QAnon followers are boosting an unhinged new conspiracy theory that claims former President Donald Trump was purposely mispronouncing the word “China” for years, as part of a secret plot to alert the world that COVID-19 was manufactured in Ukraine.
The latest conspiracy theory being spread among QAnon adherents ties in with the wider conspiracy about U.S. biolabs in Ukraine and suggests that QAnon may be shifting its longstanding perception of China as the enemy.
The new conspiracy theory, first flagged by disinformation expert Marc Owen Jones, has been bubbling up on QAnon channels on Telegram for the past week.
First, some enterprising QAnon sleuth claimed to have “discovered” that there was a place in Ukraine called “chy-na” and further claimed that Trump’s distinct pronunciation of “China” was the former president’s attempt to signal to his followers that what he was talking about was “chy-na” in Ukraine, and not China.
In recent days, the theory has grown, and many QAnon followers now argue that when Trump referred to COVID-19 as the “China virus,” he was secretly referring to the Ukrainian chy-na, and trying to tell the world that the virus was manufactured in Ukraine, a claim that ties in with the broader belief that Ukraine is home to some “deep state” plot to control the world.
Conspiracists found further “proof” of this theory when someone used Google Translate to figure out that in Ukrainian, “chy-na” means “price.” Combine that with the fact that Trump once said that China would “pay a big price” for spreading COVID-19, and QAnon followers believed they had uncovered some sort of high-level secret code.
They have not uncovered some sort of high-level secret code.
The Ukrainian “chy-na” is in fact just part of the name of what appears to be a village on the outskirts of Lviv. In Ukrainian, it is called “Шпильчина,” but on Google Maps, it’s referred to as “Shpyl’chyna.” Unfortunately, this is a bad transliteration: The ‘y’ is meant to represent a very soft ‘i’ sound that’s hard to transliterate, because it’s rarely used in English.
Also, in Ukrainian, the word term “chy-na” on its own has several meanings. One of them is “price,” but it can also mean “rank” and “tire,” which don’t fit quite as neatly into QAnon’s conspiracy theory.
To the uninitiated, this conspiracy would seem ludicrous—because it is— but consider the toxic cesspool where it’s being shared.
QAnon believes that the war in Ukraine isn’t a war at all but that Trump is working in secret with Vladimir Putin to expose a network of biolabs being used to develop chemical weapons—that may be transported to Russia by birds. This sweeping conspiracy isn’t only taking hold in QAnon forums; it’s also being boosted by right-wing figures in the U.S., including Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
In this world, it’s entirely plausible that Trump purposely mispronounced the word “China” for years in order to secretly signal that a war that began over a year after he left office was a cover for a secret plot to unmask the origins of COVID.
But this theory, which appears to remove all blame from China for the COVID-19 pandemic, is not an isolated incident.
In recent weeks, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, QAnon followers had to reassess what has always been a central pillar of its belief system: that China is evil.
From the very beginning, QAnon viewed China and the Chinese Communist Party as a pariah, driven first by Trump’s antagonism towards Xi Jinping’s administration, and then by the spread of COVID-19 around the world.
But because QAnon has come to fully embrace Putin in recent weeks, the movement’s followers have faced a difficult situation, because the Chinese government has been backing Putin’s war in Ukraine.
In recent days, some QAnon influencers have begun to attempt to reconcile these disparate worldviews by claiming that Xi is now also part of the secret Trump-Putin alliance that is fighting the “deep state.”
This theory is being posited in combination with the idea that, just as Ukraine is being “cleansed” by the Russian invasion, Taiwan needs to be “cleansed” by a Chinese invasion.
So far there’s no consensus among the QAnon community about the subject of China, but the claims about there being a “Chy-na in Ukraine” have gathered significant momentum in the last 24 hours.
The theory is already making its way from the fever swamps of QAnon channels on Telegram to more mainstream platforms like Twitter. One tweet over the weekend boosting the theory has racked up almost 2,000 likes already.
And if QAnon does fully embrace the idea that China is not the enemy – and that Trump is secretly working with Beijing – experts fear that just as Russia’s government did, Beijing could seek to exploit those beliefs.
“The main reason why I think this is worth paying attention to is because if QAnon and related groups do commit to a pivot to China, that would create an opportunity for Chinese state media to cultivate these audiences the way Russian state media has,” Elise Thomas, an open-source researcher at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, tweeted over the weekend.
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