On Thursday, Fox News, citing a senior Trump administration official, confirmed the report Axios released on Wednesday that US federal government officials are working to declassify what was described as "uncorroborated intelligence" that alleged that China offered bounties to so-called "non-state actors" in Afghanistan to target American soldiers.
The unsubstantiated intelligence, initially reported by Axios, claimed that Beijing made an effort to finance "attacks on American servicemen by Afghan non-state actors by offering financial incentives or 'bounties'". According to the report, President Trump was briefed on the matter, and the White House was in the process of declassifying the unconfirmed intelligence.
Axios sources never elaborated on who the "non-state actors" were or when the "bounties" were offered, only noting that the attempts to pay for the killing of the American soldiers were made "some time after late February".
The outlet, however, pondered the authenticity of the "intelligence", noting that, in case the information was proved wrong, it would question both the motivation of the source and the White House's decision to declassify it.
The reported "bounties" claims were refuted by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin.
"It's nothing but fake news aimed to smear China, which only indicates how crazy some people have gone to taint China's image and damage China-US relations," Wenbin said, cited by Fox News. "China pursues an independent foreign policy of peace. We have never started a war with others, not to mention paying non-state actors to attack other countries."
The accusations against China come months after the US media lashed out at Russia in June for allegedly paying the Taliban* for killing American troops - claims that were not backed with any credible evidence and refuted by Moscow.
As new reports contributed to the "Russian bounties" story, the Trump administration was also criticised for its reluctance to call out Russia for the unconfirmed allegations.
Regarding the newly-emerged "Chinese bounties", Trump's Cabinet has not publicly spoken.