Will the U.S. Let China Control the Narrative?

Xie Huanchi/Xinhua via AP

In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping talks by video with patients and medical workers at the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. China’s president visited the center of the global virus outbreak Tuesday as Italy began a sweeping nationwide travel ban and people worldwide braced for the possibility of recession. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (Xie Huanchi/Xinhua via AP)


China’s reporting their nation is starting to get back to normal following a peak death rate of just over 3000 deaths due to the pernicious virus COVID-19 they unleashed on themselves and the rest of the planet.

But who really knows if that number is correct? Or if the coronavirus is a danger to male fertility?Or if the virus actually came from a wildlife market? Or if China is actually emerging from the dark woods of pandemic and getting back to normal?

Because China has a problem: you can’t really trust much of what they say.

Propaganda is generally present in any nation, including this one. But Communist countries have traditionally employed it more frequently and at greater risk to their own citizens and the rest of the world than other, more innocuous examples such as patriotic flyers encouraging the purchase of war bonds, for example. Think of Josef Stalin’s “socialist realism” art campaign to glorify Communism while millions were murdered in his work camps. Or Mao Zedong’s attempts to establish “true Communism” while 40 million people were secretly starved to death during the great Chinese famine. Stalin had his own secret famine in the Holodomor, where millions in Ukraine were forced to join state approved farms and hand over all food grown to the Soviet state. An estimated 5 million people died while Stalin hid it from the world.


Communist governments lie. And the details surrounding coronavirus are proof that China is living out that grand tradition. The entire world, as the deaths approach 8,000 worldwide, is rightly pretty ticked off at Red China. So Secretary Xi Jinping is doing the other thing Communist nations do very well: he’s blaming someone else. Namely, us. From The Heritage Foundation:

Coronavirus propaganda fits into classic Soviet-era propaganda strategies, dating back to the Cold War. In 1983, a pro-Soviet Indian newspaper, the Patriot, first published an article to the effect that the AIDS virus was a biological weapon created by the U.S. military.

After circulating for several years in KGB-controlled publications, the slander was picked up in 1985 by the Soviet cultural newspaper Literaturnaya Gazeta (Literary Gazette), opening the propaganda floodgates. In 1987 alone, it was reprinted or broadcast in more than 80 countries in 30 languages.

The story was highly damaging to the U.S. international image.

Similar damage is entirely possible today if coronavirus disinformation stands unchallenged. During the Cold War, the Reagan administration created the Active Measures Working Group to expose Soviet propaganda.

Today, the U.S. government will have to be equally deliberate in its efforts to fight not just the spread of the virus itself, but also the conspiracy theories spread by foreign actors.


The bad news is that some American media is helping China shift blame and slander the U.S. Consider this piece from Bloomberg, which rhetorically is supposed to sound worried that China looks smarter than the U.S. in its coronavirus response (which remains to be seen, in fact, since we haven’t hit peak numbers yet) but is actually a love letter to how much “better and better” China’s authoritarian model looks:

The coronavirus saga is also certain to set off another round of debate on the merits of democracy and authoritarianism. The irony is abundant. It was actually the authoritarian characteristics of the Chinese system that initially allowed the virus to spread, and some democracies — notably South Korea and Taiwan — have done remarkably well in responding to the outbreak. Yet the fact that China subsequently claimed to have gotten a handle on the epidemic by energetically enforcing a draconian lockdown of the affected population, while the world’s leading democracy dithered in its own response, will be used by proponents of authoritarianism to argue that their system is best equipped for crisis.

More recent events are further advancing the narrative. As America struggles to test its citizens and build adequate stockpiles of basic health-care supplies, such as masks, the Chinese government (and prominent Chinese firms) are providing supplies to countries such as Italy and even the U.S. itself. Beijing has promised additional funds to aid World Health Organization programs in poor countries, and the Communist Party propaganda arm has touted these contributions for all they are worth, while also alleging that the virus somehow originated in the U.S.


Fortunately, there are policy-minded professionals in this country unwilling to let this kind of narrative grasping by China, with the help of some progressive Americans, slide so easily.

And that’s a really good thing because with news that China is booting American journalists out of the country, they’re signaling they have no intention of ditching standard operating procedure for a system of government that views human beings as little more than cogs in an economic machine. The U.S is not only fighting to “flatten the curve” and win the war on a Chinese virus, it’s also fighting to keep China from convincing the rest of the world their ineptitude and carelessness over the coronavirus crisis is someone else’s fault. Here’s hoping we can flatten that curve, too.



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