CHINA has reignited a conspiracy theory that coronavirus is a bioweapon engineered by the US and has unleashed an army of “warrior trolls” to peddle the myth.
As Beijing continues to try to deflect blame for the Covid pandemic, claims that the killer bug originated from a US Army lab are being pushed by trolls – from high-ranking diplomats to AI bots.
Earlier this year, Chinese government spokeswoman Hua Chunying hit back at Mike Pompeo’s claims that the US has explosive evidence which proves Covid-19 leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Hua said: “I’d like to stress that if the United States truly respects facts, it should open the biological lab at Fort Detrick, give more transparency to issues like its 200-plus overseas bio-labs, invite WHO experts to conduct origin-tracing in the United States, and respond to the concerns from the international community with real actions.”
Fort Detrick is a US Army Medical Command facility in Maryland which was opened in 1931.
Following Hua’s comments, the Chinese hashtag for “biological laboratory in US Fort Detrick” was viewed more than 900 million times on Weibo.
Users on the microblogging platform jumped behind the conspiracy theory that the US could be the source of the outbreak, and then in May, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian hit back at questions about the Wuhan Insitute of Virology by deflecting.
He retorted: “What secrets are hidden in the suspicion-shrouded Fort Detrick and the over 200 US biolabs all over the world?”
Beijing then mobilised its troll army – featuring government officials, party chiefs, diplomats, social media influencers and more – to push the myth, reports news.com.au.
More than 115 tweets making this allegation have been pushed onto the world stage by agitators since that news conference – including many by high-profile figures.
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Alliance for Securing Democracy analyst Bret Schafer says Beijing has been carefully preparing the groundwork for this global propaganda blitz for more than a year.
“China’s vast propaganda apparatus and covert networks of online agitators and influencers have worked diligently to focus suspicion on Fort Detrick,” he said.
“Many of those tweets have attempted to smear the lab’s reputation, for example, by alleging the US lab is ‘inextricably linked’ with Japan’s notorious Unit 731, a germ warfare unit that targeted China during World War II.
“Since March 2020, Chinese government officials and state-affiliated media have mentioned Fort Detrick in more than 400 articles, videos, tweets, and press conferences.”
China and the US have been playing the blame game since the pandemic started last year.
China’s vast propaganda apparatus and covert networks of online agitators and influencers have worked diligently to focus suspicion on Fort Detrick.
The Chinese government first accused the US military of bringing the coronavirus to Wuhan in March last year.
Now, more than 200 “warrior trolls” are provoking Western leaders, peddling conspiracy theories, and trolling subjects such as history, human rights, racism and political polarisation.
It comes after fears were raised that China is using millions of fake accounts on Facebook to try and spread Covid misinformation.
It is an operation which may have inflated the Communist Party pages to be some of the most “popular” on the social media platform.
English-language versions of Chinese state media outlets dominate lists of the largest accounts – despite Facebook actually being BANNED in China.
Experts told The Sun Online these astonishing numbers of followers are likely heavily inflated by mass mobilisations of bot accounts to boost the pages to try give them more reach in the West.
Meanwhile, it was revealed Chinese agents were offering social media users up to £280 per post if they shared propaganda praising the Communist Party’s handling of coronavirus.
Last year, the Sun Online got a first look at a dossier on China’s industrial-scale disinformation campaign by researchers at Oxford University’s leading Internet Institute (OII).
The report detailed a slew of activities by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as it attempted to distract the world and pat itself on the back for its handling of the virus.
It comes as the WHO chief is urging China to hand over vital Covid data and has admitted a probe that ruled out Wuhan lab leak theory was “premature”.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said WHO was now laying down the groundwork for fresh investigations into where Covid-19 came from.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva last week, he said: “We hope there will be better cooperation to get to the bottom of what happened.”
The UN health agency has faced repeated calls for a new, more in-depth investigation of Covid-19’s origins.
Where Covid-19 originated from has still not been established – although two main theories have emerged.
It is thought the virus originated either from animal contact at a wet market in Wuhan or a leak from the research laboratory in the same Chinese city.
China has repeatedly stated it is not responsible for the global pandemic and dismissed conspiracy theories that say the virus was made by humans.
US President Joe Biden last month ordered US intelligence agencies to report in the next three months on whether Covid-19 emerged from an animal or during a laboratory accident.
It wasn’t until January that WHO sent a team of independent, international experts to China’s Wuhan, to help the Chinese counterparts probe the pandemic origins.