Chinese media echoes Russian narrative on Ukraine war

Chinese media echoes Russian narrative on Ukraine war as Beijing struggles to maintain neutral façade while Moscow ‘asks Xi to supply weapons’

  • Chinese media has repeatedly echoed the Russian narrative on the Ukraine war
  • Avoid blaming Moscow for the invasion and sympathise with Putin’s perspective
  • The Kremlin has asked Beijing to supply equipment after running out of weapons
  • China has accused the US of spreading ‘disinformation’ over intelligence reports

Chinese media has echoed the Russian narrative on Ukraine war, avoiding placing blame on Moscow for the invasion and portraying sympathy for President Vladimir Putin’s perspective.  

It comes as President Xi Jinping was asked on Sunday to supply military equipment after Russian forces started ‘running out’ of weapons during their sluggish invasion of Ukraine, according to US intelligence. 

China on Monday accused Washington of spreading ‘disinformation’ over Beijing’s role in the Ukraine war, without directly addressing US media reports of a Russian request for help. 

Beijing has struggled to maintain a façade of neutrality despite refusing to support or condemn its ally’s invasion of Ukraine and has repeatedly blamed the United States and NATO’s ‘eastward expansion’ for worsening tensions.   

It is a view that reverberates across state newspapers and television – as well as social media – in China’s tightly controlled news environment. 

When Putin announced an assault on Ukraine on February 24, China’s official Xinhua news agency maintained it was a ‘military operation’ and Moscow had ‘no intent’ of occupying Ukrainian territory.

Days later, state broadcaster CCTV echoed a false Russian claim that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had left Kyiv – a story quickly repeated by other domestic outlets. 

And some Chinese reports also state that there has been a surge of ‘neo-Nazi’ ideology among the Ukrainian army and people, a claim supported by Putin. 

Russia has reached out to China for military supplies and aid to help its faltering invasion of Ukraine, US officials have warned, while vowing ‘consequences’ if Beijing tries to ‘bail out’ Putin’s regime (file image) 

This general view shows destroyed Russian armored vehicles in the city of Bucha, west of Kyiv, on March 4, 2022

Debris of a military plane is seen after it was shot by Ukrainian forces on the 10th day of Russian attacks on Ukraine in Chernihiv, Ukraine last week

A Russian tank is pictured having been destroyed by Ukrainian soldiers

A directive to a state-affiliated outlet, circulating online last month, appeared to instruct that posts unfavourable to Russia or containing pro-Western content should not be published.

State media reports on Ukraine avoid terms like ‘invasion’, instead describing the situation as a ‘conflict’ or ‘fighting’.

‘This is not a struggle to find the right message,’ Justyna Szczudlik, China analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, told AFP.

‘China purposely uses very vague language,’ she added, noting that this was to reduce diplomatic risks in its relations with Western countries.

Officials, too, have rebuffed the term ‘invasion’ when questioned by foreign journalists – accusing them of biased reporting – while giving the contradictory statements that China respects every country’s sovereignty but won’t take sides. 

A fierce condemnation of war at the opening of the Winter Paralympic Games in Beijing was not translated on Chinese TV.

And rights holders of the English Premier League did not air matches a weekend earlier in March, knowing players were expected to show solidarity with Ukraine.

Under the barrage of China’s support, netizens have been showing sympathy for Russia.

Pro-Putin hashtags have been allowed to proliferate on China’s Twitter-like Weibo, along with admiring comments about how daring he is and calls for Ukrainians to surrender.

In contrast, articles about state media embracing Russian propaganda were removed as ‘false information’.

‘As with every country, China… considers its own security interests above all else,’ said Richard Ghiasy, an expert at the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies.

‘In that security calculation, stable and predictable ties with Russia are absolutely pivotal,’ he added.

A fierce condemnation of war at the opening of the Winter Paralympic Games in Beijing was not translated on Chinese TV

Media outlets have also started explicitly pushing Russian conspiracy theories. ‘There is no smoke without fire,’ state-run tabloid Global Times wrote while repeating Russian claims that US-funded biological labs in Ukraine were experimenting with bat coronaviruses

Media outlets have also started explicitly pushing Russian conspiracy theories.

‘There is no smoke without fire,’ state-run tabloid Global Times wrote while repeating Russian claims that US-funded biological labs in Ukraine were experimenting with bat coronaviruses.

It did not report comments from Washington that the allegations were ‘outright lies’ that have been debunked.

It comes after US intelligence agencies were late on Sunday preparing to warn their allies over reports China may be preparing to help Russia with military equipment and aid after Putin’s army took a hammering in his ill-thought-out invasion. 

Putin had expected to take the country in a lighting offensive lasting just a few days but, in the face of dogged opposition, is still fighting almost three weeks later.

It has led to to stockpiles of some weapons such as guided missiles running low and heavier-than-expected losses of tanks, armoured vehicles, helicopters and aircraft.    

American officials, speaking anonymously, say the Kremlin has now reached out to Beijing for help replenishing its military supplies.

Officials did not say exactly what Putin’s apparatchiks requested or when the request was made. Western nations have been supplying Ukraine with a steady stream of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. 

Moscow may also be asking Beijing for help skirting punishing Western sanctions imposed over the invasion, prompting US national security adviser Jake Sullivan – who is due to meet his Chinese counterpart in Rome today – to warn Beijing against providing relief to Russia, saying there would be ‘consequences’ to such a move.  

‘We will ensure that neither China, nor anyone else, can compensate Russia for these losses,’ Sullivan told NBC ahead of the meeting. 

‘In terms of the specific means of doing that, I’m not going to lay all of that out in public, but we will communicate that privately to China, as we have already done and will continue to do.’

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine – which he had anticipated would last only a few days with limited casualties – is now nearing its third week with heavy losses on both sides, as Moscow gives the first signs it could be willing to end the fighting by saying there has been ‘substantial progress’ in peace talks

Destroyed Russian armored vehicles in the city of Bucha, west of Kyiv

Drone footage released by Ukraine Armed Forces on Saturday shows a column of tanks and infantry fighting vehicles are ambushed as they advance in Kyiv region. Russian troops are moving towards closer to Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv, according to British officials

A Russian armored personnel carrier burns amid damaged and abandoned light utility vehicles after fighting in Kharkiv, Ukraine, at the start of the invasion on February 27

President Biden is sending his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, for talks with a senior Chinese official in Rome on Monday. The meeting comes as concerns grow that China is amplifying Russian disinformation in the Ukraine war

Russia has tightened cooperation with Xi Jinping’s communist government after both nations came under strong Western pressure over human rights and a raft of other issues. 

But China has accused the US of spreading ‘disinformation’ over the reports. Without directly addressing the alleged request, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: ‘The US has been spreading disinformation targeting China on the Ukraine issue, with malicious intentions.’ 

US officials are also accusing China of spreading Russian disinformation that could be a pretext for chemical or biological weapons attacks launched by Vladimir Putin’s forces in Ukraine. 

US National Security advisor Jake Sullivan will be in Rome on Monday to meet with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi, the White House said earlier. 

The White House said the talks will focus on the direct impact of Russia’s war against Ukraine on regional and global security.  

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put China in a delicate spot with two of its biggest trading partners: the US and European Union. China needs access to those markets, yet it also has made gestures supportive of Moscow, joining with Russia in declaring a friendship with ‘no limits.’

The Chinese abstained on UN votes censuring Russia and has criticized economic sanctions against Moscow. 

It has expressed its support for peace talks and offered its services as a mediator, despite questions about its neutrality and scant experience mediating international conflict.

But questions remain over how far Beijing will go to alienate the alliance and put its own economy at risk.  

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