China Launches a Propaganda War to Save Face and its Global Supply Chain Role
While the world fights the coronavirus pandemic, China is fighting a propaganda war. Beijing’s war aim is simple: shift away from China all blame for the outbreak, the botched initial response, and its early spread into the broader world. At stake is China’s global reputation, as well as the potential of a fundamental shift away from China for trade and manufacturing. Also at risk is the personal legacy of General Secretary Xi Jinping, who has staked his legitimacy on his technocratic competence. After dealing with the first great global crisis of the 21st century, the world must fundamentally rethink its dependence on China.
The communist government instead is claiming that it has largely controlled the epidemic, even as it suspiciously now blames “foreign arrivals” for new cases of virus. Leaked video from China shows huge lines at a hospital in Chongqing, for example, raising questions about just what is happening around the country.
What Beijing cares about is clear from its sustained war on global public opinion. Chinese propaganda mouthpieces have launched a broad array of attacks against the facts, attempting to create a new narrative about China’s historic victory over the Wuhan virus. Chinese state media is praising the government’s “effective, responsible governance,” but the truth is that Beijing is culpable for the spread of the pathogen around China and the world. Chinese officials knew about the new virus back in December, and did nothing to warn their citizens or impose measures to curb it early on.
Instead of acting with necessary speed and transparency, the party-state looked to its own reputation and legitimacy. It threatened whistleblowers like the late Dr. Li Wenliang, and clamped down on social media to prevent both information about the virus and criticism of the Communist Party and government from spreading.
Unsurprisingly, China also has enablers abroad helping to whitewash Beijing’s culpability. World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus refused for months to declare a pandemic, and instead thanked China for “making us safer,” a comment straight out of an Orwell novel. This is the same WHO that has refused to allow Taiwan membership, due undoubtedly to Beijing’s influence over the WHO’s purse strings.