The Chinese Communist Party has ramped up its propaganda efforts to control the narrative surrounding the novel coronavirus—by rejecting criticism and painting a picture that Beijing is effectively handling the outbreak.
The regime’s propaganda has gone through several phases: first ignoring the severity of the outbreak, then creating positive coverage, and now, blaming the United States.
High-ranking communist authorities have pushed a handful of talking points to deflect blame, including that the origin of the virus isn’t clear and may have come from the United States—a conspiracy recently pushed by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.
The virus first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.
Zhao wrote on Twitter on March 12, “When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army [sic] who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe [sic] us an explanation!”
A February opinion article by state-run Global Times claimed that “so far, even the scientific world has no conclusion where the virus came from.”
Beijing has also pushed the narrative that its efforts to contain the virus bought the international community time to prepare, with the official Twitter account of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs writing that “China’s endeavor to combating the epidemic has bought time for int’l preparedness. Our contribution is there for all to see.”
That was echoed by a Harvard economist who said in a March 9 interview on NPR’s Marketplace program that “China really did great work in buying the rest of us time.”
Stories hyping China’s capability to contain the disease were pushed by Chinese state media at the same time that Beijing accused the United States of fear-mongering surrounding China’s outbreak.
Author and China expert Gordon Chang told The Epoch Times: “There’s been a repeated, relentless campaign against the United States, and it’s been malicious, irresponsible, false, of course, and dangerous. This whole notion of China being beneficial to helping the world is misguided and indeed dangerous.”
Chang said Beijing is bent on this narrative because the epidemic has become an “existential” crisis for the Chinese Communist Party’s rule.
“Because the Chinese people are hot, angry, they’re demanding fundamental political change, and so China needs to change the subject to show … that the Communist Party is leading the defense.”
Chang believes more such propaganda materials will be published in the coming days.
“Beijing is going to relentlessly pursue them because it sees this as essential to its survival,” he said, adding that the “United States has an ally, which is the Chinese people, and we should never forget that our enemy is the regime.”
Beijing has also accused the United States of creating panic by implementing restrictions on travelers from China.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, has said that the travel ban made a difference in combating the spread of the virus in the United States.
The blame game narrative against the United States is gaining steam and appears to be one of the more effective talking points not just for countries outside of China, but for people inside China, according to Sarah Cook, senior research analyst for China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan at Freedom House, a U.S.-based human rights group.
“It seems like they may have stumbled on this last one accidentally, as various conspiracy theories along these lines started circulating on social media and then officials piggybacked on it and amplified the narrative after discovering that it was actually convincing people,” Cook told The Epoch Times via email.
Cook said that this “anti-American narrative” has resonated with many in China and has to some degree “been successful in refocusing anger and frustration away from the Party.” She said the narrative was “subtly stoked by official statements, state media reports, and the convenient absence of censorship for posts shifting the blame to the United States.”
Li Wenliang, one of the eight whistleblowers who first publicized information on the virus and who later died from it in February was reprimanded by Chinese authorities for posting information about the virus. Wuhan officials said on Jan. 1 they took “legal measures” against eight people, including Li, who had “spread rumors” about the disease, which “caused adverse impacts on society” according to a statement posted on Weibo, a Chinese Twitter-like platform.
In the United States, over 3,200 people have contracted the virus and at least 62 people have died, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at John Hopkins University, at the time of writing.
The White House and the State Department didn’t respond to requests by The Epoch Times for comment.