With experts and government officials in the United States and Europe are accusing China of stoking that confusion over coronavirus crisis, the Asian superpower mobilizing its global media machine in the coronavirus war of words.
Rod Wye, an associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank in London and former head of Asia research at the UK Foreign Office says China is trying to push three main messages about the outbreak.
First, Beijing is seeking to spread its claims of being successful at controlling the virus, and show off the supplies and medical experts it is sending around the world. Second, it wants to obscure the origins of the virus. According to Wye, the timeline of the “Chinese narrative begins with the lockdown in Wuhan and the resolute action of the party to control it,” not before.
“They are not at all keen on exploring the origins because that shows up real weaknesses in what they did,” he said.
Third, there is an attempt by Chinese officials to “sow confusion” about the way other countries have responded. That’s part of an effort, “to undermine the credibility of those who are critiquing China and to strengthen the credibility of the Chinese narrative,” he added.
Besides China, the US is spreading confusing and conflicting information about the virus. US President Donald Trump has shared dubious medical claims, unverified origin theories, and attacked state governors over coronavirus testing capabilities, comments that have been amplified by the megaphone of sympathetic media outlets.
However, Beijing’s plan appears to be part of a broader effort in recent years to become more aggressive with its messaging abroad, both through traditional channels such as television networks, and through more targeted use of social media — even on platforms banned in China itself.
The effort has been heightened during a war of words between China and some Western governments over the coronavirus. Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized China saying it could have done more to prevent the pandemic and suggested, without providing evidence, that the virus may have originated in a Wuhan laboratory.
Trump threatened to cut off relations with China over its handling of the virus. In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for an “independent assessment of how this all occurred, so we can learn the lessons and prevent it from happening again.”
Meanwhile, Chinese officials have called the allegation “lies”, which are fabricated by US politicians and media outlets to “shift the blame to China for their inadequate response to Covid-19.”