CNN published a piece today which highlights the Chinese propaganda effort to blame the coronavirus on the U.S. The headline (“Blame game escalates between US and China over coronavirus disinformation”) is a bit vague but the story itself is pretty straightforward:
US officials have been closely monitoring China’s disinformation efforts and attempted to push back on the increasing number of false claims from Chinese officials over the last month.
Yet China’s disinformation campaign is ongoing, US officials warn, pointing to comments that were made on Sunday by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lijian Zhoa in which he suggested the virus started in the US dating back to September 2019 and that those with the flu at that time were misdiagnosed.
In response, the Trump administration has implemented a coordinated messaging campaign which includes talking points sent out by the National Security Council pushing US officials to highlight China’s alleged “coverup” and subsequent disinformation campaign, CNN has learned…
One source close to the White House told CNN earlier this month that Trump had privately expressed anger toward China but had not yet reached the point of lashing out at Beijing publicly due to concerns that doing so could negatively impact trade talks between the two countries.
But Trump has appeared to change his tone in recent days, most notably by joining Meadows and other top officials in characterizing the outbreak as a “Chinese virus,” a shift one Republican aide told CNN was likely prompted by Beijing’s disinformation campaign aimed at shifting blame onto the US, and by default, Trump himself.
It’s a fairly simple story. Trump initially had praise for China and for Xi Jinping. As the virus has spread around the world the Chinese propaganda effort racheted up in an attempt to a) protect Xi and b) portray China as a world leader. That effort for the last several weeks has included attempts by Chinese officials to spread the lie that the virus originated in the U.S. As China has pushed this lie, Trump has finally gotten to the point where he is explicitly blaming China rather than allow the attempt to blame the pandemic on the U.S. to go unchallenged.
This story of Trump reacting somewhat slowly to China’s bad behavior doesn’t involve any 11-dimensional chess moves. But over at the Atlantic, progressive scribe Adam Serwer has published a lengthy piece which frames Trump’s change or heart as a dastardly right-wing plot. Serwer is confident this is so even though he admits that the major elements of the conservative take on the Chinese propaganda effort are all true:
Conservatives insist that the Chinese government bears a great deal of responsibility for the outbreak, and that the president is merely holding the CCP accountable. Liberals, they argue, by criticizing the president’s rhetoric as racist, are falling into a trap set by Chinese propagandists, who are hoping to characterize any criticism of Beijing’s role in the outbreak as racism.
This criticism contains an element of truth. As The Wall Street Journal reported in early March, the Chinese government lied about the threat posed by COVID-19 and the coronavirus’s transmissibility to humans, and dragged its feet in informing the public, even silencing a whistleblower, Li Wenliang, who tried to warn the country about the threat of the disease before succumbing to it himself. “By not moving aggressively to warn the public and medical professionals, public-health experts say, the Chinese government lost one of its best chances to keep the disease from becoming an epidemic,” The New York Times reported in early February.
Since that report, Chinese officials have engaged in a propaganda offensive, expelling American journalists, minimizing their early missteps, and putting forth a conspiracy theory that the virus was engineered by the U.S. military. Compared with all this, the president’s defenders argue, Trump referring to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” seems trivial.
Despite all of this, he thinks the real story here isn’t that Trump changed his mind based on evidence of Chinese misbehavior, rather it’s all a cover-up:
The right’s rhetorical shift then, is not just another racism rope-a-dope, an attempt to bait the left into a culture-war argument and divert attention from the president’s disastrous handling of the coronavirus pandemic. It is also an attempt to cover up the fact that the Chinese government’s propaganda campaign was effective in that it helped persuade the president of the United States not to take adequate precautionary measures to stem a tide of pestilence that U.S. government officials saw coming.
Now faced with the profound consequences of that decision, the right has settled on a strategy that does little to hold Beijing accountable for its mishandling of the coronavirus, but instead plays into Beijing’s attempt to cast any criticism of the Chinese government’s response as racism.
He’s really overthinking this. Speaking as someone who has been part of the right-wing media for more than a decade, the right’s rhetoric didn’t shift because of a calculated media strategy. I didn’t get any secret tips or emails from the White House. My view, and the views of a lot of other people, shifted because China was spreading propaganda that, at first, tried to suggest the origin of the virus was unknown and later went further and blamed the U.S. directly. The same is true for the internal shift within the administration. People tracking what China was doing responded to counter its false claims.
As for Serwer’s claim that Trump’s response plays into a Chinese strategy to frame all criticism as racism, that’s quite a spin. Just last week there was a press conference where four different reporters asked the president if he was wrong to use the phrase “Chinese virus.” There are numerous media reporters who are counting the number of times Trump uses the phrase and castigating him for doing so.
At a minimum, Serwer is leaving out a crucial link in the chain. It’s the left-leaning U.S. media that has made rejecting Chinese propaganda by stating a simple fact about the real origin of the virus into a game of race and xenophobia. And not surprisingly, the Chinese propagandists are capitalizing on that media push even today.
4/6 Many in the U.S. opposed the use of “Chinese virus”, saying that it is bald-faced racism & xenophobia, & it will expose certain people under the risk of racism & violence. The challenge of #COVID19 needs to be tackled with joint efforts, instead of fear-mongering.
— Lijian Zhao 赵立坚 (@zlj517) March 24, 2020
The communist propagandists aren’t praising Trump, they’re trying to shut him up by citing the criticism leveled by the media. So who is playing into the Chinese propaganda efforts again? Who are they quoting affirmatively in this instance? The answer isn’t Trump, it’s Acosta.
There’s no 11-dimensional chess going on here. China is spreading some terrible lies and Trump is refusing to let them get away with it. Meanwhile, many in the U.S. media have been acting as useful idiots, pretending that one of the most racist regimes in the world today cares about racism in order to attack the president.
Update: Another example, this one pointed out by the Washington Free Beacon. This video is being promoted by Chinese State Media. It’s communist China’s message as voiced by the American media, Democratic politicians, and celebrities.
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) March 23, 2020