Chinese state media mistranslated comments made by U.S. officials during a recent congressional hearing in order to push the Chinese regime’s new propaganda narrative: that COVID-19 originated in the United States.
This claim was then amplified by a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, who raised the question of whether the U.S. military introduced the virus to China.
The global pandemic began in Wuhan, capital of China’s Hubei Province, where thousands have died of the disease.
Chinese media outlets first promoted the U.S. origin narrative in late February, after China’s top epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan said at a press conference that there was a possibility the coronavirus did not originate from China.
Several Chinese state media outlets published wrong translations of an exchange between U.S. Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Calif.) and Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during a hearing on March 11.
Rouda asked Redfield whether there was a possibility that some people in the United States died of COVID-19 before they were properly tested and diagnosed for the virus, as the symptoms are similar to the seasonal flu.
Redfield replied, “Some cases have been actually diagnosed in that way in the United States today.”
Chinese state-run media mistranslated this exchange to insinuate that Redfield admitted to people dying of COVID-19 earlier in the flu season in the United States.
Global Times, Beijing News, and other outlets also cited CDC statistics to give Chinese readers the impression that large numbers of Americans have already died of the virus. “According to the U.S. CDC, at least 34 million Americans are infected with influenza this season, and 20,000 of them have died.”
On March 12, Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, posted on Twitter a video of the exchange along with the mistranslated Chinese subtitles. Then, in English, he wrote: “Some influenza deaths were actually infected with COVID-19, Robert Redfield from US CDC admitted at the House of Representatives.”
In a second tweet, Zhao insinuated that the CDC had covered up the real number of coronavirus infections. “CDC was caught on the spot. When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? … It might be US army [sic] who brought the epidemic to Wuhan,” he wrote.
Training Materials for Internet Trolls
Leaked documents recently circulated on the Chinese internet, purportedly training materials for internet trolls issued by the Chinese Cyberspace Administration, the regime’s chief agency for internet censorship.
Chinese internet trolls, known as the “50-cent army,” work to regulate internet speech by deleting information deemed “sensitive or harmful” by the regime, as well as by posting pro-Beijing propaganda and directing online discussion away from topics that are critical of the regime.
The documents provided instruction on various trolling techniques, such as: hiding their real identities on social media by registering under different names, using different phrasing to convey the same message, having several trolls post and interact about the same topic to boost its ratings, and guiding netizens to make comments that are pro-Beijing.
The training document also advised trolls to influence netizens by initiating private chat conversations.
On social media platforms where it’s harder for trolls to influence the narrative, the documents suggest two approaches: posting fake information to interfere with the netizens’ user experience, and posting a large number of nonsensical posts to cause chaos.
A document purporting to be propaganda guidelines relating to the coronavirus outbreak in the United States has recently circulated on Chinese social media. It contained narratives meant to direct blame toward and highlight deficiencies in the United States’ political system.
Although the document’s authenticity couldn’t be verified, Zhao’s comments and state media reports mirror the talking points contained in the document.