China Is Borrowing a Page From Russia’s Disinformation Playbook

China Is Borrowing a Page From Russia’s Disinformation Playbook
A smartphone records Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying as she speaks during a daily briefing at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, Sept. 1, 2020 (AP photo by Andy Wong).

In the pantheon of state-led cyber operations, Russia has historically led when it comes to disinformation and sowing the seeds of social discord, while China was traditionally associated with intellectual property theft. There are signs that is changing, though, with China reportedly stepping up its disinformation campaigns on social media. 

Earlier this month, Mandiant Threat Intelligence reported two significant advances in online influence campaigns in support of the People’s Republic of China—one involving the use of accounts in multiple languages across many different social media platforms, and the other involving attempts to physically mobilize protests on the ground, on topics ranging from Hong Kong to COVID-19 conspiracy theories and even support for Scottish independence.

The Mandiant report is careful not to attribute these activities to the Chinese state. However, the scale and characteristics of the operations it details indicate a well-resourced, carefully planned approach consistent with activities identified by other researchers, such as Oxford Internet Institute and the Harvard Kennedy School, as being state-sponsored.

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