How China’s Propaganda Department Directed Coverup of Virus Outbreak Information, Messaging Around US-China Trade War

July 16, 2020 Updated: July 22, 2020

The Epoch Times recently obtained internal documents issued by the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Propaganda Department, revealing how it gives direct instructions to state mouthpieces, such as Xinhua, on how they should cover sensitive issues such as the U.S.-China trade war and the pandemic.

January Propaganda Instructions: Hide the Truth of the Pandemic

The documents, obtained from a trusted source, showed at least 90 instructions were issued by the Chinese regime in January this year.

The first two propaganda instructions were issued on Jan. 2, with one aimed at the CCP virus (COVID-19) and one at the U.S.-China trade war.

The first propaganda directive read: “With regard to the pneumonia epidemic of unknown cause in Wuhan, Hubei Province, when it is reported, information released by authoritative departments shall be followed.”

At the time, a large number of infections had appeared in Wuhan.

On Dec. 30, 2019, the whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang posted messages on WeChat, a popular social media platform, about seven confirmed cases of a SARS-like pneumonia that appeared connected with the Huanan Seafood Market. The patients at his hospital were being isolated at the ER, he added. The SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) pandemic of 2002 to 2003 infected more than 8,000 people worldwide and killed hundreds.

On Dec. 31, the Wuhan government said during a briefing that there was “no evidence of significant human-to-human transmission.”

After the propaganda directive was issued on Jan. 2, 2020, Li Wenliang was interrogated and warned by Wuhan police to stop spreading “rumors” on Jan. 3.

In another set of documents issued on Jan. 4 and 6, the Propaganda Department reiterated the Jan. 2 directive and strictly prohibited “any citations or reposts of foreign media reports” and “any reports [linking the epidemic to] 2003 SARS.”

All instructions from the Propaganda Department prior to Jan. 20 focused on prohibiting any epidemic information that was not “endorsed” by the authorities and keeping a low profile.

On Jan. 20, Chinese leader Xi Jinping gave his first public comments on epidemic prevention and control. Immediately, the Propaganda Department turned around and issued a directive to highly publicize the authorities’ containment measures.

According to a Jan. 22 directive from the Propaganda Department, journalists were restricted from visiting Wuhan.

Then, a series of instructions were issued after Jan. 26 to strictly forbid reprinting any epidemic reports from foreign media and to publish reports that create a positive image of the Party among the international community.

According to the documents The Epoch Times obtained, there were at least 18 directives on the epidemic issued in January to domestic media by the Propaganda Department.

January Propaganda Instructions: Downplay the China–US Trade War

In the January directives, there were nine instructions issued on the trade war.

On Jan. 2, domestic media were warned not to print any articles on their own regarding the “phase one” deal that would be signed on Jan. 15.

The CCP and the United States had reached the first stage of negotiations for the trade agreement in December 2019.

China’s Ministry of Commerce stated at a regular press conference in Beijing on Jan. 9, 2020 that Vice Premier Liu He would lead a delegation to visit Washington from Jan. 13 to 15 to sign the phase one trade deal with the United States. On the same day as the presser, a propaganda directive warned not to print any unauthorized articles. The same directive was issued again the next day.

On the day Liu He signed the agreement, the Propaganda Department issued specific directives to “strengthen online censoring” and “identify and punish any harmful information that suggest [the regime is] surrendering or … destructive information that attacks the [communist] system and mechanisms.”

February Propaganda Instructions: Keep Quiet on Global Purchasing of Surgical Masks

The documents showed that there were 89 directives issued in February and 50 of them were relevant to the pandemic.

Among them, three directives issued on Feb. 3, Feb. 5, and Feb. 12 confirmed news reports alleging that the Chinese regime was purchasing and hoarding global medical supplies used to treat COVID-19 patients or prevent the spread of the disease.

On Feb. 3, the directive requested, “Do not publicize our mobilizing of global efforts to purchase protective supplies.”

On Feb. 5, the same instruction was reiterated. The directive stated clearly, “Prevent interference with our overseas procurement.”

On Feb. 12, a directive stressed: “Do not publicize the mobilization of purchasing global supplies, avoid causing a rebound in the public opinion of relevant countries and causing interference to the overseas procurement work.”

The virus spread widely around the world in March.

According to China’s official customs data, from Jan. 24 to Feb. 29, the country imported 2.46 billion pieces of medical materials, including masks and protective equipment. Among them were 2.02 billion masks from overseas.

On April 6, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said that during the early days of the virus outbreak, when the world was still unaware of the dangers of the virus, China bought up global supplies of surgical masks.

“They hid the dangers from the rest of the world even as Chinese citizens were flying around the world seeding the world with the virus,” Navarro said on Fox News.

Five directives were issued on Feb. 6 and 7 regarding the death of Li Wenliang, who had contracted COVID-19 from a patient he was treating. The Propaganda Department ordered “no reporting” on his death, and said media outlets could only “reprint the authorized report.” It also said the concept of “whistleblower” was prohibited.

Also, the department issued an order to downplay “negative information” regarding Chinese citizens living in Russia and Malaysia who were being prevented from returning to their home country. At the time, authorities had strict border control in an effort to prevent imported COVID-19 cases.

More than 50 directives related to the pandemic in February mostly instructed media outlets to censor “harmful information” regarding the CCP, or to filter out overseas media reports that expose information about China’s epidemic.

March Propaganda Instructions: Maintain Authoritarian Stability

For the first 10 days in March, there were 46 directives, 34 of them relevant to the pandemic.

A March 1 directive forbade media from reporting on big data analysis of Wuhan residents’ travel patterns during the initial outbreak.

On March 2, four directives were issued to forbid any reports or comments on Beijing’s efforts in pandemic containment. These came after an ex-inmate was confirmed as COVID-positive, but was allowed to travel to Beijing on Feb. 22 after being released from prison in Wuhan.

On March 10, Chinese magazine People interviewed a Wuhan doctor, Ai Fen, and published her first-person account. Ai Fen was director of the emergency department at the Central Hospital of Wuhan. She was among the first people to spread information about the mysterious illness that had spread in Wuhan.

On the day the magazine article was published, a directive was issued to demand the removal of the article and all relevant media coverage about Ai.

On March 3, a directive instructed that any reports of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes and mental hospitals should follow authorities’ reprinted information. No overseas data or NGO report could be used.

On March 5, a directive demanded media outlets to remove reports about a patient who supposedly recovered from

In addition, a number of propaganda instructions in March required the media not to forward, hype up, or publicize the pandemic in Russia and Iran. Russia and Iran are regarded as political allies of the regime.

The CCP Propaganda Department is directly subordinate to Wang Huning, one of the CCP’s top officials, and a member of the Party’s most powerful decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee.