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US Ran Anti-Sinovac Campaign On Social Media During COVID-19 Pandemic: Reuters


image ofCovid-19 vaccine

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. military conducted a secret campaign aimed at countering China’s growing influence in the Philippines, a nation severely impacted by the virus. This covert operation, not previously reported, sought to undermine confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine and aid supplied by China. A Reuters investigation revealed that the U.S. military used fake internet accounts impersonating Filipinos to spread anti-vaxxer messages, specifically targeting China’s Sinovac vaccine.

The campaign, which began in the summer of 2020, included at least 300 accounts on X (formerly Twitter), using the slogan #Chinaangvirus, Tagalog for “China is the virus.” These accounts criticized the quality of Chinese face masks, test kits, and the Chinese COVID vaccine, Sinovac. One tweet from July 2020 read: “COVID came from China and the VACCINE also came from China, don’t trust China!” alongside a photo of a syringe and the Chinese flag.

The operation, which started under President Donald Trump and continued into President Joe Biden’s term, expanded beyond Southeast Asia, targeting audiences in Central Asia and the Middle East. It employed fake social media accounts to spread fear about China’s vaccines among Muslims, leveraging concerns that vaccines containing pork gelatin could be forbidden under Islamic law.

Despite warnings from social media executives, the Biden administration eventually banned the anti-vax effort in spring 2021, and the Pentagon initiated an internal review. Some American public health experts condemned the program, stating it endangered lives for potential geopolitical gain. Daniel Lucey, an infectious disease specialist, expressed disappointment, saying, “I’m extremely dismayed, disappointed and disillusioned to hear that the U.S. government would do that.”

The campaign contributed to widespread vaccine skepticism in the Philippines, which already faced public distrust due to previous vaccine controversies. As a result, the country struggled with low vaccination rates and high COVID-19 fatalities. Former health secretary Esperanza Cabral noted the longstanding suspicion of China among Filipinos, exacerbated by aggressive behavior in the South China Sea.

The Pentagon, which ran the operation through its psychological operations center in Tampa, Florida, disregarded the potential public health consequences. A senior military officer involved in the program admitted, “We weren’t looking at this from a public health perspective. We were looking at how we could drag China through the mud.”

The clandestine campaign, reflective of Cold War-era propaganda tactics, highlights the ongoing disinformation war between the U.S. and China, each accusing the other of spreading COVID-19 and leveraging the pandemic for geopolitical advantage.


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