China is lying its ass off about the coronavirus and the American left (which includes a lot of the media) doesn’t seem to understand why anyone cares.
A number of newspapers including the Washington Post and the Guardian have already reported that China is trying to spin the origin of the virus or, at a minimum, suggest the origin is unknown. I pointed this out earlier in the week here. Yesterday the NY Times published a piece headlined “China Spins Tale That the U.S. Army Started the Coronavirus Epidemic.”
China is pushing a new theory about the origins of the coronavirus: It is an American disease that might have been introduced by members of the United States Army who visited Wuhan in October.
There is not a shred of evidence to support that, but the notion received an official endorsement from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose spokesman accused American officials of not coming clean about what they know about the disease.
This is what the Times is talking about. A Chinese foreign ministry official sharing claims that the virus originated in the US:
This article is very much important to each and every one of us. Please read and retweet it. COVID-19: Further Evidence that the Virus Originated in the US. https://t.co/LPanIo40MR
— Lijian Zhao 赵立坚 (@zlj517) March 13, 2020
Twitter is blocked in China. Instead, Chinese people use a social media site called Weibo which is heavily censored by the government. Foreign Ministry spox Lijian Zhao has been sending the same messages on Weibo and they have been viewed millions of times:
Mr. Zhao’s remarks were spread on China’s most prominent social media platform, Weibo, under a hashtag: #ZhaoLijianPostedFiveTweetsinaRowQuestioningAmerica. By late afternoon on Friday, that hashtag had been viewed more than 160 million times, along with screenshots of the original Twitter posts.
The State Department summoned the Chinese ambassador on Friday to protest Mr. Zhao’s comments, officials in the Trump administration said.
Why is China doing this? The Times notes it is a very old tactic for autocratic regimes, i.e. blame the U.S. for interfering in a way that distracts from your own failures.
China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has faced sharp criticism for the government’s initial handling of the outbreak, even at home. Public anger erupted in February when a doctor who was punished for warning his colleagues about the coronavirus died, prompting censors to redouble their efforts to stifle public criticism.
Chinese officials have repeatedly urged officials in other countries not to politicize what is a public health emergency. Conservatives in the United States, in particular, have latched on to loaded terms that have been criticized for stigmatizing the Chinese people. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo referred to the “Wuhan virus,” while Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, called it the “Chinese coronavirus.”
So to sum up the situation, China is being criticized for its initial cover-up of the virus and in response it is actively spreading a conspiracy theory that U.S. soldiers brought the coronavirus to Wuhan during the Military World Games. There is no evidence this is true. On the contrary, all the evidence points to the virus arising from a particular seafood market in Wuhan, probably after it spread from bats, through pangolins, which are a delicacy in China, to humans.
In the face of actual communist propaganda, the American left has decided to…blame conservatives. I wrote this week about Jim Acosta’s whose reaction to President Trump’s speech this week was to call it “xenophobic.” I’m sure China appreciated the contribution to their propaganda campaign. As another example, here’s Jonathan Chait expressing his own confusion in a piece titled “Why Are Conservatives Obsessed With Revenge on China for the Coronavirus?”
If you have followed coronavirus news through the mainstream media, you have experienced a story about a global pandemic, economic and cultural fallout, and federal government dysfunction. If you are following it through the conservative media, as tens of millions of Americans do, you have probably understood the story as a narrative centered primarily around China. From this perspective, the drama centers around the refusal of the media and liberal elites to acknowledge China’s guilt…
What’s so strange about the right’s China obsession is that it lacks any policy implications. Cotton has warned, “We will hold accountable those who inflicted it on the world,” but what actions could he be threatening? Create a pandemic virus of our own in the United States? There is no prospective course of action that follows from blaming China. It is a global pandemic.
And the reason the mainstream media and liberal elite are using the standard terms for the virus rather than the conservative movement’s preferred labels isn’t some delicacy about offending China. It’s that we don’t actually care at this point where it started.
By this point in his piece, I’m ready to pull out my hair. It would be fine to not care where the virus started if China wasn’t spreading a lie that it started here. But since they are doing that, it would be great if a few people on the left, and in the media, would help set the record straight. Conservatives should not be under attack from the left for speaking the truth in the face of a communist propaganda campaign.
But Chait never bothers to even mention that China is engaged in this ongoing effort to blame American soldiers for the virus. Does he not know about this? Part of me worries that he does know but just doesn’t care.
I realize many on the left don’t have a lot positive to say about America on most days of the week, but I guess I still expected when America was being lied about by a communist dictatorship, some would feel a tinge of sentiment that would lead them to defend their own country. But I guess not. People like Chait are scratching their heads as if the right’s reaction to this calumny makes no sense.
Last point: This matters not just because it’s offensive but because it’s dangerous. As one of the experts quoted by the Times points out, what if Chinese authorities actually believe this lie about American soldiers seeding their country with a deadly virus that killed thousands of Chinese people? Wouldn’t that constitute an act of war? And what if they don’t believe it but manage to convince millions of Chinese the U.S. is responsible. How might that change our relationship in the future?
For many reasons, we shouldn’t tolerate what China is doing any more than we tolerate people who claim 9/11 was an inside job (another anti-American conspiracy theory) or who claim we don’t know how many died in the Holocaust, etc. Again, it would be great if a few people on the left could muster enough indignation to speak the truth even if that means siding with people on the right who are already making the point.