U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Chinese operatives helped spread false messages that claimed the Trump administration was planning to impose a nationwide lockdown to combat the novel coronavirus outbreak, according to The New York Times.
The Times says the messages, which first appeared last month as cellphone texts and social media feeds, claimed President Donald Trump would announce the lockdown as soon as troops were in place “to help prevent looters and rioters.” The messages became so widespread over the next two days the National Security Council was prompted to issue a statement on Twitter declaring them as fake.
The newspaper based its story on information from six American officials from six different agencies who spoke to them on condition of anonymity. Two of the officials said they believed the messages were not created by Chinese operatives, but instead amplified existing ones.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry called the accusations “complete nonsense and not worth refuting.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview Thursday with Sean Hannity of Fox News that “China caused an enormous amount of pain, loss of life, and now a huge challenge for the global economy and the American economy as well, by not sharing the information they had.”
“I am very confident that the Chinese Communist Party will pay a price for what they did here, certainly from the United States,” Pompeo said. “I talk to business people all around the country. I talk to ordinary citizens – people who have put their lives at risk over the last weeks. They know that this is a result of this virus that originated in Wuhan, China, and they know that the Chinese government didn’t do the things it needed to do. There will be a cost associated with that.”
The U.S. and China have engaged in a back-and-forth information war over who is to blame for the COVID-19 pandemic.
President Trump has in the past labeled the disease the “Chinese virus,” referring to the fact that the virus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, while other U.S. officials have accused Beijing of a lack of transparency at the start of the outbreak. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian had accused the U.S. Army of transporting the virus to Wuhan in a post on Twitter last month. U.S. officials rejected the allegation.