Weaponizing Disaster in Lebanon: The CCP and Kremlin Exploit an Explosion
On August 4, 2020, two explosions destroyed the port of Beirut, causing at least 190 deaths, 6,500 injuries, and leaving an estimated 300,000 people homeless. With its economy already in a state of crisis, its medical system overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and ongoing protests, the explosions left Lebanon in an even more vulnerable state, prone to exploitation.
Using the Zignal Media Intelligence Cloud, we took a focused look at how the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), Kremlin government officials, and foreign news responded to the humanitarian crisis in Lebanon.
- The CCP and Kremlin both ostensibly offered sympathy and support to the Lebanese people.
- However, Chinese subreddit r/sino and r/china_irl took on an adversarial tone, propagating strong anti-west sentiments and promotion of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent condolences to Lebanese President Michel Aoun, proclaiming that all Russians share the grief of the Lebanese people. Using the hashtag #RussiaHelps, the Kremlin self-promoted the aid it sent to Lebanon, including a field hospital and a team of Russian doctors.
The most popular content on Russian media, which quickly went viral on RT News and its affiliated channels, was dramatic and featured videos of the explosions.
Like the Kremlin, official CCP channels offered both condolences and aid. The PLA (People’s Liberation Army), who already had peacekeeping forces in Lebanon, sent a medical unit to Beirut. The Chinese Mission to the UN’s account used phrases commonly used to promote One China Policy, such as “🇨🇳stands with 🇱🇧” – @Chinamission2un. The CCP, however, also amplified how the United States and other Arab states were offering little help to Lebanon.
Further analysis, however, reveals a more strategic intent. For instance, the most popular thread on Reddit’s r/sino subreddit discussed Lebanon’s financial crisis, including how the CCP saved Lebanon from the IMF (International Monetary Fund) by offering the beleaguered country a loan.
The article was written in July, but posted on Reddit after the explosion. The thread opened up discussion on why Lebanon should embrace the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the CCP’s global infrastructure program often riddled with debt traps, and obfusticated who may have caused the explosion. The fifth most popular post also discussed the BRI. Similarly, the second, fourth, and sixth most popular threads painted France’s promise of aid as a failed colonial legacy, likely to amplify the perception of the CCP’s aid.
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