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How a Chinese nationalist influencer is stoking conspiracy theories over U.S. spreading monkeypox

May 23, 2022, 9:15 AM UTC

Chinese social media users are speculating the U.S. could be the source of monkeypox infections now reported in at least a dozen countries, including the U.K., Spain and Australia. 

The viral infection has been highlighted as a trending topic on popular social media platform Weibo for the past three days with a hashtag on the U.S. reporting two suspected monkeypox cases attracting more than 51 million views as of Monday.

While Chinese state media has refrained from accusing the U.S. of intentionally spreading monkeypox — an accusation it made about COVID-19 — many social media users haven’t held back. 

A 2021 report on biosecurity preparedness planning by a U.S. non-government organization, Nuclear Threat Initiative, which included a scenario of a monkeypox pandemic, has been taken out of context to suggest that the US government knew the outbreak was coming.

Nationalist influencer Shu Chang, who has 6.41 million Weibo followers, deliberately misconstrued the report and posted that it showed “a plan by the US to leak bioengineered monkeypox virus.”

The post was liked by more than 7,500 users and received more than 660 comments, many of them agreeing with her. One said that the US was “evil beyond the imagination of humankind.”

Posts pushing this conspiracy theory have been liked tens of thousands of times on Weibo.

The rare and potentially deadly cousin of the smallpox virus is traditionally confined to regions in Africa, but health officials are concerned about its recent wider spread in Europe, North America and elsewhere. No cases have been found in China. 

Disinformation over health has been rife in China and the U.S. during the Covid pandemic. The two countries had engaged in a spat over the origins of the virus. Beijing made unsubstantiated claims the U.S. engineered the virus at a military base, while some U.S. media outlets questioned whether the virus may have leaked from a research facility in Wuhan, the city where COVID was first detected.

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