Real Clear Investigations: China’s Propaganda War Against the U.S. Over the Wuhan Virus
China is waging a propaganda war against the coronavirus on several fronts. In addition to its well-documented efforts to deflect attention from its early suppression of information about the disease and to claim that it has among all nations now halted the scourge, it is also pushing an alternative explanation of its origins—namely that it didn’t start in Wuhan after all, but was a creation of a military biochemical lab in the United States and was brought to China by an American team that competed in the Military World Games in Wuhan last October.
While that conspiracy theory was quickly noted and dismissed in much of the West, it is continuing and broadening all over social media in China – a country that strictly monitors what appears on its online platforms, regularly scrubbing it of what the authorities call “rumors.” But a lot of it, put on platforms that are banned in China, seems aimed outward, part of a concerted effort to convince the world that China, once the villain of the coronavirus story, is actually its hero, and that the real villain is America.
Its effectiveness may provide a new illustration of how fake news, if repeated loudly and often enough, uses social media as a carrier to spread misinformation around the globe.
Recently, for example, Global Times, an English-language mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, called on the American government to release the medical records of all the members of the American team that competed in Wuhan, so as “to end the conjecture about U.S. military personnel bringing Covid-19 to China.” In asking the United States to be “transparent,” the paper was giving credence to a claim at the heart of the conspiracy theory, that a 50-year-old bicycle racer named Maatje Benassi, a member of the American delegation, was “patient zero,” the first victim of the disease, which would mean that the virus was brought to China by the United States. This claim has been amplified across Twitter.