Amid the deluge of online disinformation during the coronavirus pandemic, geopolitical tensions pitting China and Russia against the West have continued to ratchet up, especially in the digital domain. Russian information operations have drawn greater attention in the West since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and many analysts have seen echoes of such online trolling and disinformation in the more assertive, confrontational posture of Chinese diplomats on social media during the coronavirus pandemic. Russian and Chinese propagandists also seem to be mirroring each other’s tactics and cross-promoting each other’s content, leading some Western analysts and governments to warn of deepening digital cooperation between Moscow and Beijing.
China and Russia do indeed share a lot of strategic objectives, and their partnership has been deepening across the board since the 2014 outbreak of war in Ukraine and Western sanctions against Moscow. After all, both countries’ leaders decry U.S. hegemony and see the United States and its alliances as challenges to their national security and national interests. And both Chinese and Russian policymakers are striving to exploit existing fissures in Western societies while weakening ties between the United States and its allies through information operations and other means. Furthermore, both the Kremlin and Zhongnanhai are intent on defusing Western criticisms of (and perceived designs to topple) their political regimes, while advancing their own self-serving, government-friendly narratives. Beyond these commonly held strategic objectives, both countries have drawn tactically on their own histories while also learning from one another and others.