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After its anti-China Covid jab fake news campaign, the US has to regain Asean’s trust

The clandestine operation, which involved creating fake social media accounts impersonating Filipinos and utilising the #ChinaAngVirus hashtag to spread anti-vaccine messaging, was an egregious violation of trust. It cynically exploited the vulnerabilities and insecurities of populations desperate for life-saving vaccines.

Equally concerning was the fact that US diplomats had warned the Pentagon its covert campaign could severely damage America’s already fraying relationship with the Philippines. However, military brass overrode those objections, willing to further undermine a critical alliance for a perceived short-term tactical advantage against China. This calls into serious question Washington’s judgment and commitment as a regional security partner.

In the Philippines, the backlash has been swift and severe, with multiple agencies calling for immediate investigations and accountability. For example, Alliance of Concerned Teachers Representative France Castro has urged the House of Representatives to conduct an inquiry into the extent of the damage caused by the Pentagon’s secret campaign.

Ultimately, beyond the immediate toll on public health, the US’ disinformation campaign risked long-term damage to America’s credibility and moral standing in Southeast Asia. It is the kind of shadowy meddling in the region’s internal affairs that Washington routinely accuses Beijing of perpetrating. This stark hypocrisy provides ammunition to those claiming that the US has double standards, engaging in the same underhanded tactics it denounces.

The anti-vaccine propaganda also represents an alarming escalation in the expanding disinformation battleground between the US and China. In weaponising a global health emergency that demanded