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  • The Pentagon's covert campaign against China
  • The anti-Chinese campaign has been running for more than a year
  • Americans don't think it can be justified
  • Who is behind the latest American anti-China campaign?
The US seeks to undermine China both overtly and covertly. ELTA

The Pentagon's covert campaign against China

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pentagon launched a covert campaign to discredit vaccines and other crucial Chinese aid, according to a Reuters investigation. The Philippines then came under the influence of the US military, the agency notes and the operation was prompted by Beijing's attempts to blame Washington for the pandemic[1].

The Pentagon spread the information via social networks, with the US military allegedly creating at least 300 fake accounts on the social network "X" (formerly Twitter) under Filipinos' names. Almost all of the profiles used the hashtag #Chinaangvirus ("China is a virus") and posted about the poor quality of face masks, testing kits, and the first Chinese-made vaccine in the Philippines, Sinovac.

As vaccination against COVID-19 was a lucrative business, the interests of many countries collided. ELTA
As vaccination against COVID-19 was a lucrative business, the interests of many countries collided. ELTA
"Covid comes from China and the vaccine also comes from China. Don't trust China", Reuters quoted one of the typical entries published in July 2020 in Tagalog, the official language of the Philippines. Another internet user claimed that personal protective equipment, masks, and vaccines from China are fakes, but the coronavirus is real.

After Reuters inquired about these accounts, X concluded that the profiles were part of a coordinated robotic campaign based on activity patterns and internal data, leading to their deletion. According to a former military official, the Pentagon also secretly distributed its posts on Facebook and Instagram.

The anti-Chinese campaign has been running for more than a year

The campaign ran from spring 2020 to mid-2021, expanding beyond Southeast Asia to the Middle East. Reuters reports that the Pentagon used fake social networking accounts to instill fear of the Chinese vaccine among Muslims. The strategy aimed to reinforce the controversial claim that vaccines might contain pork gelatin, potentially making Chinese vaccinations illegal under Islamic law.

According to Reuters, Sinovac claimed that the vaccine was produced without using pig meat raw materials. Additionally, many Islamic clerics stated that even if vaccines contained pork gelatin, they were still permissible because they save lives.

During the campaign, Donald Trump was succeeded by Joe Biden as US President in January 2021. Under Biden's administration, the Pentagon's operation continued for several months, even after social media executives warned the government that the US military was spreading disinformation about the coronavirus, Reuters reports.

In spring 2021, the White House issued an executive order banning anti-vaccine activities that undermined vaccines produced by competitors. The Pentagon also initiated an internal review, the agency said.

A senior US Defense Department official admitted that the US military had conducted covert propaganda to undermine the importance of the Chinese vaccine in developing countries but did not provide details. Other agency sources involved in the campaign's planning and execution said the Pentagon conducted it through a military psychological operations center in Tampa, Florida.

"We didn't look at it from a health perspective. We were only thinking about how to undermine China," explained an official involved in the program.

A Pentagon spokeswoman clarified that the US military uses various platforms, including social networks, to counter malicious attacks against the United States, its allies, and partners. She stated that China had launched a disinformation campaign to falsely accuse the United States of proliferating COVID-19.

The Chinese Ministry of Defence noted long-standing suspicions that the US government manipulates social networks and spreads disinformation. A spokesperson for the Philippine Department of Health clarified that the Reuters findings have yet to be investigated. Other Philippine officials have expressed outrage, the agency said.

Americans don't think it can be justified

Some American experts interviewed by Reuters condemned the campaign, arguing that the country's population was put at risk for geopolitical gain.

"I don't think it can be justified. I am very upset, disappointed, and frustrated that the US government has done this," said infectious disease specialist Daniel Lucey.

Like other experts, he believes that the attempt to quell fears about the Chinese vaccine could undermine the general public confidence in the government's health initiatives. Reuters added that recently published academic studies have confirmed that when people are skeptical about one vaccine, these doubts often lead to uncertainty about other vaccines.

"Our aim was to get as many vaccines into people's hands as possible. What the Pentagon has done is beyond the pale," stressed Greg Treveron, former Chairman of the US National Intelligence Council.

In 2021, then-President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte was alarmed by Filipinos' refusal to vaccinate and threatened to arrest those who avoided vaccination.

"Choose between getting vaccinated, or I will put you in jail. The country is in crisis... I am simply sorry that the Filipino people are not listening to the government," Duterte said in a televised address in June 2021.

Reuters reported that only 2.1 million of the country's 114 million citizens were fully vaccinated during that period, one of the worst rates in Southeast Asia. At the same time, the government set a target of vaccinating 70 million people. The difficulties associated with vaccination led to the highest mortality rates in the region, the agency noted.

Who is behind the latest American anti-China campaign?

Reuters, quoting a senior US defense official, says that General Dynamics IT was the main contractor for the military campaign. An internal Pentagon audit found that it did not take necessary steps to conceal the origin of the fake accounts.

Nevertheless, the agency is confident that the Pentagon's covert propaganda efforts will continue. In an unclassified 2023 strategy document, top Pentagon generals wrote that the US military could undermine adversaries such as China and Russia by using disinformation on social media, false narratives disguised as news, and similar subversive activities to weaken public trust by undermining the foundation of the government, Reuters recalled.

In addition, in February 2024, General Dynamics IT won a new $493 million contract with the Pentagon.