As with most international media outlets, Russian state media outlets focused heavily on coverage of the Tokyo Olympics last week, a topic discussed in more detail in a recently published ASD blog post. They also continued to stoke vaccine skepticism and push back against vaccine mandates. State media outlets highlighted protests against new vaccination policies in Europe, with one RT op-ed questioning whether a “mask apartheid” is imminent. State media and the Sputnik V Twitter account also continued to emphasize possible side effects, deaths following vaccination, and other controversies surrounding Western coronavirus vaccines. Criticism of the French government’s “health pass” proposal was particularly fierce (the terms vaccine or vaccination appeared in 37 RT France tweets last week—the most of any RT property), as was ridicule of French President Emanuel Macron for suing the creator of a billboard depicting Macron as Hitler. Russian state media and diplomatic responses to Biden’s statement last week that Russia has started information operations around the 2022 midterm elections, while somewhat limited, featured predictable official denials of both ongoing and previous interference. State media suggested that this development marked the “déjà vu” return of “Russiagate.” Finally, while much of Russia’s coverage of the wildfires in Turkey has reflected the scope and tragedies of the disaster, the Russian Embassy in Ankara received unusually high engagement for a pair of posts highlighting Russia’s firefighting assistance. State media also emphasized Russia’s aid.
As has been the case for the past couple of months, Chinese diplomats and state media continued to promote conspiracy theories concerning the Fort Detrick research lab in Maryland’s supposed connections to the outbreak of the coronavirus. In his Monday press conference last week, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Zhao Lijian used a guiding question from China Daily to present a picture of global voices rallying behind the Chinese government’s demands that the lab be investigated, including commentary from Stephen Kinzer, a former foreign correspondent for the New York times. On the same topic, the “grassroots” online petition urging an investigation into Fort Detrick and promoted by Chinese officials and state media since last week has now reportedly gathered more than 20 million signatures. In addition to state media, Chinese diplomats in South Africa, India, Australia, and senior officials at the Chinese Foreign Ministry are among those promoting the petition. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s meeting with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman produced the second most watched video on CGTN’s YouTube channel last week, with Wang Yi proclaiming that “We [China] bear responsibility to teach U.S. to treat others equally.” His argument, relayed by diplomats in Europe and the United States, was that Washington should abandon its arrogant and obstructionist attitude on the world stage. Coverage of Wany Yi’s meeting with Taliban leaders last week was noticeably more positive, with Zhao insisting on China’s respect for Afghanistan’s sovereignty and the Global Times’ making questionable parallels between Sherman’s and the Taliban’s visit. Chinese diplomats and state media also found more ways to criticize the United States and democracy in general last week. The sixth most viewed Chinese state media video on YouTube was titled “U.S. foreign interference.” In addition, People’s Daily, China Daily, and Zhao all quoted the results of an Ipsos poll to show that democracy is in crisis, particularly in the United States. In Zhao’s words, “The polls (…) show Americans see democracy in the US as morbid with persistent social fractures and racism.” Democracy’s failures, particularly on race, were prominently attacked by the Chinese Embassy in Brazil. Chinese diplomats also repeated well-rehearsed accusations surrounding the U.S. genocide of Native Americans. After being asked about the recent harassment of foreign journalists in China, partially as a result of CCP-affiliated organizations’ incitements, Zhao showed few signs of contrition. His reply was that “Chinese netizens refer to BBC as the “Bad-mouthing Broadcasting Corporation” before adding that “everything happens for a reason.”
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei sent out a series of tweets across many of his accounts last week criticizing “the West” as duplicitous and casting outgoing President Rouhani as a cautionary tale for his successors. He specifically charged that U.S. negotiators cannot promise that future administrations will adhere to agreements that they make, making future negotiations pointless. He also spoke of Rouhani having met expectations in some areas and fallen short in others, and he urged him to be grateful for the opportunity to have served the republic. Versions of these tweets in Farsi and Arabic accounted for seven of the top ten most retweeted posts among tracked accounts last week. This week saw a substantial uptick in stories about Covid-19 in the United States and Europe. Press TV contributor Colin Campbell argued—not without reason—that low trust in government in the United States is responsible for vaccine hesitancy. Stories about vaccines were otherwise mostly positive and warned that new variants will continue to emerge without widespread vaccination. Several pieces also highlighted the increasing measures states and cities in the United States are taking to encourage vaccination. Another video explored coronavirus denialism in the United States—ironically, most of the comments on the video were from covid denialists. Iranian media also reported widely on the attack on an oil tanker operated by an Israeli firm in the Gulf of Oman; Israel and the United States have attributed the attack to Iran—a charge that Iranian officials denied. At the same time, a Press TV story spoke approvingly of the “retaliatory attack” and suggested that it was retribution for an Israeli strike in Syria.
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