Comparing
Russian and Chinese
Narratives

The US government is severely incompetent, demonstrated by its botched pandemic response The largest thematic overlap between Russian and Chinese texts was US incompetence. While Russia adopted an offensive strategy, attacking the US government and spreading unique messages catered to diverse American constituencies, the CCP demonstrated a much more defensive tactic, mainly reacting to specific instances of US criticism of China.

The inability of Western governments to effectively combat COVID-19 shows that they are incompetent Chinese messaging focused on the US’s pandemic response and largely refrained from harshly criticizing the pandemic responses of other western nations. Russia did not refrain from criticizing the West more broadly, though the US, and to a lesser extent the UK, were still mentioned in Russian messaging more than other Western nations.

General case counts and global COVID-19 updates Though both were largely factual, Russia comparatively focused more on external case updates while the CCP assumed a much greater internal focus. This finding parallels each actor's general approach to IOs, with Russia tending to assume a more external focus, while Chinese outlets tend to prioritize lauding praise on domestic successes.

Advertisement of domestically-produced vaccinations Russian outlets frequently defended Sputnik V in response to criticism of limited clinical trials while China assumed a much less defensive posture. CCP messaging extensively highlighted the arrival of Chinese vaccines in other nations, and meticulously documented the countries where Chinese vaccines had been approved.

Lockdowns trigger violence and misery, infringe on personal liberties, and are largely ineffective The Russian texts featured extensive negative coverage of global lockdowns when targeting right-wing audiences, portraying such measures as ineffective, an example of government overreach, and detrimental to mental health. In contrast, the Chinese texts avoided this messaging.

Discussion of the origins of COVID-19 China most vehemently pushed back on the lab leak theory while amplifying voices of scientists who said that the virus likely had natural origins. Another narrative was that even though the virus was first reported in Wuhan, that didn’t necessarily mean that the virus originated there. Some Russian outlets accused the US of creating COVID-19 as a bioweapon, but there was no coordinated Russian campaign to obfuscate the origins of the virus like in China.

China leads the charge in providing medical aid and knowhow to struggling nations In an attempt to shift the narrative from China being the origin of COVID-19 to China helping control the virus, Chinese official mouthpieces gave great weight to discussing their global generosity to struggling nations. While Russian IOs did document aid to other nations, coverage was minimal compared to China’s.

COVID-19 has sent the US into an irreversible downward spiral The US can no longer be considered functional, let alone a model for other societies. Russian texts used steep unemployment figures and medical supply shortages in poorer areas, racial inequality, and increases in the sales of firearms in the US during COVID-19 as examples.

The West derails global efforts to combat COVID-19 More pronounced for Russia than China, this messaging argued that western nations, in particular the US, and to a lesser extent the UK, hindered the global fight against COVID-19. Not only did they fail to control COVID-19, but they were also self-centered and caused economic collapse through sanctions in countries like Iran.

Outlook on domestic and global economic recovery Chinese official English-language IOs paid more attention to their domestic situation than their Russian counterparts. Chinese texts highlighted how other countries could learn from its quick economic turnaround. When Russian texts did discuss economic issues, it was generally from a highly emotive and alarmist viewpoint.

Narrative Russia China Both
1. The US government is severely incompetent, demonstrated by its botched pandemic response
2. The inability of Western governments to effectively combat COVID-19 shows that they are incompetent
3. General case counts and global COVID-19 updates
4. Advertisement of domestically-produced vaccinations
5. Lockdowns trigger violence and misery, infringe on personal liberties, and are largely ineffective 
6. Discussion of the origins of COVID-19
7. China leads the charge in providing medical aid and knowhow to struggling nations 
8. COVID-19 has sent the US into an irreversible downward spiral
9. The West derails global efforts to combat COVID-19
10. Outlook on domestic and global economic recovery