Since the invasion of Ukraine began, a veteran Chinese war reporter for state-run Phoenix TV is known to be the only foreign journalist embedded with Russian troops. Dressed in his bulletproof vest and helmet, Lu Yuguang enjoys exclusive access to areas controlled by Kremlin forces as they march through the southeast, where he chats with soldiers and captures his advances on camera.
In one of his reports, he asks a soldier if he is nervous, to which he says no. “I have been fighting eight years.” In another from early March, he exclusively interviews the leader of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, the pro-Russian Denis Pushilin. “With the help of Russian forces, the eastern Ukrainian militia has liberated 40 residential areas within the administrative line. The victory continues to expand, ”said the reporter at the time.
China strives to maintain a position of ambiguous neutrality that in practice leans towards Moscow
Lu is a well-known journalist in China. According to the profile posted on the website of his channel, this former Navy officer of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has lived in Moscow for several decades and has extensively covered other conflicts such as the war in Chechnya, where he already had the support of the Russian troops. His work has been recognized with several awards from the Government and the army of that country.
His unusual access to the front has not gone unnoticed among his colleagues, especially after many have left Russia after the approval of a law that punishes what he considers “false news” about his Armed Forces with up to 15 years in prison. His case also fuels doubts about the extent of cooperation between Moscow and Beijing, two “strategic partners” who have strengthened ties in recent years as their clashes with the White House have grown.
Since the war began, China has been striving to maintain a position of ambiguous neutrality that in practice leans towards Moscow. It has not condemned the invasion -which it describes as a “special operation”-, it blames the conflict on the actions of the US and NATO and calls for the lifting of sanctions while defending the sovereignty of states and a solution negotiated to conflict.
For its part, the narrative of the Chinese media has been in line with that of the authorities, molding its message to the small nuances that the Government has been introducing. As soon as the invasion began, an official website mistakenly published the guidelines of the Cybersecurity Agency to the media to cover the conflict: do not mention the words “war” or “invasion”, do not publish favorable notes to the US or criticism with Russia and use the information sent by the three large state media (Xinhua agency, People’s Daily and CCTV).
Since then, the coverage has fluctuated from a more pro-Russian tone – which gave rise to hoaxes such as the flight to Poland of the Ukrainian president, Volodímir Zelensky, or the presence of dozens of biological laboratories in Ukraine supervised by the US – to a subtle more neutral tone in keeping with her recent willingness to show herself as a mediator.
Meanwhile, social networks have been taken over by the most nationalist voices, favorable to Putin’s attack and critical of Washington and NATO, although the most exacerbated comments have been deleted. Censorship has also taken pains to silence the voices most critical of the conflict. This is the case of the Weibo (Chinese Twitter) account of the popular transsexual television presenter Jin Xing, which was frozen after posting the message “Respect all lives, firmly oppose the war”; or a declaration against the war signed by five Chinese university professors, which disappeared from the network when they began to move it to gather new support.
Not even Lu’s coverage is free of controversy among his fellow citizens. His reporting usually conforms to official Chinese media rhetoric and has even replicated some Russian fake news such as the Ukrainian military using more than a thousand hostages as human shields. But his interviews with some civilian victims and criticism of Internet users in his country who objectify Ukrainian women have also earned him attacks from the most recalcitrant pro-Russians, who accuse him of creating “rumors” in favor of Ukraine or of not being objective.