A novel aspect of China's propaganda efforts throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been the usage of disinformation tactics copying Russian hybrid operations playbook. Globally, China seems to intentionally target the same audience which is disillusioned with the West, displaying strong similarities with Russian anti-West narratives.
The interplay of pro-China and pro-Russia narratives in cyberspace has been apparent in Central Europe too. The MapInfluenCE project
uncovered that China has utilized — at least in Czechia and Slovakia — the same alternative media outlets which often spread Russian narratives, such as Parlamentní listy, an outlet often carrying Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jianmin's op-eds. In his most recent interview for the outlet
he repeated the official line about the unclear origin of the virus, pointing to COVID-19 cases in France from December unrelated to China.
It is, however, too early to say whether the Chinese and Russian disinformation operations work in parallel or in tandem.
The effectiveness of the Chinese external propaganda in Czechia is questionable, as it lacks broader customization and originality, often recycling the same themes as prevalent in domestic propaganda. These not only fall on deaf ears, but provide amusement to a number of Czechs who flood the comment section with negative posts, pictures of Tibetan or East Turkestan flags or the cartoon character Winnie the Pooh (who is said to bear likeness to Chinese leader Xi Jinping). The most powerful pro-China narratives are still communicated through the traditional media as well as local intermediaries, with Czech President Zeman, who reaches a much wider audience, being their champion. China has been, however, a fast learner in adapting its external propaganda in cyberspace to the changing environment. An intensification of its efforts to influence narratives is thus to be expected.