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Politics Trump deputy national security adviser warns about Chinese disinformation on COVID-19 origins and vaccine safety

13:20  26 october  2021
13:20  26 october  2021 Source:   washingtonexaminer.com

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Matthew Pottinger, former Trump deputy national security adviser, warned the Chinese Communist Party is trying to spread disinformation about the origins of COVID-19 and cast doubt on coronavirus vaccines, saying the conspiracy theories might surpass those of Russia.

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Pottinger, a deputy national security adviser starting in September 2019 after working as the National Security Council’s Asia director, made the comments Wednesday during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on China, a few days after a House Foreign Affairs GOP report concluded COVID-19 emerged from a Wuhan lab in late summer 2019 and that China covered it up for months.

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The former Trump official has long contended the lab leak possibility must be taken seriously and, when questioned by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, said China tried to manipulate public opinion during the pandemic.

“Certainly we saw all sorts of activity by Beijing — overt propaganda as well as what I would call more shadowy schemes to influence or amplify messages that are in many cases disguised to appear as though they are organic discourse between private citizens but are really very carefully and well-resourced campaigns orchestrated by Chinese propaganda officials,” Pottinger said. "Some of the ones I can think of just off the top of my head are efforts to create doubt about the origins of this pandemic, in fact, to claim that the pandemic originated from the U.S. military.”

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Pottinger added: “And we saw efforts to undermine the credibility of our vaccines. Certainly, a lot of propaganda, both overt and covert, designed to create distrust and a lack of faith in democracy as a whole and to amp up and elevate the idea of Leninist totalitarianism as a somehow superior model in spite of what the record has been over the decades that the Chinese Communist Party has been in power — I’m thinking of the tens of millions of deaths of its own citizens.”

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House Republicans concluded the October 2019 World Military Games in Wuhan were “one of the earliest super spreader events." Their report zeroed in on the event, which Republicans argue proves China knew the virus was circulating.

The GOP report also specifically pointed to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian and other Chinese officials who have pushed baseless claims about the U.S. military since March 2020.

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China repeated these claims this week. Zhao tweeted Tuesday: “If we just stop and think for a moment, we’ll find the U.S. has done so many highly suspicious things, which are all linked to #COVID19 origins. So if the U.S. wants to cover it up, the best way is…?”

He included a graphic pointing to Maryland’s Fort Detrick.

The GOP report emphasized: “If the CCP realized an investigation would show an uptick in visits of patients with symptoms similar to COVID-19 in September, October, and November of 2019, this would likely be the actions they would take to cover up the source of those illnesses.”

The State Department dismissed China's claims as "false, baseless and unscientific,” and the Pentagon called them a "myth."

Pottinger expanded his warning about China’s disinformation efforts during his opening remarks, saying, “Beijing has flooded U.S. platforms with overt and covert propaganda, amplified by proxies and bots. And the propaganda is focused on promoting not only whitewashed narratives of Beijing’s policies, but also increasingly on exacerbating social tensions within the United States and other target nations.”

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He pointed to a report by the Soufan Center that found evidence China was outpacing the Kremlin in pushing certain conspiracies online.

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The April report by the Soufan Center focused mainly on the QAnon conspiracy theory, concluding, "In 2021, China is the primary foreign actor touting QAnon-narratives online, but Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran also contribute to amplifying the QAnon conspiracy theory.”

The report added, “China’s disinformation capability has matured since 2019 and reliance on this asymmetric tactic has increased exponentially in 2020, mostly due to Beijing’s war of words with Washington as a result of fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

This aligns with an investigation by the Associated Press and the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab from February that found “Russia has been widely seen as the leading foreign actor spreading disinformation,” but “with COVID-19, China took the lead, continuing to spread conspiracies about the origins of the virus long after Moscow stopped.”

The investigation noted Zhao's March 2020 tweets were “cited over 99,000 times, in at least 54 languages, by accounts with hundreds of millions of followers” and that “Chinese state media picked up and syndicated his ideas.”

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Biden’s Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report in March stating, “We assess that China did not deploy interference efforts and considered but did not deploy influence efforts intended to change the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.” But ODNI acknowledged that “the National Intelligence Officer for Cyber assesses that China took at least some steps to undermine former President Trump’s reelection chances” — a view backed by former Trump spy chief John Ratcliffe.

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Tags: News, China, Wuhan Lab, Coronavirus, Marco Rubio, Senate Intelligence Committee, Intelligence Community, Joe Biden, Donald Trump

Original Author: Jerry Dunleavy

Original Location: Trump deputy national security adviser warns about Chinese disinformation on COVID-19 origins and vaccine safety

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