Coronavirus Pandemic: China’s propaganda machinery is busy and determined to delegate blame – Jabin T. Jacob

Xi Jinping

Prof Jabin T. JacobCalling Xi, “commander-in-chief of China’s war against COVID-19” now that the epidemic is apparently within control inside China is also about reinforcing not just his leadership supremacy at home but offering him as a model for other leaders and peoples around the world. – Prof. Jabin T. Jacob

Currently, there is a full-blown propaganda effort by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) underway to try and make the world forget about China’s “original sin” of allowing the novel coronavirus Covid-19 disease to spread beyond the country. There are at least five elements to this endeavour.

First, there is an effort to magnify the scale and scope of China’s mitigation efforts. Hitherto, China had used its economic might and political heft to ensure that the World Health Organization (WHO) kept Taiwan out of the membership of the world body. After the virus outbreak, Beijing has also been able to prevent any WHO criticism of China’s actions. A joint WHO-China report on the coronavirus disease was practically hagiographic in tone, talking about how China had “rolled out perhaps the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history” and that the measures China has adopted are “the only measures that are currently proven to interrupt or minimize transmission chains in humans.”

As impressive as all this sounds, it is the case that as with the SARS epidemic of 2002-2004 that originated in China, the global spread of Covid-19 is directly attributable to the fact it was not contained within China in the early stages. Chinese political exigencies initially dictated a cover-up of the outbreak of the disease was the best way forward. China’s ‘report card’ is therefore, ‘mixed’ at best and it is probably too early even to say yet that China has completely stopped the spread of the virus.

Second, even if it might not be schadenfreude, China has in recent weeks highlighted the struggles of other countries in dealing with their own outbreak and attempted to pay back in kind for the criticism it copped in the early days of the epidemic.

For instance, it quoted the WHO Director-General’s March 14 comment that more coronavirus cases were being reported each day outside of China than the latter had reported at the epidemic’s peak, and that Europe had become the new global epicentre of the disease. Chinese media has highlighted the US’ “overconfidence and lack of knowledge on the virus” that stopped it from preventing the virus from spreading. Part of this exercise reflects also in the highlighting of cases of Covid-19 now entering China from overseas.

Third, there is an increasing effort to advertise China’s contribution to helping other countries fight Covid-19. China has sent medical aid and offered training to several countries from Iraq to Italy, and Iran to the Philippines. It has also highlighted without fail the gratitude each of these has apparently expressed to China for such aid.

Meanwhile, Alibaba founder Jack Ma’s philanthropic foundation as well as the company’s own foundation have planned donations of medical equipment to every country in Africa. Ma had earlier also announced a donation of 500,000 coronavirus testing kits and 1 million masks to the US.

Fourth, is a desire to underline the robustness and legitimacy of the Chinese political system. The earlier WHO-China report, for instance, highlighted the “sincerity and dedication” of not just the medical personnel and scientists but also of Chinese “Governors and Mayors”, thus indirectly absolving the CCP leadership of its mistakes. Criticism of the US, while often warranted, has also involved references to the Chinese central government’s “decisive measures” as well as advice to the US — one of the first modern federal states — on “strengthen[ing]… coordination” between the US federal and state governments.

References in the report to the “community grid management system in China” and its role in fighting the 2019-nCov while accurate, also elide over the fact that it is the same system that also aids and abets draconian surveillance and control measures over minority ethnic populations in Tibet and Xinjiang.

The pandemic is also seen as offering an opportunity for China to push CCP General Secretary and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s rhetoric of a “community of common destiny” — part of the narrative of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) — as a way of framing China’s help to the outside world. Calling Xi, “commander-in-chief of China’s war against COVID-19” now that the epidemic is apparently within control inside China is also about reinforcing not just his leadership supremacy at home but offering him as a model for other leaders and peoples around the world.

Finally, there is now an active Chinese effort to deflect blame and spread misinformation. The most prominent part of this campaign has been the effort to somehow pin the blame for the origins of the virus on the US. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, formerly Deputy Chief of Mission in Islamabad, has unashamedly pushed the narrative that the novel coronavirus was introduced into China by the US military and has incoherently — but successfully, going by the number of retweets — linked proceedings in the US Congress to his conspiracy theory. China has even gone after Mario Vargas Llosa, one of Latin America’s most prominent writers and the 2010 Nobel Prize winner for Literature, saying that his claim of the novel coronavirus “coming from China” was “inaccurate”.

The sophistication and spread of the Chinese propaganda campaign shows how seriously its rulers take their country’s image abroad and the importance of this image to maintaining their hold on power at home. – Moneycontrol, 23 March 2020

Jabin T. Jacob is Associate Professor, Department of International Relations and Governance Studies, Shiv Nadar University, National Capital Region.

Wuhan Virus Protection Graphic


One Response

  1. China
    Many lessons from the Chinese virus – Ashwani Mahajan – The New Indian Express – Chennai – 24 March 2020

    Today, the entire world is suffering from the havoc inflicted by the coronavirus. The WHO has already declared it a pandemic. So far, over 3,51,700 people have been infected by the virus worldwide, of which more than 15,370 have lost their lives. And the number of people infected is steadily increasing.

    In India, more than 400 people are reported to have been infected, out of which eight have died.

    It is believed that in India, we are currently in the second phase of the corona spread; and the next two to three weeks will be very crucial. So far, most of the cases in India are directly related to people coming from abroad, that is, foreign tourists or Indians coming from abroad and their relatives and friends who come in contact with them. The random testing by ICMR, in which 826 cases were investigated last week, all reported negative. This showed there was no community spread at least till then. But this doesn’t mean that India will not suffer from community spread of the virus. This is being learned from the experience of China, Italy, Iran, etc.

    The human-to-human spread of the virus began in Wuhan, China. Chinese authorities learnt about the virus infection in December 2019 itself. Some people have claimed that the virus originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China and linked it to the manufacture of biological weapons by China. But the scientists of this institute say that both its locaction and the spread of the virus there is merely a coincidence.

    Most believe that this virus reached the human body from animals due to the culture of eating exotic animals in China. It likely came from bats or from an animal infected by the bats. So there is unanimity that the virus originated in China. Perhaps this is the reason why US President Donald Trump is calling it the “Chinese virus”. This is not the first time that a virus has spread from China. In 2002 too, an infection called SARS in which thousands of people around the world were infected and more than 750 died, came from China. The country mishandled that outbreak too.

    Based on the information received, the incidence of this virus is decreasing in China and soon normalcy will be restored in China. Even if we ignore the conspiracy angle or the exotic food habits, the complaint from all over the world is that despite having information about this virus in December, the Chinese government didn’t respond properly and allowed its spread.

    Did the Chinese government act responsibly? Did they warn the world about this? Based on the information received, it is found that no one other than the Chinese government can be held responsible for the initial spread of the virus that has now turned into a pandemic. How the Chinese government mistreated the doctor, who raised alarm about this virus for the first time and who eventually died, is no secret.

    This infection has spread to more than 150 countries throughout the world, and Italy and Iran have been among the worst hit. According to reports, China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) Project is a major contributor to the spread of this infection in these nations. Despite being so far away from China, the cause of the outbreak in these two countries can be explained by OBOR linkages. Significantly, China has been aggressively pursuing this project for some time to advance its strategic and economic interests. Italy and Iran are two countries that are major stakeholders in this project. Italy has opened its infrastructure to transport, and even four major ports, to Chinese investment. Lombardy and Tuscany are the two regions with the highest Chinese investment.

    Iran. which has been under severe US economic sanctions for a long time, started encouraging Chinese investment, and in 2019, they officially signed the OBOR for construction of a 2,000-mile-long rail track crossing western China to Tehran and to Turkey. In addition, the Railway Engineering Corporation of China is laying a $2.7 billion high-speed railway line coming out of Qom. Along with this, Chinese technicians are also renovating the nuclear power plant. Iran’s health experts believe that this infection spread to Qom, either from Chinese workers or businessmen coming from China. It’s notable that India has said a ‘big no’ to OBOR right from the very beginning.

    China has been capturing the world’s markets for a long time by adopting tactics like dumping, export subsidies and many other tricks. In such a situation, manufacturing declined not only in India, but also in large developed countries like the US, Europe, and other countries around the world. They also started facing payments crises.Unemployment, especially youth unemployment, increased globally. Today, with the import of goods from China not possible due to the lockdown there, manufacturing all around the world has been hit hard.

    The havoc of corona on the one hand and the economic crisis on the other have been forcing many countries to think whether China can remain the center stage of globalisation in the world in times to come. Nations around the world may redefine their relationship with China and try to reconstruct their industries. The latest example is the `3,000 crore plan of our government to revive active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), that is, the pharma industries’ raw materials. While the Chinese government has now become active to try and minimise its infamy, the world will soon have to decide the nature of economic activities in the future.

    > Ashwani Mahajan is Associate Professor, Dept. of Economics, PGDAV College, University of Delhi, Delhi.


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