Asia News Mar 06

China’s media steps up virus propaganda drive

The deadly pandemic's grip on the country is weakening but the anti-US rhetoric is getting stronger

by Frank Chen
China’s media steps up virus propaganda drive
A masked police officer is seen in front of the Tiananmen Gate in Beijing. Photo: AFP

China’s state media is waging a renewed campaign to weed out “noxious thoughts” and whip up patriotism among the masses. This fresh “mental sterilization” drive coincides with emerging signs that the the deadly novel coronavirus’s grip on the country is weakening – there has been a steady drop in new cases for four consecutive days. 

On Wednesday, Xinhua quoted a popular opinion piece circulating on WeChat, China’s ubiquitous social networking app, saying that the West, in particular the United States, “owes China a coronavirus apology” for all the smearing and gloating, and that the rest of Asia and even the entire world would have been embroiled in a far worse contagion had it not been for China’s resolute containment and sacrifice. 

Earlier, when medical professionals across the nation were still locked in the treacherous battle against the rampaging pneumonic virus, officially known as the Covid-19, sycophants at the Communist Party’s propaganda department and the state-run People’s Daily rushed to compile a 100,000-word book extoling the “foresight, care for the people as well as topflight leadership” of President Xi Jinping as he steered the party and the nation in vanquishing the epidemic. 

Xinhua reported that the new publication, titled A Great Nation’s Battle against Epidemic (大国战疫), was a compilation of excerpts of state media’s coverage of the Chinese government’s response to the viral outbreak, and editors sifted through reports totaling two million words for key perspectives to present a full picture of Xi’s overarching role and the supremacy of the party and the nation’s socialist institutions. Versions in English, French, Russian, Arabic and Spanish would also be published, they said. 

Yet after party cadres across the nation were told to buy and read the new book to fortify their morale as they fight the disease, it was pulled overnight from major online bookstores at the beginning of this month. Some observers say the party’s propaganda chief all of a sudden realized that to effusively praise Xi when the virus was still infecting people could boomerang. However, others say logistical issues such as a shortage of manpower – needed for printing and distribution – due to lockdowns in major cities could be the reason behind the delay in publishing. 

Propaganda pamphlet

This book on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s’s role in fighting the coronavirus pandemic was swiftly produced but the pulled from online bookstores. Photo: Handout 

Xi

Chinese President Xi Jinping talks to medical professionals treating patients in Wuhan via video. The leader has not visited the contagion epicenter since the outbreak began. Photo: Xinhua 

Though state media may have been told to put their new paean to Xi on the back burner, for now, it seems they have decided to focus their energy on the US. 

Xinhua said in an op-ed that the spread of the pathogen – which began in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, according to Chinese health officials – had been spiraling out of control in the US “like a single spark starting a prairie fire.” California, Florida and the state of Washington have declared the epidemic a public health emergency. There have been 159 confirmed cases and 11 deaths nationwide, compared with China’s tally of 80,567 and a toll of 3,016 as of Thursday. 

Xinhua also ridiculed a prayer gathering in Vice-President Mike Pence’s office in the White House at the end of last month. US President Donald Trump has tasked Pence with spearheading the US federal government’s response to the global outbreak. In a photo released by the White House, Pence sits with members of the government’s Coronavirus Taskforce as they bow their heads and pray for the disease to disappear. 

Pence prays

Vice-President Mike Pence meets with the President’s Coronavirus Taskforce on February 26 in his White House office. Photo: Handout 

Xinhua quoted US commentator Hemant Mehta as saying, “What else did anyone expect? Science? Reason? Something sensible? Of course not… If this virus truly becomes a pandemic, we’re at the mercy of people delusional enough to think their pleas to God will fix the problem. The same God who presumably created the virus, at least in their minds, will somehow make sure it hurts only a handful of Americans … and a ton of Chinese people.”

The Chinese news agency also asserted that Beijing would not bar American citizens from China, even though the US was among the first countries to impose entry restrictions on Chinese travelers. It also said China would not take advantage of the “precarious situation” in the US by limiting the export of masks, protective suits and antiviral drugs, vital medical supplies that American firms do not manufacture. 

The conclusion of the article is that the US owes China an apology for its “immoral” words and deeds during the onset of the plague in China, when its politicians and China bashers thought their country would not be hit by the crisis. 

Other Chinese papers are also challenging the etiological conclusion that Wuhan was the breeding place of the virus, citing initial investigations by health authorities across the US, Italy, Iran, etc that found that those infected had no contact with Chinese or other Asians before they became ill. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention admitted last week that there had been several infections with “unknown sources.”

Earlier, China also expelled Wall Street Journal journalists over a headline calling China the “sick man of Asia,” which touched a raw nerve as the term evoked bitter memories of denigration when China was invaded by the West in the early 20th century. 

Opinion pieces denouncing the US have gone viral in the official discourse and on social media, with strong indignation still spreading. Yet less than a month ago, Xi thanked Trump for the solidarity and donations flowing into China in an hour-long phone call. Xi also penned letters to tycoon Bill Gates and pupils at an elementary school in Utah to thank them for their support for China and hailed the “longstanding chumminess between the two great nations.”