On March 18, China marked a milestone in its “people’s war” against the new coronavirus. For the primary time in three months, there have been no new local infections within the central province of Hubei, where quite 60 million people remain confined to their homes as a part of a nationwide effort to manage the deadly outbreak.
The respiratory disorder caused by the new pathogen, first detected in late December in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, has spread rapidly across the globe, infecting quite 465,000 people and killing quite 21,000 as of March 26.
Europe has become the new epicentre of the disease, also called COVID-19, with the toll in Italy and Spain more than China and therefore the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Tuesday that the us can be next.
But in China, the outbreak appears to be in restraint, with but 5,000 patients still undergoing treatment and new cases confirmed only among people strolling back from overseas.
Authorities in Beijing, who were widely criticised for initially covering up the outbreak, are now hailing their success, highlighting the unparalleled measures that helped quell the outbreak within the country and positioning China as a worldwide leading power within the fight against the coronavirus – all while engaging in an acrimonious war of words with the US.
Prior to the slowing of local transmissions in China, the country’s highly controlled state media was almost exclusively pushing one narrative: the supremacy of the so-called “system with Chinese characteristics” in fighting the outbreak.
News anchors and online reporters praised the central leadership for utilising measures unthinkable in other countries in their bid to contain the virus, including a nationwide quarantine, the utilization of mass surveillance to trace infections bringing the world’s second-largest economy to a near-halt.
“With utmost determination to curb the outbreak growth, China has bought enough time for the globe to arrange itself for this pandemic,” Geng Shuang, the spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters on St Joseph, suggesting that China’s draconian measures had delayed the transmission of the disease worldwide.
‘Global leader against coronavirus’
As the domestic pressure to contain the outbreak eased, state media shifted their focus to featuring China’s recent effort to deploy medics and resources to areas most hard-hit by the virus, particularly Italy and Iran, labelling itself as a worldwide leader within the battle against the virus.
China has sent planeloads of medical equipment, including the much sought-after masks, ventilators, and other personal protective equipment to the worst-hit countries in Europe, the center East et al.
CCTV, the official state broadcaster, continuously plays videos of Chinese medics arriving in Bergamo in northern Italy and Iran’s capital, Tehran.
CGTN, the international wing of CCTV, and Global Times, a state-owned English language tabloid, are two of the numerous state media outlets praising China’s “generosity” and “leadership” during the pandemic.
Positive feedback from global leaders, like Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic, and officials from Venezuela and therefore the Philippines – mostly comments applauding China’s support and leadership – have also been prominently featured within the state media coverage.
Meanwhile, the social media accounts of government-backed media institutions are at the battlefront of the propaganda push, including on Twitter and Facebook, which are both banned in China.
‘Shifting domestic anger’
By doing so, Beijing is trying to shift domestic and international attention off from the pent-up anger within the country towards the central government for an initial cover-up of the outbreak that several say paved the way for the rapid spread of the virus.
“By pushing for this narrative, China is avoiding the blame and successfully dodging culpability for its role in spreading the coronavirus,” said Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC.
“In suppressing information about the virus and allowing it to spread unchecked within the crucial youth and weeks, the regime imperilled the quite 100 nations now facing their own potentially devastating outbreaks.”
Some analysts say what triggered the propaganda machine in China is that the deterioration in relations between Beijing and Washington, which also are locked in a very bitter trade dispute.
Last week, tensions escalated after China expelled quite a dozen American journalists working for the Wall Street Journal, the big apple Times, and Washington Post newspapers, in a very tactic seen as retaliation for the US designating China’s state media as diplomatic missions.
Now officials within the two countries are blaming one another for the present pandemic.
Since early March, Chinese officials and state media are pushing the concept that the new coronavirus could have originated some other place – notably the US.
Lijian Zhao, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, has been particularly vocal in questioning the US’s role within the viral outbreak.
On March 12, Zhao posted a tweet saying: “It can be the U. S. Army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan”. And despite widespread criticism over the unsubstantiated claim, Zhao continues accountable Washington.
Articles with titles along the lines of The virus didn’t come from China: the US brought the virus to China as a bioweapon are widely shared across China’s tightly-controlled internet.
Some of these pieces crammed with conspiracy theories say the U. S. Army brought the virus to China during the Military World Games held in Wuhan in October last year. State media is additionally calling for an “inquiry” into the US’s role within the emergence of this outbreak, publishing articles that question Washington supported an unfounded assumption that the US was behind the spread of the virus.
The WHO and leading doctors say the virus jumped from an animal host to humans, stressing that the suggestion that the pathogen failed to have a natural origin are “dangerous” to the trouble to contain the pandemic.
But Chinese academics also are supporting the narrative people involvement.
Chen Xuyan, a scientist based in Beijing, appeared on CCTV on March 18 and suggested that the fast speed of research on COVID-19 vaccines within the US can be attributed to the chance that Washington had already obtained the virus long before, by extension implying the US might need sent the virus to China.
“The Xi government is following a awfully aggressive policy now, engaging in what Mao Tsetung called a ‘tongue war’ – the propaganda war,” said Anne-Marie Brady, a professor at the University of Canterbury who specialises in Chinese politics.
The resentment in China has been exacerbated by US President Donald Trump’s decision to use terms like “foreign virus” and more frequently, “Chinese virus”, to discuss with the new pathogen.
Images posted online show that in a recent conference, Trump crossed out the word “corona” and wrote “CHINESE” before of the word “virus” within the script of his speech.
The Chinese foreign ministry has called the moves “irresponsible” and “racist”.
Instead of sweeping Trump’s comments under the rug, which is sometimes what the state media does for comments that go against the Communist Party line, the govt. is using Trump’s remarks as a tactic to incite public anger towards the US leader and as an extension, the US as an entire.
“With the US facing its own credibility issues in recent years, China’s false narrative threatens to spread as quickly because the coronavirus,” wrote Matthew Karnitschnig, the chief Europe correspondent of Politico.