China and Pakistan are close allies, it is a well-known fact. Their leaders often use metaphors like “higher than mountains” and “deeper than oceans” to describe the relationship between the two countries. China sees Pakistan as its rental state to advance its geopolitical machinations and regional ambitions. For Pakistan, China is their perennial state of choice, a country they trust to support their ailing economy and address their lingering concerns about India.
Although they share a relationship in a range of areas, a recent report published on Logical sheds light on the close online association between the two countries. An investigation by OSINT experts from Logically revealed that several social media influencers claiming to be Chinese were actually Pakistanis. They are, by definition, puppets, a fake online identity created by a person or group to promote their own opinions or views.
A large number of seemingly Chinese influencer accounts on social media platforms, including Twitter, are run by Pakistanis, with the majority of their followers being fake or bot accounts. These accounts then deploy disinformation campaigns that align with China and Pakistan and are always against India, stemming from their shared animosity against New Delhi.
Interestingly, these puppets have enjoyed state support from Chinese and Pakistani state officials, who enthusiastically share and promote content uploaded by them.
Whether it is false allegations regarding the Galwan Valley clashes between Indian and Chinese soldiers or the conspiracy theories surrounding the helicopter crash of the late CDS General Bipin Rawat, or any other internal matter regarding the India, these puppets are fueling online misinformation in their attempt to create a rift within Indian society along religious and ideological lines.
Nian Zhen, who operates under the Twitter account @Xinhua_88, is one such Pakistani impersonator who poses as a Chinese national. Zhen claims to be a member of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) and is often caught spreading Chinese propaganda under the guise of sharing the intellectual knowledge of a Beijing-based think tank.
According to data analyzed on TruthNest, @Xinhua_88’s initial posts were in Urdu, indicating that it is a puppet likely operated by someone in Pakistan. Logically quotes audience intelligence tool SparkToro to claim that 22.3% of @Xinhua_88 followers are fake or bots.
Additionally, it was also found that @Xinhua_88 received significantly higher engagements compared to other accounts with similar following. It was also discovered that most of the accounts @Xinhua_88 interacted with were primarily associated with Chinese government officials or accounts known to spread pro-China propaganda online.
Zhao Lijian (@zlj517), deputy director of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Information Department, was one of the officials who interacted with @Xinhua_88. Zhen also interacted with Shen Shiwei (@shen_shiwei), a production editor at China Global Television Network (CGTN), who shared a photo of Indian soldiers who allegedly surrendered near the Galwan Valley. Other key associations include Zhang Heqing (@zhang_heqing), China’s cultural adviser at the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan, and Hu Xijin (@HuXijin_GT), former editor and party secretary of the Global Times.
Liza Wang, who goes by the Twitter name @ChinaPakWW, is another such account with a huge following. The account usually shares propaganda about CPEC and China-Pakistan friendship. The account’s profile picture is of a female military officer, whose reverse image search shows the photo is from a Turkish blog whose title translates to “Don’t think this is a movie image ! China’s secret weapon: female warriors.
According to SparkToro, 21.4% of the approximately 11,000 subscribers are populated by fake accounts. As in the case of @Xinhua_88, this account also receives higher engagement than other accounts that have a similar following. The Logically investigation found that the account largely interacts with Pakistani government officials or accounts known to have sympathy for Pakistan or who are involved in promoting pro-Pakistani propaganda. It interacts with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Fawad Chaudhry, Federal Minister of Information and Broadcasting of Pakistani Government and Official Account of Chinese Embassy in Pakistan.
Interestingly, @ChinaPakWW operated an account that was suspended by Twitter. According to a tweet posted by her, the account was suspended at the request of “Indian propaganda”. The suspended account reportedly had nearly 21,000 followers. The OSINT Followerwonk tool showed that the account’s most frequently used words included “Imran Khan”, “Pakistan Army”, “Proud Pakistani”, etc. This obviously suggests that the operator of the account must be someone who is loyal to Pakistan and not a Chinese as the profile picture and name imply to be.
Another Pakistani social media user posing as a Chinese influencer runs a Twitter account called @tangtianru. This account also shares content advocating strong bilateral relations between Pakistan and China. Additionally, the account also has strong anti-Taiwan views, giving the impression that it could be a China-based puppet.
Curiously, this account also contains a profile picture of a Chinese woman in military uniform, a pattern that is becoming increasingly common among Pakistani impostors posing as Chinese influencers. SparkToro analysis indicates that 38.8% of @tangtianru’s 10,000+ followers are populated by fake followers.
According to results from Twitter analytics tool TruthNest, early posts from the account corroborate its connection to Pakistan. One of the first posts posted by the account was of four women at a reception called “Pakistani Food Extravaganza”, an event hosted by the Pakistani Embassy in Beijing.
The account has interactions primarily with Chinese government officials and accounts that share CCP propaganda. He has significant engagements with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, but most of them have negative feelings and spew an anti-Taiwan narrative. Furthermore, the Twitter account also spread conspiracy theories and false claims about the Galwan Valley clashes and the Indochina standoff along the Line of Control in eastern Ladakh.
Spreading disinformation online has traditionally been a strength of China. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) excels at covering up its shortcomings and fomenting unrest in other countries by spraying social media platforms with disinformation and fake news while using censorship to control the flow of information to the within its borders. Pakistan, on the other hand, has until now been a relatively lesser-known entity when it comes to flooding social media platforms with its propaganda and disinformation.
However, the curious case of Pakistani imposters claiming to be Chinese influencers on social media and spreading anti-Indian propaganda demonstrates that the CCP has enlisted its most trusted ally in its information warfare as it seeks to assert its hegemony in an increasingly unstable world order.