How Russians and Chinese worked together on propaganda scenarios

A leaked email from a Russian media giant reveals partnerships between the Russian and Chinese governments to jointly broadcast political content.

The leak had gone almost unnoticed. The American investigative media The Intercept recovered hacked emails from the Russian audiovisual group VGTRK and details their content in an article published on December 30, 2022. We discover many exchanges and reports from meetings with Chinese media companies in order to coordinate the political messages to be broadcast. Anonymous hackers attacked the Russian company in April and uploaded 13 terabytes of private files.

Among the confidential files, a bilateral agreement signed in July 2021 between Russian and Chinese officials explicitly indicates that cooperation on news coverage is a major objective for the two regimes. During a virtual summit, prominent Russian and Chinese government and media figures discussed digital strategies and the co-production of TV shows.

The partnership states that “the media of both countries should support each other in covering major events […] The parties noted the need to develop mechanisms for the exchange of information and opinions between Russia and China [ …] The exchange of opinions concerns issues of mutual interest to both countries“.

Private sector companies also participated in the meetings and are among the signatories, including Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. Fu LinLin, director of the video content cooperation department, as well as Liu Yunnan representing Huawei in the video and multimedia industry, were both presents, according to the documents.

Huawei is involved in media partnerships with Russia. // Source: Pixabay

A scenario to hide forced labor

A total of 64 joint media projects have been launched and are under development. State news agencies TASS and Xinhua pledged to exchange reports, and other state media agreed to publish supplements promoting the other country.

The hacked emails are much more revealing of the content: in March 2021, Alexander Balitskiy, head of the Beijing office for RTR, the international service of VGTRK, sent a scenario to the Chinese authorities on the boycott of foreign brands having spoken on the Uyghur forced labor. “Global corporations have played on the same team as Western politicians, blaming China for the genocide of the Uyghurs,” the script reads. The production notes suggest zooming out to “beautiful views of cotton fields being harvested by machines.” The reporter should then explain that the CIA is working on plans to create unrest in China.

Similar plots were aired after Russia invaded Ukraine. On March 7, the state broadcaster CCTV, the People’s Daily newspaper, and the Global Times propagated claims by the Russian government that the United States was funding and developing biological weapons in Ukraine. At the end of February, a false report which claimed that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had fled the capital was viewed 510 million times on the Chinese platform Weibo. These speeches repeated word for word the Russian disinformation strategy. We better understand “the mutual support when covering major events” set out in the 2021 agreement.

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