China spends billions on pro-Russia disinformation, US special envoy says

<span>Photograph: Sputnik/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Sputnik/Reuters

The west has been slow to respond to China spending billions globally to spread poisonous disinformation, including messaging that is completely aligned with Russia on Ukraine, a US special envoy has claimed.

James Rubin, a coordinator for the Global Engagement Center, a US state department body set up to “expose and counter” foreign propaganda and disinformation, made the remarks during a European tour this week.

“The well has been poisoned by Chinese and Russian disinformation – it’s pernicious,” said Rubin, a broadcaster and former official in the Clinton administration and broadcaster.

Six weeks into the job, he said his aim was not just a passive rebuttal of Russian-Chinese disinformation on Ukraine but to go on the active offensive by urging countries not to harbour those that have been exposed for spreading disinformation.

He claimed Russia and China were spending billions of dollars in an effort to manipulate information but said Beijing was operating globally and spending more than Moscow.

“We as a nation and the west have been slow to respond and it is a fair judgment that we are facing a very, very large challenge,” he told reporters. “In the communication space, the alignment between China and Russia is near complete.”

China, he claimed, was “repeating and promulgating the arguments of Russia about the war that it was started by Nato”.

Rubin suggested that cuts to the BBC’s World Service were not helping the fight against disinformation. Asked about the cuts, he said: “The straightness of the BBC is one of the great assets of the western world. If we are going to combat the disinformation threat, which is real and worse than I ever thought, by China, by Russia globally, we’re going to need allied unity, allied division of labour. We’re going to need allied actions akin to that which we saw in previous eras, and the BBC is a big part of that.”

Repeating the US administration’s warning that the cooperation between China and Russia might reach the next level – the supply of lethal arms to Moscow – Rubin said he hoped people did not make the same mistake about China as people had about Russia in the past. China has repeatedly denied suggestions it might arm Moscow, but the US may be trying to deter Beijing hawks, or challenge its claim that it is neutral.

Rubin admitted frustration that “some countries in the global south can’t even admit that it’s an invasion, let alone decide which side they are on”.

He said: “For some African countries, for some Asian countries, Ukraine is a war far away. They believe that they don’t get enough attention from the west, period, all of them. That makes some of them look at this war through that lens.”