What's behind Pentagon's clandestine disinformation campaign against Chinese vaccine?

(Xinhua) 17:01, June 19, 2024

BEIJING, June 19 (Xinhua) -- At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, it appears that America was more focused on launching a clandestine program to discredit Chinese vaccines and other life-saving medical supplies than on helping the world fight the deadly virus.

A recent Reuters investigation has found that the U.S. military launched a secret disinformation campaign to discredit Chinese vaccines in the Philippines, a nation severely impacted by COVID-19.

The disclosure has sparked widespread condemnation of the U.S. scheme from public health experts. Even former U.S. intelligence officials have decried the disinformation campaign.

What the Pentagon did "crosses a line," said Greg Treverton, former chairman of the U.S. National Intelligence Council.


China's Sinovac vaccine, the only type available in the Philippines during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, was smeared repeatedly under the Pentagon program.

Reuters reported that it identified at least 300 accounts on X, formerly Twitter, that matched descriptions shared by former U.S. military officials familiar with the Philippines operation.

Almost all were created in the summer of 2020 and centered on the slogan #Chinaangvirus, meaning China is the virus in Tagalog, a major language of the Philippines.

"We weren't looking at this from a public health perspective," a senior military officer involved in the program was cited by Reuters as saying. "We were looking at how we could drag China through the mud."

Due to the disinformation campaign, vaccination rates in the Philippines remained dismally low. In June 2021, then-Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte appealed on television to the public to get vaccinated.

At that time, only about 2.1 million out of the country's 114 million people were fully vaccinated, far below the target of 70 million for that year.

"Over 60,000 Filipinos died, and many of them would have survived if not for the disinformation campaign against the Sinovac vaccine," former Philippine presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on his social media.

Cho-Chiong Tan, a doctor and associate professor at the Institute of Medicine, Far Eastern University, said Reuters' report "shocked the whole Philippines."

"The malign action of the United States has seriously harmed the health of the Filipino people and hampered the Philippine efforts to fight against COVID-19," Tan said, adding that distrust and panic about vaccine safety caused some people to give up vaccination, increasing the risk of contracting the virus.

"The practices of the United States not only harmed the interests of the Filipino people, but also endangered global public health and the well-being of all mankind," he added.

"I don't think it's defensible. I'm extremely dismayed, disappointed and disillusioned to hear that the U.S. government would do that," said Daniel Lucey, an infectious disease specialist at Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine.


China has gained global recognition for its fight against the pandemic by providing Sinovac vaccines and other public goods to the world.

Studies have proved the immunogenicity and safety of Sinovac vaccines, said Sinovac spokeswoman Yuan Youwei, adding that the COVID-19 vaccine has been authorized for use in more than 60 countries, regions and international organizations.

The Sinovac vaccine is safe and effective at preventing severe disease and death from COVID-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) told Xinhua in a written statement.

"Disinformation, or the manipulation of information with an intention to deceive and cause harm, is a major health threat today," the Geneva-based health body warned.

Ramy Pulayd, a 29-year-old Filipino, said he got two doses of China's Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine during that hard time.

When the virus caused widespread disruption across the Philippines, "China came and gave us a hand," he said, adding that his brother and sister were also vaccinated.

"We trust China and its vaccines are reliable," Pulayd said.

In fact, many countries, especially developing ones, welcomed Chinese vaccines during the pandemic. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic had personally awaited the delivery of the vaccine doses at Belgrade airport, expressing his gratitude to China.

Meanwhile, the United States did not lend a helping hand to developing countries when they were in urgent need of vaccines.

"We didn't do a good job sharing vaccines with partners," a senior U.S. military officer directly involved in the campaign was quoted as saying by Reuters. "So what was left to us was to throw shade on China's."


Many experts have pointed out that America attempts to maintain its hegemony and hinder China's development with false narratives, manipulation of public opinion, and countless lies. Its campaign to discredit China's vaccines was not based on scientific evidence but rather on geopolitical motives and strategic gains.

Anna Malindog-Uy, vice president of the Manila-based think tank Asian Century Philippines Strategic Studies Institute, told Xinhua that "Washington's covert operation undermining Beijing's efforts to assist the Philippines and the Filipino people in combating the COVID-19 pandemic raises significant ethical and strategic concerns and questions."

"Discrediting vaccines based on geopolitical motives rather than scientific evidence undermines the collective effort needed to combat a pandemic," the expert said.

The clandestine anti-China propaganda reveals "a willingness and deliberate actions on the part of the United States to manipulate public opinion and international relations for strategic and geopolitical gains," Malindog-Uy said, adding that the United States has also spread disinformation to defame China in other fields like the South China Sea, to sow discord between China and other countries.

"This is indeed a manifestation of the U.S. fixation on global hegemony," she said.

In fact, the disinformation campaign is not the first time Uncle Sam has resorted to dirty tricks. Reuters reported in March that former U.S. President Donald Trump authorized the Central Intelligence Agency in 2019 to launch a clandestine campaign on Chinese social media aimed at turning public opinion in China against its government.

The U.S. government is the biggest propagator of disinformation, said U.S. Republican Senator Rand Paul.

America's dirty moves come at a cost for the Philippines. Vaccination is of great importance to the health of millions of Filipinos and Reuters reported that the difficulty in vaccinating the population contributed to the worst death rate in the region.

For the sake of its selfish gains, Washington never hesitates to sacrifice an ally. As British American historian Bernard Lewis pointed out in his book "Notes on a Century: Reflections of a Middle East Historian," the real problem with having the Americans as allies is you never know when they will turn around and stab you in the back. 

(Web editor: Wu Chaolan, Liang Jun)


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