit revealed.
The Fort Detrick plot has never died since then, being revived by Zhao in tweets over the summer and last month by a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, drawing back against further suggestions from the then-outgoing administration. Trump that the virus could have escaped from a Wuhan lab.
I like to point out that if the United States really respects the facts, it should open a biological laboratory in Fort Detrick, give more transparency to issues like its 200-plus bio-laboratories, invite WHO experts to do the tracking. originating in the United States, spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a Jan. 18 news conference, which went viral in China.
In a statement to the AP, the ministry insisted that China was within its rights to protect itself from conspiracy theories open in its path and was committed to setting records.
“All parties must resolutely say no to the dissemination of misinformation,” the ministry said. “In the face of fabricated allegations, it is reasonable and appropriate to spread the lies and clarify the rumors by establishing the facts.”
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