State Dept. warns China-Russia-Iran propaganda on virus will distract ‘information space’

by WorldTribune Staff, March 29, 2020

China, Russia and Iran have created an echo chamber which pushes false narratives about the origins of and China’s response to the coronavirus crisis, a U.S. State Department official said.

“During the crisis, we’ve seen Russian, Chinese, and Iranian state disinformation and propaganda ecosystems all converge around some disinformation themes intended to promote their own agendas,” Lea Gabrielle, who leads the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, told reporters on Friday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese supreme leader Xi Jinping and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

The China-friendly World Health Organization (WHO) concluded the coronavirus first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province. Chinese officials and propaganda outlets have pushed the narrative that the U.S. military had somehow spread the virus to Wuhan.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian tweeted that “it might be U.S. army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan … U.S. owe us an explanation!” State-run Xinhua News Agency, as well as the Chinese Embassy to France’s official account, referred to the COVID-19 pandemic as the “Trumpandemic.”

Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently rejected the Trump administration’s offer of help to combat the coronavirus, noting that “you Americans are accused of having created the coronavirus” and claiming COVID-19 might be a U.S. bioweapon “created specifically to target Iran.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has rallied to China’s defense on its response to the coronavirus and the origins of the pandemic. The European Union’s diplomatic service concluded that “a significant disinformation campaign by Russian state media and pro-Kremlin outlets regarding COVID-19 is ongoing.”

“The entire ecosystem of Russian disinformation,” Gabrielle told the Senate in March, “has been engaged in the midst of this world health crisis.”

Gabrielle said Beijing was pushing five central claims: China’s “successful containment” of the coronavirus, “calls for international collaboration,” pointing to “the World Health Organization’s praise of China,” the “economic resilience” of China, and “anti-U.S. tweets” which she said performed badly with China’s target audiences, who didn’t believe the coronavirus originated in the U.S. and didn’t think “Chinese virus” was a racist term.

“The COVID-19 crisis has really provided an opportunity for malign actors to exploit the information space for harmful purposes and really been providing unnecessary distractions from the global communities focused on this crisis,” Gabrielle said.

It has been widely reported that officials believe China sought to cover up the existence and spread of the coronavirus and attempted to block outside health officials from investigating Wuhan. The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) also muzzled whistleblowers who had reported on the severity of the virus when it first surfaced late last year. At least one study indicated that if the Chinese government had acted more quickly, the coronavirus’s global spread would have been greatly reduced.

Gabrielle said, “We are seeing essentially ecosystems being developed by the different state actors that we assess, and those ecosystems use a variety of accounts from the state-sponsored accounts to online platforms. China has used its entire information apparatus … including China’s ambassadors overseas, its state media, and then what we are seeing is this convergence of disinformation between different state actors.”

The Washington Examiner noted in a March 28 report that the U.S. Intelligence Community “reportedly warned earlier this year that China was likely lying about the seriousness of the COVID-19 outbreak. Rep. Mike McCaul of Texas, the leading Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, asked the State Department last week to launch a global investigation into the Chinese Communist Party’s alleged cover-up.”

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