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Since the beginning of April, 200 of the communist country’s diplomatic and state-run media accounts have published around 90,000 tweets as part of an offensive – with many recently spreading a conspiracy theory that the deadly virus originated in a U.S. lab, not China — the Alliance for Securing Democracy advocacy group told NBC News.
“The primary goal of this rhetoric is to demonstrate to Chinese domestic constituencies that the Communist Party is not lying prostrate before American accusations,” added Robert Daly, the director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
One of the accounts on Tuesday posted a bizarre video calling U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s character into question. The clip, called “Pompeo Credibility Test,” was shared by the China Global Television Network.
In the footage – which is made to look like a video game – a cartoon Pompeo is heard saying “there’s enormous evidence that the virus came from a laboratory in Wuhan.” He then is told a message claiming otherwise and loses the last bit of his health, before the game asks him to say something true in order to be revived.
The clip has since been viewed more than 20,000 times.
Zhao Lijian, the head of China’s Foreign Ministry Information Department, claimed in another message months ago that “it might be the US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan.”
Bret Schafer, who works at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, told NBC News that overall Twitter output from Chinese government-linked accounts has nearly doubled since January – and it has increased the number of its diplomatic accounts as well, up to 135 from around 40 this time last year.
They “have become more aggressive, more conspiratorial, and the ones who have done that are their most popular accounts and have by far the most engagement,” he added.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in March that it is “absurd” for China to blame the U.S. military for starting the coronavirus outbreak.