Kremlin-backed accounts last week continued to focus heavily on the tension between Russia and the West caused by Russia’s military buildup along the Ukrainian border. RT warned that “the risk of an all-out armed conflict in south-eastern Ukraine is extremely high.” Kremlin-funded accounts also continued to accuse NATO member states of “artificially fanning hysteria” around the conflict, and they argued that this “is not the first time” that Western outlets have warned of a Russian military offensive. State media picked up U.S. President Joe Biden’s statement that he wouldn’t recognize Russian President Vladimir Putin’s red line around Ukraine joining NATO. On the diplomatic side, Russian Foreign Ministry Sergey Lavrov repeatedly accused NATO of escalating the situation. The Foreign Ministry also put out a document claiming to debunk “myths” about NATO-Russia relations, which framed the security alliance as undermining regional stability and threatening Russia. Meanwhile, Russian officials and state media sought to portray Ukraine as the aggressor, with Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) claiming to have disrupted an attack planned by Ukrainian agents on Russian military sites. Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maris Zakharova argued that Ukraine had violated the Minsk agreements and attacked civilian targets.
Russian diplomats and government-controlled media also continued to criticize the upcoming Summit for Democracy. On December 1, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement on the summit that aimed to discredit the democratic credentials of the United States and its allies. The statement claimed that U.S. policy making is “controlled by big business” and that U.S. social media companies are used for the “manipulation of public opinion.” The Foreign Ministry stated that U.S. election systems were beginning to “crumble,” and said that participants in the January 6 insurrection were facing “disproportionate” punishments. Russia’s Foreign Ministry argued the United Kingdom was “a comfortable home to organizations professing Neo-Nazi ideology” and that the European Union was “destroying the Christian foundations of European civilization.” State-backed outlets amplified the statement. Diplomats also claimed that the summit was designed to divide the world and undermine the United Nations. There was also a push to circulate a report by the Chinese Foreign Ministry which critiqued U.S. democracy, with Russian state media sharing the findings in multiple languages.
Moscow-linked accounts provided little coverage about the then-upcoming video call between Biden and Putin, which the leaders used to discuss Ukraine, cybersecurity, and other points of tension. However, state media last week criticized Biden on a range of issues. RT asked if Biden should resign over his coronavirus response and highlighted judicial challenges to his vaccine policies. State media also blamed Biden for inflation and a crime wave, and framed him as hypocritical on immigration issues. Finally, Moscow-backed outlets pointed out Biden coughing at a press conference, noting “Biden croaks and coughs threats towards Russia.”
Last week, “democracy” was the most frequently used term, as well as the most frequently used hashtag, in tweets from Chinese government officials and diplomats. Chinese diplomats and state media continued to promote the idea that the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) one-party system is somehow more democratic than the U.S. system. The Chinese State Council Information Office published a white paper called “Democracy that works.” It was promoted by Chinese diplomats in Canada, Cuba, Eritrea, Italy, Malawi, the United Kingdom, and the United States, among others. The white paper was also extensively covered by Chinese state media, with CGTN and Xinhua each posting multiple fawning articles promoting the “extensive, tangible democratic right” enjoyed by Chinese people “under CCP leadership.”
In parallel to promoting China’s “whole-process democracy,” Chinese diplomats and state media also attacked the U.S. system. On Thursday, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Spokesperson Zhao Lijian referred to Oliver Stone when commenting on poll numbers showing young Americans’ fears and doubts about democracy in the United States. On Sunday, the Chinese MFA released a report on “The State of Democracy in the United States” that is being amplified this week by Chinese diplomats in, among other places, Cameroon, France, India, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. It also received a short CGTN video segment. The target of all these attacks, of course, is this week’s Summit for Democracy, a fact made clear by MFA spokesperson Wang Wenbin’s long diatribe last Monday against the “so-called ‘Summit for Democracy.’” That message was echoed by diplomats in Cuba, Denmark, and South Africa. Narrative alignment with Russia also continued. On Wednesday, Wang Wenbin built on statement by Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov to accuse Washington of “using democracy as a cover to flagrantly engage in infiltration and subversion in sovereign countries.” And, on Friday, he said that he “appreciate[d] the Russian side’s position” on the summit. Official statements by Thailand and Hungary were also brought up to legitimize China’s views on the summit.
China also focused on heavily on messaging aimed at the Global South. Nine of the ten most retweeted Chinese diplomatic/government and state media tweets last week were about Africa. Seven were about the conflict in Ethiopia, with China promoting Ethiopia’s ability to solve its own issues free of outside interference. Six of the top ten tweets were by one CGTN reporter, Shen Shiwei. The engagement they generated points to either a high level of global interest about the conflict in Ethiopia—or perhaps an attempt to artificially inflate engagement numbers through inauthentic means. China’s Consul in Lebanon and the head of China Daily’s Europe bureau, Chen Weihua, also slammed Western media biases in their reporting on Chinese interests in Africa. Similarly, CGTN interviewed a former Egyptian prime minister who explained that warnings about Chinese debt traps “reflect jealousy from the West.”
In Southeast Asia, CGTN’s promotion of China’s infrastructure work in Laos, with the recent completion of a high-speed railway link there, accounted for two of the ten most viewed CGTN videos last week on YouTube. That accomplishment was given a more wolf warrior treatment by the Global Times’ editor-in-chief, who shared a meme contrasting the Chinese infrastructure project with the U.S. bombing of Laos in the 1970s.
Lithuania also remained in China’s crosshairs last week. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Zhao Lijian commented at length on the “heart-wrenching and outrageous” treatment of migrants at the Lithuania border. He then proceeded to delve into “the iceberg of Lithuania’s human rights abuses,” such as “massacre of Jews” in history. Finally, one of the most retweeted tweets from the Chinese network last week featured a clip of far-left French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon giving a speech to the French Parliament where he affirmed Taiwan as a province of China and warned of France not following the United States in its Cold War with Beijing.
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