White House National Security Council Remembers Chinese Whistleblower on Anniversary

White House National Security Council Remembers Chinese Whistleblower on Anniversary
Chinese students and their supporters hold a memorial for Dr. Li Wenliang, outside the UCLA campus in Westwood, California, on Feb. 15, 2020. (Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images)
Frank Fang

The White House National Security Council (NSC) criticized the Chinese regime via Twitter on Dec. 30, saying the current pandemic would be vastly different if it had not censored whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang.

“One year ago today, Dr. Li Wenliang warned his medical colleagues over social media about clusters of cases of unknown pneumonia in Wuhan,” the NSC wrote in a series of tweets.  “Chinese authorities censored him and forced him to confess to spreading rumors and disrupting social order.”

The NSC added: “Had his warnings been heeded, countless deaths could have been prevented.”

Li, an ophthalmologist, warned of an “unknown pneumonia” outbreak on Chinese social media on Dec. 30, 2019. After his online warning went viral, he was summoned to a police station on Jan. 3 and reprimanded for “rumor-mongering.”

There he was forced to sign a “confession statement.” The document accused him of “disturbing social order” and “breaking the law” for his online activities. It warned Li that he would be “punished by the law” if he continued to do such “illegal activities.”

Li later died on Feb. 7 after contracting the virus while unknowingly treating an infected patient.

The Chinese regime eventually carried out an investigation into Li’s case and punished two police officers. The investigation results angered many Chinese citizens, some said that the officials were merely scapegoats.
NSC also tweeted an earlier speech given by Matthew Pottinger, the White House’s deputy national security adviser on Asia, at the University of Virginia.

In the May speech, Pottinger applauded Li for his bravery by deciding to reveal his findings on China’s social media. He added that the decision by Chinese police to reprimand him was not made in the heat of the moment.

“Anyone tempted to believe this was just a case of overzealous local police, take note: China’s central government aired a news story about Dr. Li’s ‘rumor-mongering,’” Pottinger said.

Since Li’s death, many Chinese netizens have continued to leave comments on his last entry on his Weibo account posted on Feb. 1, in which he announced that he had tested positive for the virus causing COVID-19. Weibo is a Chinese messaging platform like Twitter.

Many citizens left messages on Thursday wishing Li a happy New Year, while some wrote that they had not forgotten what happened on Dec. 30 last year.

Li is but one of the doctors or citizen journalists silenced by the regime as it sought to suppress vital information about the early stages of the outbreak in Wuhan, the virus epicenter.
Beijing’s suppression of Li was also mentioned by U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based rights group, which ranked China as world’s top human rights abuser in 2020.
“Herded 1 million Uighurs into camps, jailed human rights activists, crushed Tibet, silenced courageous men and women who sounded the alarm on the coronavirus—like Dr. Li Wenliang and citizen journalist Zhang Zhan—and suffocated freedom in Hong Kong,” the NGO wrote about China on Dec. 30.

Zhang, a 37-year-old former lawyer turned citizen journalist, began reporting on the ground in Wuhan in early February. She was often critical of the Chinese regime over its handling of the COVID-19 outbreak in her reports before she suddenly vanished in May. A month later, Chinese authorities confirmed that she had been arrested.

Earlier this year, Zhang was sentenced to four years imprisonment after being convicted of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” an offense the Chinese regime often uses to persecute dissidents.
Beijing has since been heavily criticized by international rights groups and Western officials over its decision to imprison Zhang.
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers U.S., China, and Taiwan news. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
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