- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2021

Chinese state media recently broadcast decades-old disinformation claiming that the U.S. military used biological weapons against Chinese troops in the Korean War.

China Central Television CCTV-1 in December began airing a 40-part historical drama series called “Crossing the Yalu River,” depicting Chinese troops in the Korean War.

Episode 35 of the series begins with computer-generated images of American aircraft dropping bombs that do not explode. Later, the program shows Chinese troops encountering open bomb canisters containing deadly biological agents that infect and kill at least one of the show’s characters.

The claim that Americans used biological weapons 70 years ago was renewed after China faced growing criticism over its handling of the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak in 2019 and 2020. Some prominent virus experts argue that the deadly pathogen may have come from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a laboratory involved in biological weapons research for the Chinese military.

The 40-minute televised episode mentions “U.S. germ warfare” and shows the bomb canisters releasing spiders, flies, bedbugs and rats that cause plague, cholera, typhoid and malaria.

At around the 17-minute mark, the show broadcasts what appears to be an old documentary film about a Moscow-led international investigation into the reported use of biological weapons.

The CCTV series was given the imprimatur of the ruling Chinese Communist Party in February, when local officials in Tianjin issued a directive to all party members to watch the series as part of efforts to bolster Chinese “patriotism.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his regime “appear to be stepping up anti-American sentiment,” said one U.S. official familiar with Chinese affairs.

The State Department, with a mandate to counter such disinformation through its Global Engagement Center, declined to comment when asked whether the department plans rebut the Chinese drama. The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not return an email seeking comment.

Chinese charges about the use of germ weapons have been debunked by U.S. government reports and academic studies, including a recent think tank report that cites Soviet-era archival documents that expose the disinformation campaign.

“During and after the war, North Korea, China and the Soviet Union alleged that the United States used biological weapons (BW) on an enormous scale in areas of both China and North Korea,” states a 2016 report by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

“Despite the public disclosure of Soviet Central Committee documents in 1998 which revealed that the allegations were fraudulent, China and, much more noisily, North Korea still maintain the charges.”

The report, “China’s False Allegations of the Use of Biological Weapons by the United States during the Korean War,” reveals that some Chinese officials recently dismissed the disinformation or altered depictions of what happened during the war.

A memoir written by Wu Zhili, director of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army Health Division in the Korean War, called the accusation a “false alarm” and concluded that U.S. forces did not use biological weapons in the conflict.

“Although [Mr. Wu] does not go as far as to admit that the allegations were really active fraud and disinformation, much of his narrative makes that evident,” the Wilson Center report said.

Additionally, comments by Chinese Senior Col. Qu Aiguo of the People’s Liberation Army Academy of Military Science History prompted a shift on the matter when commenting on the 1998 documents. “We cannot deny that the Americans used BW,” he said.

“Although only a change of a few words, it is a significant shift in the Chinese presentation of the issue. Nevertheless, it remains dishonest,” the U.S. report said.

Wartime disinformation

North Korea’s military first accused U.S. forces of deploying biological arms in 1951 by claiming the Americans were spreading smallpox. A year later, Pyongyang officials launched a major disinformation campaign charging in a United Nations address that the U.S. military conducted several airdrops over North Korea, deploying insects that cause plague, cholera and other infectious diseases.

The Chinese state-controlled People’s Daily simultaneously ran a story echoing the North Korean disinformation along with photographs of objects that it claimed were dropped by U.S. aircraft and microscope slides of bacteria. Then-Chinese Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai claimed 448 aircraft were dispatched on 68 sorties with germ-carrying insect bombs.

Soviet officials urged the World Health Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross to launch an international investigation of the charges, but Chinese and North Korean authorities denied on-site visits to suspect regions.

China and North Korea then conducted their own investigations that involved a Soviet front group, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, part of the World Peace Council that was controlled by the Soviet central committee, the report said.

Internal Soviet documents that started to be released in 1998 undermined the claims of American biological weapons use.

A May 2, 1953, “Resolution of the Presidium of the USSR Council of Ministers” addressed to Mao Zedong concluded that Soviet officials had been “misled.”

“The spread in the press of information about the use by the Americans of bacteriological weapons in Korea was based on false information. The accusations against the Americans were fictitious. … Soviet workers responsible for participation in the fabrication of the so-called ‘proof’ of the use of bacteriological weapons will receive severe punishment.”

Other documents state that Soviet military personnel in North Korea took part in fabricating evidence of biological weapons use.

“These Soviet Central Committee documents provided incontrovertible evidence that the Korean War BW allegations made against the United States were contrived and fraudulent …,” the Wilson Center report states. “On the basis of both new and old sources, the main story is indisputably clear: The Korean War BW allegations against the U.S. … were false, a grand piece of political theater.”

The Tianjin Communist Party document, disclosed by Radio Free Asia, states that all district party committees, district governments and nongovernmental organizations were ordered to watch the entire series. The results of the pressure campaign will be reported back to party functionaries, the directive said.

Radio Free Asia quoted a People’s Daily employee as saying that stepped-up anti-U.S. propaganda coincides with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party on July 1. Beginning in June, party propaganda organs across the country will work with the Central Propaganda Department to launch retrospective special reports that will praise the record of Communist Party rule.

Chinese dissident Wang Aizhong told the radio that similar directives have been issued in recent years, “including requests for party members and cadres and the masses to study party history [and] some literary works that promote the party’s ideology.”

Mr. Wang said the accelerated propaganda campaign reflected a growing worldwide recognition that socialist ideology is bankrupt.

Another theme of the propaganda campaign is to laud Mr. Xi’s “victory” in what state media recently contended was the eradication of extreme poverty in China.

• Bill Gertz can be reached at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

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