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Chinese State, Social Media Echo Russian Propaganda on Concert Hall Attack

Specious theories designed to implicate Ukraine and the United States in connection with the late March terror attack on a Moscow concert hall are spreading on China’s state media outlets and on its heavily censored social media platform Weibo.

False claims that paint Kyiv and Washington as masterminds of the attack have dominated debate in Russia even after Islamic State claimed responsibility for killing at least 143 people and injuring nearly 200 at the Crocus City Hall music venue in suburban Moscow.

In China, an editorial in the state-run Global Times insinuated that “many observers linked the incident to the ‘hybrid war’ form of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.”

“Some Western thinkers have begun to speculate whether Washington had played a role in this terrorist attack,” it said.

Without citing names or clear attribution, the Global Times repeated Russia’s false accusations that the U.S. failed to share “key intelligence” which could have helped the Russian security services to prevent the attack.

In fact, the U.S. warned the Russian authorities two weeks before the attack and shared appropriate intelligence, as it would do “for any other country,” John Kirby, White House national security communications adviser, told Voice of America.

“We provided useful, we believe, valuable information about what we thought was an imminent terrorist attack,” Kirby said. “We also warned Americans about staying away from public places like concert halls. So, we were very direct with our Russian counterparts appropriately to make sure that they had as much useful information as possible.”

Addressing a Russian intelligence agency board meeting three days before the attack, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed the U.S. warning as “outright blackmail” intended “to intimidate and destabilize our society.”

The Global Times also criticized Washington for being “slow to condemn the incident in a timely manner, which shocked the international community.”

In fact, the United States was among the first world nations to condemn the Moscow attack.

On March 30, U.S. ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy placed flowers at the site of the attack.

With the Chinese Communist Party’s tight censorship of online content contrarian views are quickly taken down, and the lack of independent media leave disinformation spread by state-controlled news outlets unchallenged.

Some, however, have voiced skepticism.

“I personally think it’s unlikely that the United States was behind this terrorist attack,” a scholar of international relations with an established “anti-Americanist” reputation, Jin Canrong, professor at the Renmin University of China, wrote in an op-ed on Weibo, China’s popular social media platform.

Jin’s piece provoked a heated reaction on Weibo, with some users accusing him of being a U.S. sympathizer.

Jin Canrong, a Chinese scholar with nationalist views, was attacked for saying he didn't believe the U.S. ordered the terrorist attack.
Jin Canrong, a Chinese scholar with nationalist views, was attacked for saying he didn't believe the U.S. ordered the terrorist attack.

Since the attack, conspiracy theories mirroring the Russian propaganda have dominated the narrative on Weibo, typically boosted by anonymous pro-Russian and pro-Chinese influencers with millions of followers.

Weibo influencer Drunk Rabbit posted to his nearly half a million followers: “It is no wonder that the Russian people do not believe that this was done by IS. They all firmly believe that Ukraine and its masters who are at war with Russia planned and carried out this atrocity.”

To prove the point, the user posted two side-by-side video clips showing former U.S. presidents, Barak Obama and Donald Trump.

Drunk Rabbit​’s caption reads: “Obama: ‘We trained ISIS.’ ”

“Trump: ‘Obama was the founder of ISIS.’ “

Both former presidents have confirmed that the United States is the creator of ISIS. Regarding the terrorist attack on the Moscow Concert Hall in Russia, what other evidence is needed?”

The quotes by Obama and Trump are taken out of context and, in the case of Obama’s remarks, twisted to mean the opposite of what he said.

Trump’s claim has been debunked by fact-checkers and terrorism experts who traced IS’ roots back to 2002, six years before Obama was elected U.S. president, and Trump himself walked the remark back, calling it “sarcasm.”

It is not out of character for the Chinese state and social media to echo Russian propaganda and disinformation, especially when the narratives target the United States.