Report: Russian, Chinese media peddle theory alleging coronavirus is US ‘bioweapon’

As COVID-19 continues to spread across the United States and around the world, so too has the debate over where exactly the novel coronavirus originated. And it appears the foreign media is only muddying the waters.

According to a Tuesday report from Defense One‘s Patrick Tucker, propaganda-fueled outlets in countries like China, Russia, and Iran are peddling, “without evidence,” the theory that U.S. biological weapons — or “bioweapons” — are behind the now-global pandemic.

An American bioweapon?

According to Tucker, “Chinese authorities maintain that COVID-19 likely originated at a market in Wuhan where people were selling bat meat.” Still, state-run media outlets in the nation have reportedly joined Iran and Russia to promote a conspiracy suggesting the coronavirus was produced and released by the United States deliberately.

Reports suggest that the misinformation has spread just as fast around the globe as the virus itself.

“One narrative all three countries [including China] highlight is the notion that the United States is weaponizing the crisis for political gain and thus worsening its spread globally,” Rachel Chernasky of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) observed, according to Tucker’s report.

Chernasky went on: “While all three countries’ state-sponsored outlets pushed explicitly anti-U.S. sentiments, Iran and Russia appeared to push far more conspiratorial content than China… In the disinformation ecosystem, each country’s state-sponsored media played off the others to promote shared preferred narratives.”

A disinformation campaign

China has borne the overwhelming brunt of the coronavirus outbreak, but Iran has also been hit especially hard by the disease, which has completely overrun the Islamic Republic’s health care system and even claimed the lives of several top government officials, according to Vox.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, in addition to blaming the U.S. for the coronavirus, Iranian state-run media has also accused Israeli scientists of being behind the deadly outbreak and using it as cover to attack the Iranian regime, Tucker reported Tuesday.

He went on in his piece for Defense One:

Russia, meanwhile, has used its considerable media reach via channels like RT to amplify statements coming out of Iranian leadership. Last week RT reported that Hossein Salami, chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, claimed that the virus was a U.S. weapon aimed at Iran and China.

According to Tucker, this is all part of a growing trend. “Nation states that persistently disseminate disinformation will absolutely create false narratives about the coronavirus outbreak,” Clint Watts, a senior fellow at FPRI, wrote earlier this week, according to Tucker’s report. “Their output will be steady, their sophistication higher on average and over the longer term.”

Watts went on to predict, “The big three — Russia, Iran, and China — will use state-sponsored news to advance a few chosen narratives about the outbreak that develop or amplify pseudoscience and revised histories about the coronavirus’ origin and its spread.”

Watts said he hopes social media platforms will step up their efforts to identify and quash misinformation, while highlighting accurate data from authorities, in order to combat the spread of speculative theories regarding the coronavirus. That will likely be a tall order, however.

A time of unity

As the disinformation spreads, President Donald Trump has sought to assure Americans that his top priority is keeping them safe.

“The media should view this as a time of unity and strength,” he tweeted Wednesday. “We have a common enemy, actually, an enemy of the world, the coronavirus. We must beat it as quickly and safely as possible. There is nothing more important to me than the life [and] safety of the United States!”
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