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Blame Game with ‘Chinese Characteristics’

Medical workers wearing protective suits as a precaution against the COVID-19 coronavirus deliver a patient to the fever clinic at a hospital in Beijing on January 13, 2021. (Photo by GREG BAKER / AFP)

On 13 January 2021, an international team dispatched by the World Health Organisation arrived in Wuhan with hopes of discovering the origin of the novel coronavirus that unleashed the pandemic devastating the world.

Upon arrival, the team will spend two weeks in quarantine, after which, the scientists will be allowed to conduct interviews of people from research institutes, hospitals and the seafood market in Wuhan from where the virus, as commonly believed, originated.

It took nearly a year of planning and negotiations to ensure the Chinese government’s approval for this mission to become a reality; a week before the team’s arrival, authorisation had still not yet been granted by the Chinese side. And although the permission was eventually granted, there is every reason to expect that the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) political motivations will be shaping the narrative of the pandemic’s origin resulting from this investigation.

Steering of the pandemic narrative has been a big part of the CCP’s efforts since the official emergence of the Covid-19 outbreak information in December 2019.

Doctor Li Wenliang, who worked at Wuhan Central Hospital, received an internal diagnostic report of a suspected severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) patient from other doctors which he shared with his friends.

Rumours of a deadly SARS outbreak subsequently spread on Chinese social media platforms, and Wuhan police summoned and admonished Li for ‘making false comments on the Internet about unconfirmed SARS outbreak’.

The outbreak was later confirmed not to be SARS but a new coronavirus, Covid-19. Li returned to work, later contracted Covid-19 and died from the disease on February 7, 2020, at age 33.

Almost twenty years ago the Chinese government covered up the SARS outbreak; in 2018 the information about the outbreak of African swine fever that destroyed the livelihood of many Chinese farmers and created food shortages was suppressed by the authorities.

These events set a precursor for the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Authorities in Wuhan knew of a virulent ‘new pneumonia of unknown cause’ in December 2019, yet they only reported the virus to the WHO on January 3, 2020. In the days and weeks to follow, the suppression of the information and narrative shaping by the CCP started to become increasingly more aggressive, despite growing global demands for transparency in pandemic data exchange.

While the virus continued spreading rapidly into February, internal China CDC documents obtained by the AP show that the Chinese authorities began requiring all coronavirus studies in China to be approved by high-level government officials — a policy that was detrimental for the research efforts.

On February 24, 2020 China CDC issued a lab regulation for a new approval procedure for publication under ‘important instructions’ from Chinese President Xi Jinping. Other regulations instructed CDC staff not to share any data, specimens or any other coronavirus related information with outside institutions or individuals.

On March 3, 2020, China’s cabinet, the State Council, created a special task force to oversee all Covid-19 publications. The notice marked ‘not to be made public’, obtained by the AP, applies to all medical and research institutions, universities and companies.

Lijian Zhao tweet blaming US for COVID-19Meanwhile, the shift of focus, in the CCP style, started to emerge – on March 12, 2020, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian tweeted, “2/2 CDC was caught on the spot. When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!”

Zhao encouraged his followers, more than 287K of them, to spread an allegation first published by a Canada-based conspiracy website that the coronavirus originated not from Wuhan but rather from the U.S. Zhao has been known to use Twitter for pushing controversial, and even completely false information, that lined up with Beijing’s agenda. A digitally altered image that angered the Australian government posted by Zhao on Twitter was re-tweeted by what appears to be a large number of fake Twitter accounts.

Cyabra, an Israeli cybersecurity company, analysed this event said that there was an ‘evidence of a largely orchestrated disinformation campaign’, and found that 57.5% of Twitter accounts that shared Zhao’s message were fake, most likely created solely with a purpose to amplify Zhao’s message. Cyabra said that among 1,344 profiles it analysed a large number were used only once, to retweet Zhao’s tweet.

In March 2020 Italian doctor Giuseppe Remuzzi, director of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan, in several interviews mentioned early cases in Lombardy. Remuzzi said he spoke with doctors in Northern Italy who “remember having seen very strange pneumonia, very severe, particularly in old people in December and even November.”

“This means that the virus was circulating, at least in Lombardy and before we were aware of this outbreak occurring in China,” he added.

The interviews were translated from English to Chinese and re-published by the Chinese state-run media outlets including The Global Times and CCTV as evidence that the virus originated from Italy and not from Wuhan. The article was posted on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site, with the hashtag #expert says the coronavirus might have started circulating in Italy last November#.

Remuzzi later dismissed this interpretation of his words, and told the Chinese media that he commented on how far the virus had spread before it was discovered, not where it came from.

On November 26, 2020, a German doctor and biochemist Alexander Kekule, the chair for Medical Microbiology and Virology of the Martin Luther University and Director of the Institute for Medical Microbiology in Halle-Wittenberg, said in an interview on German television that G variant of the virus that appeared in Italy and was circulating around the world was more infectious than the virus strain that initially appeared in Wuhan. Kekule stressed that it was a mutated virus initially imported from China to Italy.

On November 28, 2020, the English-language state-run broadcaster China Global Television Network announced that Kekule’s research demonstrated that “the epidemic broke out in Northern Italy and spread globally”.

On December 1, 2020 the CCP’s state-run Xinhua also quoted Kekule’s research, claiming that the Covid-19 pandemic originated in Northern Italy.

Alexander Kekule debunks the CCP's accusationsKekule immediately debunked the CCP’s misrepresentation of his remarks saying on German television that “China’s overseas propaganda is purely rumour”. He added that the regime resorted to “unscrupulous means for political propaganda”.

On December 1, 2020 Kekule tweeted, “Chinese media are using the emergence of the G variant in Italy for propaganda. The #coronavirus pandemic originated in China and the outbreak was possibly even concealed at the beginning.”

On November 28, 2020, Indian Deccan Herald wrote that “a team from China’s top science institution, Chinese Academy of Sciences in a paper argues that SARS-CoV-2 likely originated in India in summer of 2019…The paper, which has not been peer-reviewed yet… rules out Wuhan as a site of origin of the Coronavirus but nominates Bangladesh, the U.S., Greece, Australia, India, Italy, Czech Republic, Russia and Serbia as potential countries.”

“Chinese scientists are now arguing that the coronavirus originated in India in July-August 2019 when an unbearable heatwave in May-June that year forced animals and humans to share the same water sources, “ continues Deccan Herald, “Various outlets of the state-run Chinese media have been carrying reports in recent days stating that a number of imported food products from different countries, including a consignment of fish from India, were found to have traces of the Covid-19 alleging that the virus may have entered China through foreign routes.”

Truly a culmination of the CCP-run blame reassigning on a global scale, was an article published on December 2, 2020, in the major Chinese state media outlet Global Times titled “COVID-19 likely in US before Wuhan; world should not turn a blind eye to similar cases: experts – China may have been ‘whistle-blower for the world’ on pandemic: experts”

The article tells us that “China does not seek to alter the virus origin story as some Western media claimed; it is a fact that China may have been the whistle-blower of the pandemic, as mounting academic and official evidence have shown the early existence of the novel coronavirus in multiple places around the world experts noted, after acknowledging the possible early existence of the virus in Italy, Spain and the US. But China is calling for an open mind toward the complicated scientific question.”

Citizen journalist Zhang Zhan was jailed in China for four years over Wuhan coronavirus reporting

And while calling for open-mindedness and truth-seeking from the international community, no doubt within the boundaries designated by the manufactured narrative, Chinese authorities simultaneously maintain their usual heavy-handed approach to the control of information coming from within China. On December 28, 2020, Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan was sentenced to four years in prison. She is the first known reporter to be officially sentenced by the CCP for providing first-hand information about the Covid-19 pandemic inside China. Zhang, a 37-year-old former lawyer, was convicted of ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’ by the Pudong New Area People’s Court in Shanghai.

‘Picking quarrels and provoking trouble’ and ‘subversion of state power’ are two common charges the Chinese regime uses to imprison dissidents. Zhang arrived in Wuhan in early February and began posting reports on her social media accounts. She was often critical of the measures taken by Chinese authorities in stopping the spread of Covid-19.

Zhang went missing in May; the Chinese authorities confirmed her arrest a month later. In her indictment made public in November Zhang was accused of a number of charges including ‘distributing false information through text, video, and other media’ online.

Zhang was interviewed several times by overseas news companies. In one interview in March, Zhang rejected claims by Chinese officials that Covid-19 virus originated from the United States. She said that Chinese authorities blamed the United States because they wanted to divert attention away from China, and redirect elsewhere public anger about the handling of the pandemic by the CCP.

With Covid-19 cases on the increase in China, with many cities on lockdowns, the CCP faces the mammoth task of not only dealing the immediate, escalating daily Covid-related problems, but also ruthlessly suppressing many, and rapidly growing in numbers, voices of dissent, as well as keeping up the appearances in China and abroad through intensified propaganda and misinformation which includes never ceasing efforts to re-assign the responsibility for the pandemic to any other country or countries.

And that is not all that the Chinese communist party has to do to maintain the totalitarian grip on the situation in China and elsewhere. As prescribed by the communist ideology, the rearing of the young generation, modelling their minds from an early age according to Marxist-Leninist-Maoist views is a cornerstone of communism’s foundation.

According to Hindustan Times “the new curriculum on the pandemic will be added for students through first to the ninth grades and content related to it will be included in biology, physical education and health, history, and Chinese literature.“

“China is planning to add government-endorsed content about the ‘spirit of fighting’ the Covid-19 pandemic to its school curriculum, the ministry of education has announced. It added that students will be taught how the socialist system with Chinese characteristics helped curb the spread of coronavirus in the country.”
“The focus of the new curriculum is clear from the education ministry’s statement – it will add to the narrative of how the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) and the country ‘…have always put the safety and health of the people first’.”

The full set of authoritarian, to the extreme, measures are completed and activated. Despite what some might think, relying on ‘amended’ statistics and data coming from the official sources in China, this totalitarian approach did not handle Covid-19 better or even as well as many other countries. Information coming from the public citizens in China about recent multiple outbreaks spreading like a forest fire tells a different story.

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