Information Warfare: The China Syndrome


April 17, 2013: On April 6th a Chinese air force colonel wrote in his blog that the current reappearance of bird flu (SARS) was all the fault of the United States and so was the original outbreak of SARS a decade ago. The colonel dismissed SARS as a psychological weapon, meant to frighten Chinese, not kill a lot of them.

What was interesting about this was that China’s Internet censors, who can often kill an unauthorized message within minutes, not only allowed the colonel to rattle on but even permitted commentators on the blog to criticize this unorthodox theory about where SARS came from. The colonel’s comments appeared a week after China admitted that SARS was back.

SARS is nothing more than China suffering another outbreak of influenza that spreads from animals (usually pigs or birds) to humans. The deadly bird flu first showed up in 2003, and was called SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome epidemic). The official designation was H1N1 and the Chinese tried to keep it secret. The news, and the disease, eventually became public knowledge and killed over 800 people worldwide. It did not, as feared, become a deadly pandemic, as some strains of influenza do. The new strain (H7N9) showed up last month and it took only a few weeks for the government to admit that SARS was back. What forced this admission was the Internet which, despite enormous efforts by censors to control the spread of such news, allowed the information to spread and be discussed inside and outside China.

The colonel’s biological warfare theory about SARS is generally considered another bit of Chinese Information Warfare, as are Internet postings blaming the United States for all manner of problems and insisting that the next big war in East Asia will involve the United States. Most Chinese can see though this Information War charade but it’s long been known that if you tell a lie often enough more and more people will believe it.


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