Russian officials and state-funded media last week continued their efforts to shift blame for a global food shortage caused by Moscow’s decision to invade Ukraine. Russian propagandists argued that the crisis was sparked by Western sanctions and economic blunders over the past several years. They blamed Ukraine for blocking food shipments by mining its ports and asserted that Ukrainian soldiers “torched 50,000 tons of grain,” which Russia’s Ministry of Defense called “food terrorism.” Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the challenge of exporting Ukrainian grain “does not really exist,” and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated the food shortage has nothing to do with Ukrainian agricultural production. State media also highlighted meetings between Russian and Turkish officials about creating a safe passageway for Ukrainian exports, which Kyiv rejected, saying it wasn’t a credible proposal.
Kremlin-linked accounts also maintained their criticism of Western assistance for Ukraine. RT said that Western military aid proves it “does not want a concerted peace,” and Russian officials argued that Western arms supplies wouldn’t change the course of the conflict—only lead to more deaths. One Russian diplomat warned that Moscow has the right to “target centres where decisions are made to use” missiles provided by the United States and United Kingdom. State media claimed that the EU’s financial reserves were being “exhausted” and U.S. arms supplies were being depleted. Moscow-affiliated accounts also asserted that Western weapons were benefiting Nazis, being traded on the black market, and could end up in the hands of terrorists. Russia’s Foreign Ministry claimed “NATO’s media structure” was pushing disinformation on behalf of Ukraine and warned U.S. journalists in Russia that they could lose accreditation. Egregiously, a Russian diplomat touted death sentences for U.K. fighters in Ukraine as “accountability… in its purest form.”
Outside of Ukraine, Russian state media attempted to discredit the Summit of the Americas, which brought together dozens of leaders from across the Western hemisphere in Los Angeles. RT labeled it the “Not-all-America’s Summit,” and called the U.S. decision to exclude Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua a “discriminatory mistake.” Kremlin-directed outlets lifted up criticism of the summit from leaders throughout the region, including former president of Bolivia Evo Morales, who said the summit marked “the end of US hegemony.” Tass noted that Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador had critiqued the United States for rapidly providing aid to Ukraine while moving slowly to help Central American countries. RT highlighted protesters shouting at President Joe Biden and questioned his mental fitness.
Russian state media also tried to undermine the credibility of Congressional hearings investigating the January 6 insurrection. A state media reporter argued that the hearings do “nothing for the majority of Americans,” while RT amplified former president Donald Trump’s criticism of the hearings, and Sputnik echoed Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s condemnation of the hearings as a “show trial.” Moscow-funded media also asserted that Democrats were using the hearings to “distract everyone from their failings,” which include Democratic participation in the “ongoing destruction of America.”
Kremlin-directed outlets used a failed no-confidence vote in the leadership of U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson to show a “government crisis in the UK.” RT highlighted a poll indicating that a majority of Britons want Johnson to resign. After Johnson survived the vote, a Sputnik commentator said that “Boris’ days as UK PM are numbered, Putin regime change plan backfires.”
The first round of France’s parliamentary elections last week prompted very limited coverage from Russian state media; however, a few Kremlin-funded outlets did note social unrest ahead of the vote.
“Xinjiang” was the most used key phrase and second most used hashtag in tweets from Chinese diplomats and state media last week. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) adopted a new angle of attack by relaying false claims, started in China’s domestic media, that U.S. diplomats in China had admitted that the United States was knowingly spreading lies about Xinjiang to harm Chinese interests. The U.S. diplomats’ names, photos, and the fabricated quotes were shared by the Chinese Embassy in Italy, CGTN-affiliate Frontline, and the Global Times, as well as many domestic Chinese outlets, prompting U.S. concern for their safety. Relatedly, the MFA said that the European Parliament was “lying through its teeth” when the institution passed a resolution asserting that China’s treatment of minorities in Xinjiang amounts to “crimes against humanity” and holds a “serious risk of genocide.” Narratives about Xinjiang’s vibrancy and its “happy” inhabitants’ propensity to sing and dance were also presented by official accounts. Additionally, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Hua Chunying shared extensive reports allegedly rebutting Western accusations, while CGTN denigrated the research into human rights abuses in the region.
The resurgence of the lab leak theory in Western media last week prompted a flurry of activity from Chinese accounts monitored on Hamilton 2.0. The MFA’s Friday press conference pushed back against renewed calls for investigations into China’s bio-labs and diverted attention to U.S. facilities in Fort Detrick and North Carolina. While this line of defense was amplified by the Global Times, the consul general in Belfast, and the ambassador to Bulgaria, the campaign was somewhat subdued compared to earlier accusations tying U.S. facilities to Japanese war crimes during World War II. Chinese state media chose to attack the calls for more investigations by questioning the impartiality of Western media, Zhao Lijian highlighted Europe and the United States’ bad handling of the pandemic compared to China, and Hua Chunying emphasized the wasteful management of vaccine doses in the United States.
Chinese diplomats and state media also presented a range of views on the looming food crisis brought on by the Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports. The most hawkish voices at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in state media blamed the United States for the crisis. Zhao Lijian and ultra-nationalist tabloid the Global Times accused Washington of having “a hand in every global food crisis in history.” Other diplomats like the Chinese consul general in Belfast and the director general for European Affairs at the MFA simply pleaded for a rapid peace without ascribing blame to anyone. The consul general in Belfast and CGTN also highlighted China’s call to action aimed at the BRICS, without singling out Russia’s unique role in the crisis. CGTN Europe and CGTN came closest to ascribing some blame to Russia by relaying Zelensky’s accusations against Moscow and CGTN reporting that Russian officials had stormed out of a UN Security Council meeting during which EU officials accused Moscow of fueling the crisis.
As in previous weeks, a significant portion of Chinese diplomats and state media outputs focused on criticizing the United States. A stand-out concerned the Summit of the Americas that took place last week in Los Angeles. “Americas” and “summit” were the third and fourth most mentioned key phrases in Chinese accounts’ tweets last week. The Chinese MFA addressed the summit in its Monday, Thursday, and Friday press conferences. The key objective of those interventions was to undermine U.S. claims to leadership in the region by portraying the country as overbearing and destructive. On Twitter, the MFA and the consul general in Belfast denigrated the Monroe doctrine, a popular Chinese diplomat in St. Petersburg highlighted U.S. military interventionism in its southern neighborhood, and Zhao Lijian shared a speech by the Mexican president denouncing U.S. hegemony and “lack of respect.” State media also piled on, with CGTN calling the summit “an embarrassment for Biden and a political disaster for the U.S.,” while the Global Times claimed the summit was a “a sign of waning US leadership in the region.”
Several Chinese diplomats and state media outlets commented on speeches given at the 19th Shangri-La Dialogue. In particular, Defense Minister Wei Fenghe’s menacing warnings over Taiwan were promoted by, among others, the consul general in Beirut, the People’s Daily, and Xinhua.
Finally, there was scattered but consistent Chinese commentary surrounding last week’s January 6 hearing. The MFA emphasized supposed U.S. hypocrisy for defending Hong Kong protesters while condemning the January 6 rioters, while CGTN and China Daily focused on the violence of the U.S. riot.
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