In coverage of the anti-government protests in Cuba, Russian state media amplified calls to end the U.S. embargo on the country and Cuban officials’ accusations that U.S.-funded mercenaries are fomenting the protests. The Russian Foreign Ministry warned against “external interference” in Cuba, while Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova echoed Cuban officials’ claims that the United States is “staging” the anti-government protests and attempting to create a “color revolution.” Some examples accused the Western mainstream media of bias or even manipulation of protest coverage, drew parallels with Venezuela (suggesting the United States is applying its “coup playbook” in the country), or took the occasion to blast U.S. “imperialism.”
Russian diplomats’ promotion of Putin’s article “On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians” helped propel “Ukrainians” into the top ten key phrases last week for Russia’s Twitter network monitored on Hamilton. Various diplomatic and state media accounts quoted or paraphrased parts of the article, notably the claims that “Russians and Ukrainians are one people,” that the United States and EU “dragged [Ukraine] into a dangerous geopolitical game aimed at turning Ukraine into a barrier between Europe and Russia,” and that Ukraine was “created at the expense of historical Russian lands.”
The Guardian’s publication of alleged leaked documents purporting to show Putin’s authorization of an operation to support former President Trump in 2016 drew the predictable ire of state media last week, with outlets attacking both the claim and the Guardian’s journalists. While various experts have also expressed skepticism regarding the authenticity of the documents, Russian state media labelled it as a further example of alleged efforts to maintain the “‘collusion’ hoax.” Finally, emerging information about U.S. connections to suspects in the assassination of Haitian President Moïse provided fodder for RT to speculate about “the real extent of Washington’s role,” including one RT video that suggested that “Washington did all but pull the trigger.”
Last week, Xinjiang was once again the most mentioned topic by Chinese diplomats and officials on Twitter. Remarkably, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian was the author of nine out of the ten most retweeted tweets on the subject last week. The content of those tweets—highlighting the terrorist threat in region, rejecting forced labor accusations, highlighting Uyghur voices supportive of Chinese policies, and accusing the U.S. of hypocrisy—was in line with Chinese messaging about Xinjiang over the past few months.
In coronavirus coverage, Chinese diplomats and state media were particularly irritated by Bloomberg’s “COVID Resilience Ranking” that placed the United States first and China eighth globally on its list of “best places to be as the world opens up.” Zhao Lijian called the report a “childish stunt,” and the Global Times denounced it as “ridiculous information warfare.” On Wednesday, Zhao and the Chinese embassy in Zimbabwe called the pandemic a litmus test that showed that “US politicians care nothing about life.” In that same vein, several Chinese state media outlets (People’s Daily, China News, Beijing Review) quoted a Washington Post piece accusing the United States of “hoarding and wasting valuable COVID-19 vaccines.” The Chinese ambassador to Brazil had one of the most popular tweets from last week by pleading for more equitable vaccine distribution. Finally, Fort Detrick conspiracy narratives and accompanying cartoons continued to spread, with Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Hua Chunying once again bringing up the idea of a U.S. cover up. The Chinese Twitter network monitored on Hamilton actively promoted a petition to the World Health Organization asking for a full investigation of the Maryland lab signed by hundreds of thousands of Chinese netizens. Relatedly, the head of China Daily’s Europe bureau called CNN a “US propaganda machine” over the network’s reporting on the theory that the coronavirus leaked from a Wuhan laboratory.
In his Monday press conference last week, Zhao also had some choice words for the United States’ human rights record, which he portrayed as “plagued by serious human rights problems such as racial discrimination, forced labor and gun violence, and committed crimes including genocide of indigenous communities, illegal military intervention and indiscriminate killing of civilians.” He recommended that democracies get their house in order before criticizing China. The following day, he leveled new accusations of systemic racism against “the U.S., the UK, Canada and EU member countries.” Canada was singled out last Thursday (and again on Friday) following the discovery of more undocumented graves, leaving the spokesman to wonder “how many skeletons are in the closet of Canada.” In an even more pointed accusation, Zhao spoke in his Wednesday press conference about the “problem of children’s rights in the US,” pointing to high numbers of child abuse cases.
The sixth anniversary of the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) dominated Tehran-linked Twitter last week, with many hardliners using it as an opportunity to rake outgoing President Rouhani and former lead negotiator Javad Zarif over the coals for the agreement’s perceived shortcomings. Zarif himself took to Twitter to defend himself and the agreement, urging the United States to “kick the habit of sanctions.” Press TV reported on and amplified Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Zhao Lijian’s comments that the United States should lift sanctions on Iran.
Iranian media also reported heavily on ongoing violence between Israelis and Palestinians, particularly around al-Aqsa Mosque. Press TV reported that Hezbollah can fire 3,000 rockets per day at Israel, citing Israeli news as their source. They also reported on the revelations surrounding the Israeli firm selling hacking software to authoritarian regimes. Another story highlighted Israel’s dubious practice of administrative detention, by which certain Palestinian prisoners can be held nearly indefinitely without charge. Coverage of the alleged plot by Iranian intelligence operatives in the United States to abduct Iranian American journalist Masih Alinejad was limited to a single story reiterating the regime’s dismissal of the story as “ridiculous.” Finally, Press TV mocked John Bolton for distinguishing between losing the war in Afghanistan and “walking away from it.” FarsNews used the same Bolton interview to disparage former President Donald Trump as lacking the intelligence to carry out a coup.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.