While the world reacts with horror to Bucha, China’s state media strikes a different tone

Domestic media reports on the civilian casualties in Bucha have been quick to underscore the Russian rebuttal, with two prominent TV reports from the national television station CCTV this week highlighting undocumented allegations by Moscow that the situation was staged after Russian forces withdrew from the area.

In a report, a caption quoting Russia with the words “Ukrainians directed a good show” flashes over heavily blurred footage from the Ukrainian city.

There is no evidence to suggest that this is the case. Satellite images suggest some bodies had been there since at least March 18, while eyewitnesses have said the massacre began weeks ago.

Separately, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Tuesday that the shocking images from Bucha showed “all signs” that civilians were “directly attacked and directly killed.” On Tuesday, UN chief António Guterre added growing international calls for a war crime investigation into the killings of civilians in the city.

Accusations of war crimes increase efforts for China’s position. Beijing’s apparent rise in Russian propaganda is in line with its stance since the beginning of the invasion, as it refuses to condemn Russia – at home or in its diplomacy – even as the number of civilian deaths grows.
Instead, Beijing has sought to portray itself as a neutral actor calling for peace, while blaming the United States for the situation.

This was shown in an editorial published in the nationalist tabloid Global Times on Wednesday, which seemed to question the correctness of what it called in quotes the “Bucha incident” and absolved Russia of responsibility.

“It is unfortunate that, following the revelation of the ‘Bucha incident’, the United States, the instigator of the Ukraine crisis, has not shown signs of calling for peace and advancing negotiations, but is prepared to exacerbate tensions between Russia and Ukraine. the editorial staff.

“No matter how the ‘Bucha incident’ took place, no one can deny at least one thing: War itself is the main culprit behind the humanitarian catastrophe,” it added.

A common enemy

Rising tensions with the United States have driven Moscow and Beijing closer in recent years, with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping declaring that their countries’ partnership had “no borders” just weeks before Russia’s invasion.

Since Russia’s invasion, Beijing has come under considerable pressure to condemn Russia’s actions and join countries around the world in imposing sanctions. Chinese officials have instead refused to use the term invasion to describe Russia’s actions, and have repeatedly said they will cut their own path when it comes to their response.

At a special session of the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun acknowledged that the images of civilian deaths in Bucha were “deeply disturbing”, but when it came to blaming the situation, he called on “all sides” to “exercise restraint”. and avoid unfounded allegations. “

“The relevant circumstances and specific causes of the incident should be verified and established. Any accusation should be based on facts,” Zhang said.

Similar comments were made at a regular briefing Wednesday by Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, who said “humanitarian issues should not be politicized.”

“All parties should exercise restraint and avoid baseless accusations,” before the fact-finding mission was completed, Wang said, adding that China “is willing to continue working with the international community to prevent civilians from being harmed.”

But here at home, China has issued a more pointed message, a message linked to a longer history with Russian and Chinese state media reinforcing each other’s stories – on topics such as the treatment of Russian dissidents, Hong Kong pro-democracy protests and the origins of Covid -19 – as they seek to refute the characteristics of Western officials and media.

In an example of such an overlap on Tuesday, the state agency China News Service carried a post on the popular Twitter-like social media platform Weibo with the hashtag: “Russia shows the video to prove that the Bucha incident is staged”, citing a report from a Russian state news agency.

But as China reinforces Russian rhetoric in its reporting at home, some public skepticism can be seen, even on China’s highly moderated social media platforms.

In a recent example, a widely-followed military blogger wrote on Sunday that Ukrainians were responsible for a “massacre” of civilians – but several users in the comments below suggested that the details of the post were incorrect.

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